Fawad Khan explores familial and historic visual traditions in Empire of Personal Myths at Lu Magnus in New York.
The resurgence of intricate levels of draftsmanship in painting is a heartening trend. Detailoriented, borderline obsessive compulsive painters who vaguely remember the legacies of Pisarro, Seurat and Sisley have become increasingly in-demand. This trend, however, has a flip side: everyone tends to come out of the woodwork and identifying true talent turns into a game of ‘catch me if you can.’ Luckily, one such talent, Fawad Khan, has avoided the imminent bubble.
In his current solo exhibition with art laboratory/salon Lu Magnus in Manhattan’s vibrant Lower East Side neighborhood, Khan explores familial and historic visual traditions in Empire of Personal Myths. His Muslim heritage and the influences of his father’s occupation as a physician are significant elements to his new series. When he was younger, Khan’s father suggested combining his son’s artistic talents to his own hope that he would join the medical profession in some capacity; thus resulting in the frequent physiological and anatomical paintings recalling the passionless academic journals he was exposed to. But Khan reveals his hand in what would normally be mere painted models: brushstrokes are visible, colors blend and bleed, and there seems to be an internal movement to hidden imagery of hands, a man’s profile or a skull brimming with trails of pomegranate seeds. Speaking of seeds, this is another recurrent motif in a consecutive set of plain white canvases hung side by side. Painted across their surfaces are linear networks of blush pomegranate seeds, some configurations appearing as road maps, some appearing in naturally-occurring forms like honeycombs, foliage patterns or even microscopic cellular reactions. One work is a typological array of deer heads, comprised of a plethora of minute, colorful hash marks. Mounted on found paper sheets (mounted once more on panel), these are strong criticisms of trophy culture, even if they are resplendent specimens in and of themselves.
Yet, these exercises pale in comparison to the show’s magnum opus, a large wall painting called The Cathartic Lion. From a triumphant lion’s head issues a swirl of leaves, where echoes of Persian and Moorish textile patterns reside. The work’s overall compositional value inspires nothing short of awe: white space embraces the figuration (rather than swallowing it) and the level of mark-making is highly considered, labor-intensive assumptions, aside. Color is properly deployed to augment the kinetic energy of the animal’s gesture. The elongated ears and neck are close to anthropomorphic, hinting at the possibility of being human (or perhaps humanized). There is a secret vulnerability to this work, versus common associations of the lion with power, masculinity and virility. It communicates a fluidity of biological forms and theoretical dialogues without overt symbology or dogma. This work is the catalyst for the show: a journey through various modes of existence through memory, ritual, expression and potential.
Khan is not shy about resurrecting his cultural background, and the rewards for his audience are plentiful as a result. Artists often bury their demons, their successes, anticipating widespread criticism for allowing their work to read like ‘dear diary’ where the audience plays therapist and the works are on the couch. Fawad Khan deals in his past delicately, but resolutely, to engage an active conversation between culture, nature and the supernatural.