Karim Hamid: The End of Play and Infancy


karim-hamidWhile viewing the works of Karim Hamid, I was reminded of the London School -- artists such as Euan Uglow and R.B. Kitaj. Uglow, because of the way both artists leave visible marks which let on as to how the painting's composition is formulated; and Kitaj, because of the distorted perspectives and odd anatomy for which both artists seem to strive. There's even a bit of Francis Bacon here, where fleshy, toothy grins float where faces should be, and incomplete, writhing figures fill chilling voids. A review of his resume online shows Hamid studied in Brighton University, in England, which should account for my impression that Hamid is influenced by the London School.

An accomplished draftsman, Hamid renders everything from what looks to be Mardi Gras-style "Girls Gone Wild" surrounded by titillated tourists and creepy old men in the oil-on-linen painting "GGW 24" (2008), to somewhat restrained seated portraits all with refined line and energetic washes, such as "Portrait of RPC" (2008).

Hamid begins all of his paintings with photographic studies, collaged pictures, often Polaroids. A good portion of the works here focus on public nudity and amateur porn, images that I suspect are garnered from the internet. In doing this, Hamid preys on the basic human instinct to look, to be a voyeur. And it's how Hamid portrays those moments (through the filter of how we retain those naughty glimpses) that is his greatest talent. As he states on his site, "I am most interested in the process by which the female figure is objectified by the Archetypal male gaze."

One of the most fascinating works of this type is "GGW 231" (2007-8), which shows a fixated crowd of horny young men entertained by a young woman prancing around on a pool-side platform. The cut-and-shuffled imagery breaks the woman down to just a right leg and part of a left ankle as her left arm seems to float nearby. This abstraction is key to the success of all of Hamid's work because it refocuses our attention constantly, though not to the point of distraction.

To do this sleight-of-hand abstraction, Hamid must find a series of like photographs so they can be cut up and cut away to break down, bend, and reconstruct a scene within specific events or moments. The introduction of unrelated imagery does not work here. By doing this re-sequencing, he mixes up the narratives just short of confusion so little of the original setting or context is lost, so the Surrealism, if you will, is more focused and in some ways more biting -- like the way Bacon gives us the essence of the anatomy to reflect and heighten the emotions. The photo-collage "GGW 158" (2007-8) has that focus, as a magical pair of legs glides through a darkened space like a comet through a distant sky.

And like the way we once looked at the paintings of Willem De Kooning, who was thought to be slashing up the representations of his subjects because of the way he painted them, Hamid can be seen by some as being destructive, even violent in many of these works. The photo-collage "GGW 122" (2007-8) has at its core a figure of a woman exposing one breast. Her head, which is cut away and reduced to about 20 percent of its original size, is scratched and torn beyond recognition. But as we know from De Kooning, it would be a mistake to call these artists angry or violent. Hamid seems far more interested in how far one could go without losing the original intent than he is in chopping or cutting up anything or anybody. It's about focus, tension -- how we as viewers can connect the dots without all the facts, given that we all live in the same time and have some of the same basic knowledge and exposure.

Despite Hamid's obvious influences, he manages a freshness, a contemporary look that offers compelling colors and captivating compositions. The paintings, like the small photo-based collages, really pull you into the action. All this is anchored by the realism, the recognizable culture that surrounds us, and the way we, as a society, are colored by ingrained values that are based in our nation's brand of Puritanism that affords us more than our share of inhibitions and insecurities. Therefore, some of us cannot totally see these works for what they are: as explorations in the subconscious, where the artist's thoughts are filtered through playful, experimental tendencies. That is why the photo collages are so important: They document the earliest stages of the experimentation, the primal instincts in these potent portrayals. - D. Dominick Lombardi

Now on display at 25 Bond Street, New York City.

dom.jpgD. Dominick Lombardi is an artist with representation in Kasia Kay Art Projects and in Chicago, Van Brunt Gallery in Beacon, NY, and ADA gallery in Richmond, VA; a writer with Sculpture, Sculpture Review, DART, and NYARTS; and an independent curator.