Tala Madani, a recent Yale graduate, easily navigates between small intimate surfaces of cartoonish figuration and large-scale paintings of more ambiguous gestural abstraction. The Iranian-born and American-educated artist paints intense, idiosyncratic scenes that involve her favorite protagonists: bald middle-aged men of Middle Eastern descent.
Madani’s work is as much about the pleasure of painting as it is an attitude. Her men are caught in absurd situations, transgressing norms of social behavior with a zest for guilty pleasure. They are as much comic characters as they are deadly serious in some of their acts. They play and pray together in a subversive ritualized homoerotic context. What does it mean for a woman artist to paint “stereotypical men of the Middle East” – as the artist describes them? It is probably as much an act of transgression as it is a recuperation of cultural specificity.
The headlong ease and assurance with which Madani addresses her medium will delight any lover of pure painting, but her disabused look at her subjects is intended to leave viewers troubled and questioning. – Barry Schwabsky on Tala Madani, Artforum January 2007.
Madani’s Cake Series evolve around a few particular themes: the birthday cake, the grass bouquet and hair tweezing. The men depicted in these works are shown participating in strange contests where cakes become bombs and a birthday presents a death wish.
What is the cake to these men? Aging, a birthday, every year blowing out the candles, blow them out, blow up, suicide bombers, and then stopping aging, the candles as vehicles of explosion, but as a birthday cake it must be a desirable explosion. The cake as a sign is tattooed on the body or is formed by tweezing the chest hair in its shape. You are part of the club if you have the sign of the cake on or in your body. – Tala Madani
In Madani’s larger paintings, the details of the smaller works vanish. Her palette is minimal, limited to a few intense colors. The specificity of the individual male is replaced by the anonymity of the crowd. The men are piled up on top of each other in prayer and devotion. The simplicity of Madani’s gesture reads like a motif in a pattern or a letter in a calligraphic scroll. Her crowds turn immaterial, suspended in time and space like a bubble ready to burst. They are bursting in fire Fire Heads, 2006 or light Holy Light, 2006 in an act of disappearance into their own reflection.