MONSTERS TEND TO BE little more than imaginative amalgamations of real beings, as one realizes when reading, say, Gustave Flaubert’s Temptation of Saint Anthony, in which the author enumerates a litany of classical monsters (including the minotaur, a combination of man and bull, and the centaur, man and horse) and then concocts a few new ones still lacking names. In principle, such a mythological zoo would be infinitely rich in its juxtapositions and aggregations.
But as Jorge Luis Borges points out In The Book of Imaginary Beings—even while digging deep into the annals of classical and Oriental literature himself—the zoology of dreams is far poorer than the zoology of reality. Perhaps that explains why Peyman Rahimi, a young Iranian artist, has taken as his main subject the fantastic garden Inhabited by creatures that, for all their odd, extraordinarily colorful, and overly ornamental patterns and textures of skin and fur, are almost immediately recognizable as snakes, birds, or wildcats. Without being given a chance to resist, we are dragged into a world of parodic exoticism in which, strangely enough, we Immediately feel at home—a world whose visual language, it turns out, provides an allegory for the elision of such dichotomies as Western and Eastern, traditional and contemporary.
Born in 1977 in Tehran to a
family that he describes as very Western in its lifestyle, Rahimi started as an
artist with symmetric compositions inspired by the carpets of his native
country and the ornate style of its architecture, until he moved on to
installations that, at least to Western eyes, seem to reference the mosque.
Often involving a fountain at the center of a balanced and harmonious space,
these works hardly ever left the artist’s studio and thus remained sites for
private meditation. Rahimi eventually relocated to
Today Rahimi sees himself
as a painter in the broadest sense: He frequently employs silk-screen
techniques to construct his fabulist scenes and regularly samples visuals from
both the mass media and from other artists’ work in order to produce his large
prints on textiles and paper. Indeed, an untitled piece from 2004 directly
references Näher’s work, the iconographic and tonal affinity between the
artists evident in their predilections for animals and skulls as allegorical
signifiers, ruminations on life and death. In other pieces, this symbolism is
well hidden; one has to look closely for the skulls, for instance, to spring
forth. Such intricate compositions may indeed bear Näher’s neo-baroque
influence, but here decadence is Rahimi’s point of reference. Not surprisingly,
his favorite city is
The first time I noticed
Rahimi’s art was on an invitation card announcing a 2004 exhibition in
Frankflirt. It showed a young, glamorous couple in a modern-looking garden. The
man was Rahimi himself (his face Photoshopped in). An elegant leopard lay
before him—just another member of the family. This is how I imagine the lives
DANIEL BIRNBAUM IS A CONTRIBUTING EDITOR ARTFORUM.