Idris Khan is acclaimed for works in a variety of media that inhabit the space between abstraction and figuration, and speak to themes of history, cumulative experience and the metaphysical collapse of time into single, cohesive moments. Questions of repetition and superimposition have always been central to Khan’s practice. The sustained act of repeating and layering texts, images or musical notation – meditative, at times even cathartic for the artist – invites a range of corresponding responses from the viewer. It is in this contemplative space that both the processes of Minimalist art and allusions to the role of repetition in the world’s major religions are brought into focus – as a vehicle for transcendence and a conduit of the sublime.
New works on view at Frieze LA include a number of large Rhythm paintings, in which sheet music is taken as a starting point. Sharply masking out areas of musical notation with passages of gestural blue oil paint, Khan leaves visible only selected elements of the original, including its dynamics and articulation marks such as the ‘brace’ – a sinuous line connecting two or more staves of music that are played simultaneously on keyboard instruments. If music can be thought of sound organised into time, and musical notation a further attempt to schematise the ephemeral, in these works Khan speaks eloquently of the essential duality between music as rational, written form and unquantifiable experience, at the same time creating new compositions with their own internal rhythms and expressiveness. For the artist, the significance of the colour blue, meanwhile, lies in how ‘it can have an immediate effect on emotion. I think it can have a positive or negative effect on the eye.’
In November 2019, a major public work by the artist was unveiled at One Blackfriars in London. Titled 65,000 Photographs, the monumental sculpture refers to Khan’s personal archive of images from the past six years. The sculpture represents the volume of photography in the modern age and draws attention to the almost forgotten art of photographic printing in our ever more digitised world. Cast in aluminium, the textured surface of the sculpture echoes the delicate edges of each photographic print. Together, these lines create a dynamic rhythm that relates closely to the artist’s other works, in which lines are repeated and overlaid to arrive at what might be considered the essence of an image and to create something entirely new. On view is 65,000 Photographs (Maquette), 2019, which is created using jesmonite. Abstract and minimalist in appearance, it is, like its monumental counterpart, a work that compresses a mass of personal imagery and functions as a kind of self-portrait. At the same time, it reframes the idea of the modernist monument as a site for contemplation, encouraging viewers to reflect on their own archives of images and the delicacy of time. Equally personal is the sculpture my mother, 59 years, 2019. To produce this work, the artist compiled every printed photograph he could find of his late mother (around 360) to form an abstract monument that collapses memory and time into a singular column.
Additional works include a series of White Window collages, which expand on the artist’s celebrated White Window works. Over the past few years, Khan has recorded the marks and gestures made by the anonymous people who use white paint to obscure the windows of businesses that have closed down around the UK and in Europe. Superimposing these simple acts of obfuscation, Khan introduces additional elements, offering a social and political counterpoint to the deeply personal works on view.