Flotation Effect: Riad Miah at Wave Hill
Riad Miah: Waves of Light—Entwined Through the Tendrils of Time at Wave Hill’s Sunroom Project Space
July 21–to September 2, 2019
675 West 252nd Street at Bingham Road
The Bronx, wavehill.org
Large, semi-translucent, gesturally painted blue shapes optically sway in space in Riad Miah’s immersive site-specific installation, at Wave Hill’s Sunroom Project Space. “Waves of Light—Entwined Through the Tendrils of Time,” a project space exhibition curated by Eileen Jeng Lynch, explores monthly changes in light through painting in space, a complex retinal and emotional task. Painting on transparent Dura-Lar panels on both sides with oil and acrylic, he mixes large gestural strokes and his signature menagerie of dispersed drips. The shapes are strategically suspended from the ceiling across the perimeter of skylights, enabling a translucent glow throughout the space. A palette exploring a rich spectrum of blues selected for each hanging piece come from careful observation of the sky’s color at a given time each month, as viewed from Wave Hill. The shapes echo the verticality of the windows in the Sun Porch and century old wisteria intricately intertwined on the building outside. Amongst the hanging pieces, four, seaweed-like plastic structures cascade downward from the center of each skylight creating a juxtaposition of manmade and natural twists and turns.
In a departure from his more familiar painting work, but one that does nothing to compromise the essence of his painterly magic, Miah elegantly coaxes gestural painting into another realm. Playing with light, color and paint, the work reflects changing conditions in the space and surrounding environment. At any given time of day or season, the viewer can observe at least one shape that is reflective of the current particularity of hue outsides, creating an intense, metaphysical spirit of place. Miraculously, Miah is able to fuse awareness of space with an acute sense of the two dimensionality of his painting surface, handling this by suspending the paintings in such a way as to generate an illusion of floating. The technique of traditional painting was also modified to sustain the gestural nature of the brushstrokes. The artist uses various media and careful but swift application of acrylic paint to suspend his gestures in space while the gestural strokes are cut out and pasted back on the surface creating an uneven edge. The resulting mirage-like floatation effect further teases out a sensation of time, as each gesture appears frozen in its moment.
While Riad’s debt to David Reed with his autonomous gestural swirls is striking, his project has a deeper affinity with James Turrell’s Skylight and Skyspace series. Miah strives to achieve the unobtainable effect of the sky’s depth. But unlike Turrell, Miah interprets the experience of the sky more literally by exploring the color blue and pushing it to the farthest extents to which pigment can take the eye. To Miah the examination of color is an important element of the work as he breaks down the blue spectrum. The work invites observation, positioning viewers to appreciate subtleties from the artist’s perspective. The ways in which the artist treats his surfaces, accentuates painterly qualities. The confined space in this exhibition forces the observer to interact with each hanging shape’s intimate brushstrokes and glimpse the artist’s obsessive intentionality. While Miah deploys oil paint with his signature technique of paint dispersion on one side of the Dura-Lar, the gestural strokes in acrylic are a new medium for the artist and are used to generate the energetic visual field.
Miah’s poignant manipulation of place and space create a perfect and serene moment of meditation within Wave Hill’s idyllic setting. As a botanical garden and art space, Wave Hill offers a tranquil escape from its urban surroundings. Miah’s work expertly encapsulates this ideal by drawing on more than a decade of visitation to this space. Surprisingly he eschews botanical specifics, focusing instead on the overlooked, ever-unfolding tapestry of the sky. His choices of blue address the intangible nature of the sky while balancing the delicate physicality of his materials.