The Pattern of Landscape, at Sean Kelly, Los Angeles (through 5 November 2022)
by Ricky Amadour
Opening on the corner of Highland and De Longpre Avenues in the heart of Hollywood, Idris Khan’s The Pattern of Landscape is the inaugural exhibition at Sean Kelly, Los Angeles. Khan investigates color theory, text, and musical concepts through new large-scale paintings, bronze sculptures, watercolors on paper, and photography. Khan’s first Los Angeles presentation features music and text, fitting for an area predominantly known for legendary recording studios and music venues. Based in London, the artist speaks about his meticulous artistic process, lyrical expression, and affinity to architecture.
RICKY AMADOUR: Your exhibition The Pattern of Landscape looks terrific, and many different motifs exist. Where did you come up with this title, and what does it mean?
IDRIS KHAN: It was interesting. I suppose the initial engagement in making the paintings was this sort of horizon line cutting the bottom of the large-scale paintings. It came out of an idea, really, from a previous show last year at Victoria Miro Gallery in London. It was to do these watercolors, which I have a set of in the show [at Sean Kelly Gallery]. I never really explored them as landscapes. During the pandemic, I felt that I was reflecting on the color a lot more because I had more time to take in the changing seasons. In the UK, we only have a limited time outside. I made this watercolor series based on the seasons’ switching colors.
AMADOUR: Do you believe there is performativity to the nature of color in the pigments you choose?
KHAN: Absolutely. I think that they’re very much to do with channeling emotions. I suppose the first set I did last year was about the changing landscape. So I was thinking about autumn and summer and winter, something that people could grasp in terms of changing seasons. But for these colors, especially the blues and the copper blues, there’s a lovely subtle shift in terms of spirituality. I feel like you can fall into them. You can meditate in front of those two colors.
AMADOUR: I also noticed that within the square shapes, the internal square is slightly different in color than the outer square.
KHAN: What’s fascinating is that it’s only one tone lighter in the center. It’s the same color, but just a shade of white lighter. There’s a minimal bit without the ink on the web, the oil, the music notation, and the words; you can hardly tell the difference. But when you apply the oil, you see more of that color. If you remove the outer color, there’s minimal difference in the center. But it’s just been brought out because of the way that it’s stamped on top.
AMADOUR: Is it meant to suggest an indeterminate space? A subtle color variation is a slight tonality, which in a musical cadence is also similar.
KHAN: It has more to do with rhythm than anything. In terms of how I stamp, there’s an unbelievable sense of rhythm when I’m painting. I hit the glass palette with the oil and then hit the aluminum panel. And there’s a lovely sort of rhythm to it. And funny enough, as I mentioned earlier, the music is a lot more open. So you can’t layer it as densely as you can with the English text because it becomes too messy. So I have to find a really lovely balance between the rhythm of the music in the center and the rhythm of the words.
AMADOUR: You draw from musical notation and scores in the Rhythm in Colour series. Do you feel that there is a BPM, or “beats per measure,” expressed by putting all the texts together and stamping them?
KHAN: I do. No, absolutely. I think there is; it’s quite a laborious way of working, as you can imagine. And I try to work on all of them at the same time. So I keep repeating and coming back to one panel that is half finished, and then I add to the next one and then come back because it layers differently in both ways. I know when something’s finished because it starts to move a little bit. I don’t know whether you picked up how I left this space around the music and then also the area around the words right at the edge. That was important through sort of trial and error. I didn’t want the music to meet the text, but leaving this lovely slight line around gives a nice tension between the musical notation and the words; it becomes more human. And then around the edges of the painting as well, there’s a gap. I didn’t stamp all the way across the edge. I left a gap because I wanted to see the start and end of the sentence so that the viewer could also.
AMADOUR: I was also thinking about Josef Alber’s Homage to the Square series and Agnes Martin’s meditations on innocence, beauty, and music. What artists have influenced your thought process?
KHAN: I think you nailed it, to be honest. I’ve always loved Agnes Martin. I love the fact that she had a text-based practice in her work. I love her writings. I’m obsessed with those. I’ve always admired her dedication to the simplicity of line and the delicacy that she brought to painting. She was surrounded by landscapes her whole life, and I often see those as landscapes. And then, of course, Albers, that’s a lovely reference in terms of just using the square. One can’t help but think about his color theory. My earliest series is looking at Rothko, and Abstract Expressionism has always been a significant part of my practice.
AMADOUR: Going back to your watercolors, which essentially take inspiration from Samuel Barbers’ Adagio for Strings and Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. Why did you focus on these particular pieces in your work?
KHAN: I’m using the actual sheet music with the watercolors. I love the tactility of paper and also going to music shops. I mean, we’re all so digitally focused, and even a lot of musicians only use iPads when they’re playing now and flick through iPads when they’re playing. There’s a physicality and fragility to paper, and that’s why I’ve kept it in my work. It has a lovely texture to it, and I enjoy going to these shops and just looking through books and looking for different patterns and rhythms within them. Adagio for Strings is a moving piece of music. I made a ballet with Ewan McGregor and Max Richter a few years ago, and we used The Four Seasons. And I love how Max Richter did it. He chopped and changed the rhythm and made something that’s very familiar, yet something new. And I think I try to do that in my work.
AMADOUR: Are there any music sheet shops you recommend in London?
KHAN: There are a lot of shops on Drummond Street. There’s one called Musicrooms. Soho has a lot of different shops, so I often go there. But believe me, it’s getting smaller and smaller.
AMADOUR: Your bronze works, Prelude – until time has dropped (2022) and Alone – is not a tune (2022), are very architectural to me. I imagine doors, walls, the construction of building materials, and also the fragmentation of the bronze relief. How do you connect structure and landscape?
KHAN: There’s something archetypal about those sculptures. I like to think of them as being timeless. When it comes to technological advancements, I’ve never been able to create that kind of texture until now. I used to stamp into clay and try and get a relief. I made a sculpture called Quartet for the End of Time (2009), where I sandblasted musical notations through and into rust. So I’d be removing the rust and then layer another template and remove that. This time I’ve managed to create the same layering effect that I do in the paintings in sculptures. I made a three-dimensional file where each layer of music was digitally layered on top of each other to make the 3-dimensional layered image. Each layer was 0.05 of a millimeter to create the 3D file and depth and then formed into bronze through a sand casting process. So it’s fascinating that I could get this layering effect into this hard surface. The notes are frozen in time and kept on a solid surface. In terms of architecture, I created quite a massive sculpture in Abu Dhabi [Wahat Al Karama, or “Oasis of Dignity” (2016)] a few years ago, where I was looking at leaning panels and panels leaning against each other.
AMADOUR: Isn’t it a memorial?
KHAN: Yes, it is, but it’s intense because it’s massive. It’s around 23 meters high by 150 meters long. It engulfs the viewer in between these giant structures. So with this, I wanted to be more delicate and considerate of the surfaces and walls. I think in terms of a sculpture, I like that the panels rest against each other.
AMADOUR: It also recalls the early essence of writing, deciphering ancient history, or looking at the Rosetta Stone or Sarcophagi and analyzing what they mean. How do you think that humans in the future would look and try to decipher your work?
KHAN: Well, that’s amazing because it becomes like a relic, which I find fascinating. You think, okay, if someone’s decoding this or has no idea what musical notation is, could they feel it? Would they rub their hands against it and think there’s a sort of rhythm to this texture? Or can you imagine if you did pull that up from the earth? It has that historical weight if you like; there’s something permanent.
AMADOUR: Outside of your exhibition, you announce your show in one of the most “LA ways” with a billboard. Given the history of Sunset Strip in Hollywood and musicians marketing their albums, there’s a chronological history of declaring an arrival particular to Southern California. Was this a surprise for you? Was this on purpose?
KHAN: I visit Los Angeles often. My brother-in-law lives there. He’s a great director. We have always come at Christmastime with my wife Annie since 2008. It’s fun to have a show after all this time visiting.
AMADOUR: Your wife being sculptor Annie Morris?
KHAN: She’s a remarkable artist. We’ve been together, God, for how long? We’ve been together since 2007, and I can honestly say that we’ve been together for 24 hours a day since that time. It’s quite an amazing artist relationship because we share studios and are surrounded by each other’s work. You know, I remember being in that building [Sean Kelly’s new gallery space]. Did you ever do yoga there?
AMADOUR: I did do yoga in that building. It was Wanderlust Yoga, and I conversed with Thomas Kelly about it while on a tour of the new space. I was like, “I used to do yoga on the upper floors!”
KHAN: It’s so funny. My brother-in-law also did yoga there, and wasn’t it Madonna’s or something? I heard that. When I visited the new building for the first time, I said, “Oh, the billboard’s cool. Sean should definitely take that for the shows.” And then, one week before the exhibition, he said, “You know, Idris, we did it. We got your billboard.” So I must admit, landing in Hollywood, we’ve got a billboard. It isn’t too bad. You know, things, things could be worse.
Idris Khan | The Pattern of Landscape | Sean Kelly, Los Angeles.
Courtesy of Sean Kelly Gallery on Vimeo.
Ricky Amadour is an interdisciplinary artist based in Los Angeles and New York City. Amadour investigates landscape, architectural forms, and our relationship as humans to built and natural environments. They received dual BA degrees in studio art and art history from the UCLA School of Arts and Architecture in 2018. For more information visit: www.amadour.com
Leave a Reply