Light, Gaze, Presence, an exhibition by Y.Z. Kami (Tehran, 1956) with a selection of works shown for the first time in Florence in some of the most iconic venues of the city: Museo Novecento, Museo di Palazzo Vecchio, Museo degli Innocenti and, exceptionally, in the thousand-year-old Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte
The project is a journey through the pictorial universe of the Iranian-American artist, who has lived and worked in New York since the 1980s. With a selection of 24 works located in some of Florence’s most prestigious cultural institutions, Light, Gaze, Presenceunites some of the main strands of Y.Z. Kami’s artistic research in a close dialogue with the extraordinary medieval and Renaissance masterpieces kept in those venues.
The itinerary originates in the rooms of the Museo Novecento, where the famous portrait paintings, which have made the artist known to the international public, are interspersed with other works from the Dome and Night Paintings series.
At the center of his artistic production for more than 30 years, the portraits are large-scale paintings that capture men and women caught in close-up, often with their eyes closed and within neutral backgrounds that leave visible only a few details besides the faces. “In painting a face, what I’m really trying to achieve is the feeling I have of it, the experience of that face going through many layers of paint and in the end always appearing a bit elusive, as if I can’t get there,” the artist states. These paintings, made from photographs taken of friends or strangers, are the result of a very slow gestation that makes these representations true apparitions, bringing to mind the ancient portraits of Fayyum by reconnecting with the portrait tradition that runs through the history of art throughout the centuries, up to the present day.
Present and absent at the same time, the figures of Y.Z. Kami are immersed in a dimension that seems to have nothing to do with our everyday life, but which refers to an elsewhere, to a place that is memory or evocation of the beyond. The luminosity rendered by the rarefied painting, as well as the experience of stillness and silence, have the ability to attract the viewer to them, arousing intense feelings, such as a sense of placid contemplation bordering on transcendence. In this sense, Y.Z. Kami is a painter of invisibility; his gaze and painting are capable of narrating humanity beyond contingency, capturing the spirituality that envelops bodies.
In the Dome series, Kami evokes archetypal images, such as mandalas, as well as the architecture and concentric shapes typical of Persian tradition and sacred architecture around the world, a metaphor for the sky and contemplation. The Night Paintings, on the other hand, are reminiscent of nocturnal mental images, smoky and tenebrous, they are elaborated from rereading William. Blake’s poetry. The dominant color is indigo, interspersed with shades of white that in their blurred appearance resemble the patina of portraits, recalling something evanescent that is in danger of disappearing soon thereafter but clings tenaciously to the present and begs to be kept alive.
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