Artist Amir H. Fallah’s Mesmerizing Portraits
STUDIO MAY 9, 2023 ANNA CLAIRE MAUNEY
When asked what gets him excited to make something new, contemporary artist Amir H. Fallah says simply, “I’m always excited.” Based in LA, Fallah makes detailed, collage-esque paintings that have been displayed in exhibitions around the world. His work is featured in private collections in Chicago and Kansas City, in the Microsoft Collection, and in museums in New York, California, and Dubai.
The Guardians, 2019. Acrylic on canvas. 48 x 36 in.
A recent exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tucson is the an expansive exhibition of his work from 2020. The show, entitled Scatter My Ashes on Foreign Lands, showcased “one of America’s most prolific and compelling contemporary artists.” It featured work exploring multifaceted topics personal to the artist like family, identity, the immigrant experience, and art history.
Born in Iran but having grown up in the US, Fallah has said in several interviews that while he’s always seen himself as just as American as anyone else, others do not always agree. Whether because of his name or his appearance, people have asked him more than once where he’s really from.
A rare rose, but not without Thorns, 2020. Acrylic on canvas. 96 x 72 x 2 in.
Fallah’s artwork often captures the essence of this experience and others like it. His portraits explore what constitutes race and identity—particularly for immigrants and those in multiracial and immigrant families—by pushing and pulling at the bounds of art historical conventions of representation from both the West and the East.
The portraits are all different, each filled with specific objects and visuals that read like personal relics. Certain details stand out upon recollection—a vase, a type of plant, a pop-culture reference, or a picture frame. The veiling of figures, the use of golden-orange skin tones, the geometric sectioning of the canvases, small repetitions of things like smiley-faces, and even the tendency to place figures into mirror-like arrangements—these aspects all create a sense of commonality across much of the work Fallah produces.
How High, 2019. Acrylic on canvas. 5×5 in.
Fundamentally, Fallah’s body of work has created a new system of representation, of portraiture. There are rules, there is repetition. And that seems to say something fundamental about American families. Fallah’s figures are unique and full of personality, yet ultimately more alike than different.
So just as he works from his personal history as an American and an immigrant, Fallah builds off of old standards set by art history. “Art history, I feel, is part of my history,” he reflects.
Connected, 2019. Acrylic on Canvas. 42 x 24 in.
Fallah explains that his attraction to these personal subject matters is part of the reason he’s always excited to make art. “something I wake up thinking about doing and I go to bed thinking about what I’m going to make the next day. There’s not enough time in the day to make all the ideas in my head.”
It seems that Fallah easily stumbles across inspiration. The work he is currently focused on—soon to be exhibited at the Shulamit Nazarian Gallery in LA—is a perfect example. “I’m making a lot of work that is dealing with my son,” he explains, “and how we’re raising him and the life lessons we’re trying to impart.”
The artist’s studio
The ritual of reading children’s books to his four and a half-year-old son is what got Fallah thinking about this act of imparting wisdom. “They are teaching tools, in a sense,” Fallah reflects, “I never thought about children’s books as a way parents pass on life lessons and values to their kids. I thought that they were only for entertainment. That changed once I became a parent and began the daily ritual of reading to my son.”
A particular moment that sparked this realization for Fallah, occurred just after the 2016 Presidential Election. “After Trump was elected president, my wife went out and bought multiple children’s books about the importance of voting, geared at three- and four-year-olds. Who knew that such a thing existed,” he says, laughing a bit, “but they do.”
After this, Fallah says he began to look at children’s books in a whole new way. “I started photographing the pages of his books, not knowing what I was going to do with the images.”
This is something he does regularly, photographing things that catch his eye or grab his attention. Fallah is constantly inspired by his surroundings. “I’m borrowing from a plethora of sources,” he explains, adding that he takes snapshots of whatever he finds visually interesting while he’s out in the world. Anything from a random logo to vintage matchboxes to artwork in museums. His tastes have a wide range. “I’m interested in graphic design as much as I am in Flemish painting from the 17th Century. I’m interested in skateboard graphics from the ‘80s just as much as I am in Persian miniature paintings.”
And though these things may, at first, appear different, Fallah says he’s “always trying to find a commonality between them. For me, it’s almost like a jigsaw puzzle.” Perhaps this is what gives Fallah’s work such a unique and personal feel. While his art is inarguably of the contemporary genre and from the fine art world, he’s not afraid to bring in references that speak to a wider audience.