Amir H. Fallah (b. 1979, Tehran, Iran) is a visual artist currently residing in Los Angeles, CA. Amir received his BFA in Fine Art & Painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art and his MFA in painting at the University of California, Los Angeles. Selected solo exhibitions include the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tucson; South Dakota Art Museum, Brookings SD; Schneider Museum of Art, Ashland OR; San Diego ICA; and the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland, KS.
THAT: Tell us about your practice.
AF: My practice is supported by three main pillars: painting, sculpture, and installation. Each facet of my practice informs the next and exists as a vast ecosystem of possibilities. Using the combination of these mediums I transform spaces and tailor experiences that are rooted in a story I've been telling through consecutive exhibitions. These stories are a reflection of my personal life experiences and how they have been shaped and inspired by my family's Japanese American history. Time, love, tragedy, strength, and renewal are some of the themes I integrate into my work.
THAT: Your work is steeped in symbolism and most of these symbols are oftentimes related to home and the objects that occupy it (keyholes, windows, candles, and so on). Can you tell us a little bit about your approach to using symbols?
AF: The space I occupy within my mind is broken down into a language depicted by images and symbols. Memories, ideas, stories, and emotions are coded into the color palette and visual vernacular that I incorporate into my paintings which grow and overflow into enveloping environments. I like how symbols can be both direct and mysterious at the same time. I also enjoy the accessibility that symbolism holds, and its ability to shift and mold viewers' individual approaches to entering and understanding my work. I like to think about the paintings functioning as dirty mirrors. You see a reflection of yourself, but it's not fully clear who you're looking at. When I complete a painting, one of my favorite activities is to sit in front of it and translate the work from end to end, reflecting and revisiting all the visual connections I integrate into the painting.
THAT: You’re tackling a piece of American history that’s often forgotten, which happens to have such personal weight to you and your family. Can you tell us what made you decide to tackle the topic? How do you approach a subject that’s so personal not just to you but also to your family?
AF: I'm standing at a crossroads where I've become a father and where the priorities of my life have shifted. Before my daughter Spring was born I was more concerned with the past and now that she is here my attention is on the future. With this being my first institutional solo presentation I wanted to share more about my family and the histories that have been told to me my whole life, shaping me into the person I am today. It felt safe to share these sensitive histories in an institutional setting like ICA San Diego, fueled by the opportunity to educate people about the internment camps and process the feelings I have toward them. I don't think I would feel comfortable sharing my family's ephemera in a commercial gallery setting. I asked my mom if it was ok to share the family photos, and she agreed as long as I cover the faces because my grandparents are no longer here to give their consent. This show has been a journey filled with emotions both high and low. I'm just so happy and grateful to have the space, time, and support to continue making and sharing my work, and a piece of family history that is so influential to me.
THAT: You’ve never done performance art before. What made you decide to add that to your latest show at ICA San Diego?
AF: I wanted to do something new that puts me in a vulnerable space. It feels chaotic that I even thought of doing a performance. Everything in my exhibitions is hyper-tailored to every detail. My painting practice is perfected technically so that no trace of my hand can be seen. As a contrasting element, I wanted to include a gesture that was raw, impermanent, and physical like a performance. I was interested in the journey I will embark on during this performance and the weight of the objects I'm using in this ceremony. I want this performance to provide some closure to the exhibition and the emotions that were provoked through its creation.
THAT: We’re always impressed with how immersive your installations are. Can you tell us about your process of building an immersive show?
AF: It's important for me to be connected to the space I occupy. Within my home, studio, or gallery knowing that I can create and change the space around me is comforting which is how I naturally gravitated to building installations. My exhibitions grow organically, usually starting with the paintings. The paintings are the storyboards for the space they will later occupy. Then from the paintings, I pull out subjects and symbols that will manifest as a sculpture and exist in real space like a neon candle, burned house, or a floating teapot. Then a space is tailored for the paintings and sculptures to live within using architectural build-outs, lighting, and surface treatments like carpeting and painted walls. Together these elements coalesce into a world of my own. From my ideas into physical space, an escape for visitors to explore, and an expanded container of my mind.
THAT: What has been inspiring you lately?
AF: My biggest inspiration right now is my daughter Spring. Watching her grow up has been a magical experience. With time being so precious these days, I've been reevaluating what it is in life that truly makes me happy. Building a space, a home for my family to occupy is my main inspiration to keep pushing forward every day. My work and my endeavors are a product of the love I have for my family.
THAT: What's next for you?
AF: I have some upcoming group shows I'm working toward. One in Europe with Nicodim Gallery, another at the Long Beach Museum of Art - LBMA, and one at an institution in Hong Kong! Some fairs sprinkled in between. But for the most part, I'm going to be developing the next body of work that will be insane! The works and ideas I'm developing don't have a destination yet but I'm excited to see where they can go in the near future. The new days ahead will lead me to new futures.
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