Tomm El-Saieh: Run

633 N. La Brea Los Angeles CA 90036
May 11, 6 PM - 9 PM — ends Jun 22, 2019
In a panic attack the response tends to be fight or flight. There’s a tingling in the arms and legs and the body gets ready to remove itself from the situation that is causing alarm. Context, a country, society, a tradition, a medium, can all provoke the same reaction.

Over the years Tomm El-Saieh has mentioned how his feeling of being ‘abstracted’ or removed from his scene in Port-au-Prince pushed him into a search for his personal pictorial ground as a vehicle for expression. While surrounded by the highly-coded pictorial tradition in Haitian painting, El-Saieh managed to translate his personal experience and feeling of not belonging-while being a part of, into his praxis. Trained by Haitian masters throughout childhood and adolescence, he observed their countless Voodoo and market scenes, and political narratives, as well as their emphasis on punctuation, repetition, and the economy of paint application that defines the look of Haitian painting.

He arrived at abstraction, or what we call abstraction, from a need to establish a space for subjective expression among his peers in Haiti. He analyzed and absorbed Haitian Painting’s dominant characteristics, making that analysis a part of his lexicon. El-Saieh then distilled every single aspect of narration, arriving to a place filled with marks, erasures, transparencies and rhythmical layering. His paintings come to redefine how we consider Haitian painting. Tendencies toward abstraction have been seen in the works of various painters in the country, but never has there been, in Haitian painting, a full immersion into what the exportation of Modernism branded as ‘abstraction’.

Upon migrating to the United States, Tomm El-Saieh encountered Modernism, the grid, and monumental scale. This introduction, running towards (and from), impacted his own painting vocabulary and provided the basis for hybridization. On this hybrid plane, is where his paintings are always running away but towards something—approaching and delaying, moving forward, mapping a dizzying vocabulary built by the merging of tensions and pictorial realities—asking us to question our own understanding of abstraction.

In El-Saieh’s work the term abstraction seems to point to a lived experience, to the traumatic, to migrating, to resisting and embracing; or to a sum of ambivalences where affirmation and erasures coexist in expansion. The paintings allow for participation, for the viewer to get close or far, inviting us to take in every single element that defines them, which is in fact impossible.

As such, El-Saieh’s work brings to mind the realities of what remains overlooked or in the fringes, what attention can grasp or not, pointing to the polarities and extremes that conform the now. His work is focused on integrating, mark by mark, what was left, what was rescued, what is feared and treasured, what is running away in an ever-changing wave in slow motion.