Shaan Syed – Please Play By The Rules
1 May—20 June 2009
Galerie Michael Janssen Berlin
In Please Play by the Rules, Shaan Syed sets up patterns or situations that describe depth within his compositions simply to cancel out their very effect. Interested in notions around real and painterly space, Syed uses stencils and the guidelines of the stripe to suggest piling, layering and depth. Shaan uses his paint impasto, often with thick blobs of colour spilling over the edges meant to contain it. His canvases feel heavy and his surfaces highly textured, the paint often laid on with a trowel or combed through with an old brush, bringing to mind brickwork or construction. A frame or border is often deliberately painted in, or emerges from the patterns being worked through on the canvas. The effect is a deliberate push and pull bet- ween foreground and background - between the subject and the backdrop, positive and negative.
The notion of shallow space canceling out depth is exemplified in “Personal Jesus” in which the interior of a stadium and its stage are drastically simplified and we are given the vantage point of the performer. The stadium’s inherent vastness is cancelled out or made shallow with transparent white bands evoking beams of light that seem to conflict with the perspective being offered. A space is created for the viewer in which to imagine themselves entering. It seems at once immense, yet actually offers little in the ways of perceived space. With the painting’s title taken from stadium-era Depeche Mode, and speaking of personal salvation, Shaan creates a stadium not for thousands, but with room only for one.
Syed’s colour gradients, titled “Shoegazers” in numerical order, again take their name from music, this time from a late 80’s genre heavy with swirling vocals, distortion and feedback. Bands would often play concerts with their backs towards the audience, or staring at their effects pedals on the floor, hence the idea they were gazing at their own shoes. The British music press of the time coined Shoegazing as “the scene that celebrates itself”. In a similar manner, Syed describes these paintings as “visual feedback; blissfully self-indulgent, and failed in their inevitable imperfection.” Made alla prima in one sitting, the paint is worked and re-worked to achieve a near-perfect gradation of colour, giving the illusion of infinite depth and glowing light. Playing with what can be read as the horizon line, where colours seamlessly merge, Syed invokes the hope and ambition he associates with the wide-open landscape. Yet depending on how the painting is viewed, the repetitive horizontal brushstroke combed decidedly through the paint obscures the reading of the illusion, bringing the eye back to the surface, denying the depth of the slowly merging colours. The consistent proportions of these pieces mimic the outer limits of gesture and refer to the labour intensive manner in which they were made. Syed paints a white frame around the canvas or a portion of it, objectifying the painting, a knowing reminder of its limits, of the absence depicted, and a wry reference to photography. These paintings are at once backdrops, scenic in their use, yet also the subject of their own absence.
Shaan Syed, Please Play By The Rules, Installation view, 2009, Galerie Michael Janssen, Berlin