Laleh Khorramian’s fluidly figurative paintings, prints and animated films are sophisticated, yet they still evoke the kind of wonder, curiosity and imaginative awe that we associate with children’s entertainment. In her jewel-toned monoprints, costumed figures emerge from densely detailed, liquidy patterns, and form compelling narratives within imaginary landscapes.
The ambiguous, emotionally charged episodes in Khorramian’s paintings and prints are fleshed out in the fourth dimension in her mystical animated short films, which function like impossibly elaborate, lush operas. Set to idiosyncratic scores, Khorramian’s animated figures morph and merge with their environments. Opulent, sleek, comical and emotionally disarming, her animation is rich with allusions to fellow artists ranging from Jean Cocteau to Francis Bacon and William Kentridge, as well as to fashion illustrations and the absurd cartoons of Bill Plimpton.
Born in Tehran, Khorramian studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and the Art Institute of Chicago, and received her MFA from Columbia University. In P.S.1’s "Greater New York 2005" exhibition last summer, Khorraimian screened Sophie and Goya, one part of her animated trilogy. The second episode was shown as part of "Chopperlady," her first solo exhibition at a commercial gallery, which was held at Salon 94 in Manhattan, Sept. 25-Nov. 14, 2005. She has an exhibition coming up in March at a space in Dubai called the Thirdline.
Ana Finel Honigman: What process do you use to develop your images?
Laleh Khorramian: Aside from drawings, which I am always making, I primarily work with two processes: stop-frame animation and monotype, for which I use glass, paper and oil paint. Monotype is a common technique, but the process is usually only a begining in my work. It initiates my ideas. But in the past few years, I've been experimenting with the technique more and more and adapting it for the entire process of making the present work.
With the stop-frame animation, I shoot digital stills and draw on the surface of the landscapes themselves with figures or elaborate details. If they are too tiny, I blow them up and work on them as cells. Then it is simply doodle, click, doodle, click, wipe, doodle, click, wipe, doodle, doodle, click, doodle, click, wipe, click, doodle.
AFH: Do you feel animation is an under-appreciated medium?
LK: Not so much anymore in the art world, but it all depends on whom you’re asking. After all, it is hard to know the difference between an animation and an experimental film sometimes.
AFH: How do these landscape-style paintings differ from your previous work?
LK: I’ve always worked with figures. Landscape was something I had never ventured into. It was an intimidating subject to engage, but I longed to make landscapes that were not really fantasy, just remote worlds. Like Remington’s night paintings -- although they are very recognizable, they are otherworldly. I had wanted to find a setting for the situations and figures I was creating. A timeless, unnameable place. Then I started to find them in teensy-weensy details of these monoprints.
AFH: Do you have a predetermined idea of the narratives you want to tell or do you discover forms in the monoprint patterns that guide your stories?
LK: Both. I usually have visions of the things I think I want to see and sometimes they come from recurrent dreams or even childhood memories, but at other times, it’s a matter of letting the ink inform the direction or idea. That’s part of the idea too. I want to pull something out of some insignificant matter. With the animations, the story unfolds as I read the material that I am making in relation to the initial vision.
AFH: How strongly has your Iranian heritage or identity influenced your art?
LK: It is impossible for my Iranian heritage and upbringing not to have shaped me, but it is not superficially evident nor is it a direct theme in my work.
My family emigrated when I was a child. I was raised within a
traditional family in Orlando, Fla., through the 1980s and ‘90s.
Obviously all of this would have an impact on me.
AFH: Ignoring contemporary Iranian issues, there seems to be distinctly Persian aspects to your esthetic. Is traditional Persian art an influence for you?
LK: What Persian aspects would those be? I am totally close to Iranian culture but looking at my work I don’t see how you can tell that it is made by an Iranian. If you are relating "Iranian-ness" to social relevance and "Persian-ness" to formalistic imagery, then yes, I am concerned by the politics, but I don’t directly address that in my work. However, irony, drama and exaggeration are typical qualities I find in Iranians, and these are some aspects I work with in creating
personas in my storytelling.
AFH: Your earlier paintings had aspects reminiscent of Persian miniatures, as well as references to theater, medieval painting and other art traditions -- but a Persian influence seemed evident.
LK: I vaguely reference the format of Persian miniatures for my miniscapes, but those were images I always wanted to subvert for their very idealistic nature. I couldn’t stand them sometimes. But my influences have hardly been limited to Persian miniatures. I’ve done the same with various types of painting styles.
In my earlier paintings, I wanted to depict moments which clearly marked the blurry space between theater and real emotion, and in this context set the stage for real situations. Those paintings could be described as showing characters leaving a stage, but for me, what I wanted to do was create emotional situations on the subject that could be read like a personal history, that could be donned and stripped off, like costumes.
AFH: Were you attracted to fantasy?
LK: Yes, I was interested in these things. But even growing up in Orlando and going to Disneyland 23 times as a kid was an influence.
AFH: Disney versus art is a pretty obvious dichotomy. How were you influenced by Disney?
LK: Disney’s fabricated sensibility led to my interest in theater and other environments or art forms that are overt fabrications, yet require an illusion of reality to function. I feel Orlando bred my imagination because it fostered my simultaneous fascination with and repugnance towards a simulated society. In Orlando, in many ways, newness is the most desirable attribute a thing can possess.
When I left high school, I actually started working in numerous studios, like MGM, making the synthetic things used in theme parks and large-scale scenery as part of their corporate makeovers. So, I was building fake rocks, fake bamboo, gingerbread houses, rock concerts and things like that. In fact, I was fabricating the appearance of reality and history, by crafting regular stuff you see.
AFH: Was that a disillusioning experience?
LK: At the time, yes. . . but not really. But in discussing my work, I’d have to say that the fabrication and retelling of history and time are interests I keep returning to.
ANA FINEL HONIGMAN is a critic and PhD candidate in art history at Oxford University.