Craft Meets Contemporary in Hadieh Shafie’s Meticulous Rolled-Paper Paintings

In her first solo show in New York this week, Iran-born, U.S.-based artist Hadieh Shafie presents a range of new artworks created through her unusual artmaking process. Using rolled-up, painted strips of paper, Shafie makes colorful assemblages that relate to both traditional crafts and to modernist art.

The new works that feature in “Surfaced” at Leila Heller Gallery illustrate several variations on her unique method of collaged painting. On shaped panels, tondos, and thin scroll-like forms, Shafie applies scrolls of paper that have been rolled tightly into spirals, either as flat-topped cylinders, or as pointed cones, to create complex, textural color fields. By layering the strips of paper, Shafie creates rings of varied color, packed side-by-side into a frame to create a mosaic image. Her works recall fiber arts such as rugs and tapestries, as well as colorful modernist painting and psychedelia, and shares an affinity with those of Suh Jeong Min.

In 9 Colors (2015), a central field of cooler colors fades into warmer tones at the edges. Some of the rolls have been inscribed with the Farsi word eshgh, meaning “love,” and the glowing image seems imbued with this sentiment. Transition 4 (2014) is a tondo of hundreds of rolled scrolls, adorned with 11 stacks of flat paper that have been expressionistically unfurled, like banners covered with colored bands. These linear interruptions and the image’s round frame disrupt traditional horizontal and vertical visual readings of the painting, directing the viewer’s attention across its cornerless surface.

Other works are flat: Grid/Cut 2 (2014) features a repeating black ink pattern across a wide horizontal field. The dense, calligraphic imagery is interrupted in three places by vertical strips painted with bright pink and green and topped with a white chevron pattern, appearing incised into the surface. Forugh 3 (2014) alternates colored vertical line, à la Markus Linnenbrink, with text from a poem. The punctuations in these paintings heighten the anticipation caused by their repeated imagery. “As a child I grew up in an environment where it was heavily decorated,” explains Shafie. “There was a lot of repetition… I was accustomed to seeing repetition, and it felt very natural.”

Finally, some works become like bas-relief, with conical spirals of paper extending far off of the picture plane. In her untitled painting, the rolled scrolls extrude from the painting, resulting in a sculpted image. Here, some of the otherwise-hidden texts are just barely discernable, along the side of the paper. Shafie’s play of repetition leading to revelation is exciting and beautiful.

Stephen Dillon

Hadieh Shafie: Surfaced” is on view at Leila Heller Gallery, New York, Feb. 26–Apr. 11, 2015.

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