Michael Hakimi, Zopf (Plait), 2014, spray paint and lacquer on linen, 35 × 26 3/4".

Michael Hakimi, Zopf (Plait), 2014, spray paint and lacquer on linen, 35 × 26 3/4".

Michael Hakimi

Michael Hakimi, Zopf (Plait), 2014, spray paint and lacquer on linen, 35 × 26 3/4".

Michael Hakimi gave his recent show the title “Lichtfäden, die ins Bild hinüberwachsen” (Light-Threads That Wander Over into the Picture)—a phrase, as he notes in an accompanying essay, borrowed from an early description of the photographic process, whose author is unknown. The indeterminacy seems fortuitous, allowing the phrase to float freely as a perhaps linguistic image, its myriad implications—both poetic and material—resonating with Hakimi’s work.

At first glance, you would have thought the works on display were paintings on smallish to medium-size panels, presented in a traditional and carefully balanced hanging. And though that impression would not have been incorrect, painting is only the point of departure for a visual process that branches out into other interpretive contexts as well. The pictures have a Minimalist look, eschewing all trace of manual facture. That’s in part a matter of technique: Hakimi uses a template and gold spray paint to place his motifs—emphatically straightforward geometric shapes such as circles, pyramids, and triangles—on black-painted canvases. But it also suggests a metaphorical parallel to the idea hinted at in the show’s title: photography as a sort of archaic-magical materialization of light in “threads.” So the title sketches a conceptual setting in which a symbolic or poetic translation comes into view; what we rightly see as paintings on canvas are also lacquer-haze “exposures” taken during the brief moments the artist’s trigger finger held down the spray nozzle. In an accompanying note, Hakimi himself remarks on the “apparent analogies with the photogram.”

The rigor and precision with which Hakimi has thought through the physical implementation of this photographic-painterly technical logic of his art is evident in the fact that his pictures also involve varying degrees of graininess, a familiar quality of analog photographs. His media are finer and coarser linen and jute fabrics on stretcher frames, and as the textile structure changes, so do the pictorial qualities of the medium. As the sprayed-pigment haze, as diffuse and delicate as light, grazes fabrics whose weaves are of varying density, different degrees of sharpness and blurring result.

Presumably in order to highlight such analogies and the conceptual tenor of his technique, Hakimi’s motifs are decidedly simple and repetitive, a legacy of his earlier interest in the pictorial vocabulary of computer graphics. In these new works, such motifs are often pared down to the point where they look almost like icons. Hakimi either depicts them in isolation—as in Scheibenwischer (Windshield Wiper; all works 2014) and Pyramide 1—or iterates a basic motif to create figurative patterns, as in F, Gewebe (Fabric) and Zopf (Plait). By focusing the application of paint, Hakimi generates effects of spatial illusion that destabilize the beholder’s perception. For a striking example, consider Spirale. The technique is obvious: gold spray paint on a ground of deep black acrylic lacquer—in that sense, flat and nonillusory. But linger only for a moment, and the spiral shape appears to rise from a painted space whose depth pulls the gaze inward. Painted shadows seem to interweave the motif, which suggests a curly lock of hair, with the blackness surrounding it, transforming a manifest surface into an indeterminate depth. Such ambivalence, the artist writes, points not only to “photographic and optical processes . . . but also to the infinite, homogeneous, virtual space of the computer, a space in which everything is constructively possible and infinitely modularly reproducible.” Hakimi has developed a form of painting that, firmly rooted in the medium’s specific materiality, integrates and reflects the logics of other media as well.

Jens Asthoff

Translated from German by Gerrit Jackson.