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I visited Rema Ghuloum’s exhibition at Five Car Garage on the morning of Election Day, nursing the vague idea that perhaps abstraction could serve as an effective salve for my dark electoral anxieties. In the exhibition, titled After Night, five gauzy, color-drenched paintings line the walls of the gallery: a renovated multi-car garage situated along a quiet, breezy street in Santa Monica. Created this year amidst the grueling tumult of crisis and quarantine (which, for Ghuloum, coincided with the equally grueling experience of new motherhood), the works appear dense yet vaporous, poised yet unrefined—more akin to the cursory idiosyncrasies of drawing than the often weighty resoluteness of capital P painting. Her gesture-laden canvases ultimately suggest a quasi-diaristic process: they are in flux, notational, and prismatically reflective of the emotional ebbs and flows that leak from the subconscious in the dark of night.
As Ghuloum did in fact paint much of this body of work in the middle of the night after tending to a newborn, her exhibition teeters on the precipice between instability and cohesiveness—a precarious state of crumbling apart while nonetheless being fused together by what she emblematically expressed to me as “the center,” a metaphor that also manifests compositionally. Each canvas coalesces around a heavily pigmented central nexus that bleeds outward into a loose maze of diaphanous layers. These hazy veils of paint vary in temperature, tone, and cadence, as if registering a peculiar atmospheric disturbance. As such, they codify purely intangible perceptions, from hallucinatory apparitions to undulating voids.
With the exception of the vertically-oriented Twin Flame (all works 2020), Ghuloum’s horizontal compositions establish the paintings as windows into electric, abstract miasmas; their rectangular frames reinforce the canvas as a finite arena for otherwise seemingly infinite and unholdable gestures. In Light Body (2020 Vision), the painting’s dense spherical core of warm, earthen hues radiates outward to form several visceral, distinct trunk-like forms, which together allude to a pelvis in the throes of childbirth—like a more explosive, psychedelic rendition of Courbet’s The Origin of the World (1866). As a kaleidoscopic mirage, Light Body intimates the twilight delirium of sleepless motherhood as a pulsating, gestating colorspace, suggesting that the act of painting itself is a self-reflexive psychological exercise. While Ghuloum’s work is by no means illustrative, it reinforces the notion that gesture functions as a highly specific, autographic indicator of the artist and her attendant psychology.
In the titular painting After Night, ferocious layers of inky black form an amorphous, calligraphic pool at the work’s center, which seeps like a stain into the surrounding color field. Visually suggestive of what Ghuloum described to me as a “shadow space that has surfaced in the world,” this murky void appears to overflow and recede simultaneously—a dual metaphor for both plentitude and dearth. Raw, erratic, and seemingly in-process with peaks of untouched canvas slipping through, After Night suggests that both painting and drawing ultimately function as fluid acts of agency and authorship—creative intentions that transcend the static, venerable nature of the art object. While asserting agency through art-making has concrete political connotations (both contemporaneously and historically), in this instance, it functions as both an introspective, deeply personal act (a Herculean feat for a new mother), as well as a necessary analgesic—for artist and viewer alike—to blunt the sharpness of our crisis-dominated reality.
Rema Ghuloum: After Night runs from October 24–December 7, 2020, at Five Car Garage (contact firstname.lastname@example.org for location and gallery hours).