Riad Miah: My Eyes Just Heard My Brain
March 9 through April 1, 2023
By AMANDA CHURCH, April 2023
With animated panache, the 10 variously shaped paintings in Riad Miah’s current show “My Eyes Just Heard My Brain” (a line from Jeff Beck’s 1966 song “Shapes of Things”) break new ground while treading reverentially on an art historical past that includes Henri Matisse, Elizabeth Murray, and Mary Heilmann, to name just a few of his most notable influences. Some of the works, like HM in Blue, 2021, pay overt homage to Matisse’s 1937 Woman in Blue, yet Miah has transformed this and other references into a language of his own, devising different shapes and reinventing modes of mark-making that include delineated drips, splatters, starbursts, and curlicues and refer to both his Caribbean and urban past. Using a variety of materials — oil and acrylic paint, graphite, china marker, gesso, Dura-Lar (a clear film), canvas, and wood — the artist alludes to graffiti, punctuation, emojis, rock and roll, and urban environs. The shaped canvases stem from an interest in moving the focal point of the traditional square or rectangle away from the center to the edges. This way, the parts of the paintings are able to function independently but still remain connected to the whole. Miah has spoken of wanting the work to have a “casual, off-the-cuff” quality, but that is belied by the rigor apparent in their making. Gravitas underpins the playfulness and humor of the cavorting shapes, which seem to shift back and forth between solidity and amorphousness, as if caught in a moment of transition. The rich spectrum of saturated colors in paintings like Bleep and Bloop, 2020, where a candy-pink cartoon-cloud outline encircles the entire configuration, reinforces the pervasive sensation of joy in all Miah’s work.
There is a lyrical, improvisational quality to Miah’s calligraphic marks that vies with something grittier as evinced, for example, in 2022’s A Passing on the Train’s demarcated brick wall — a view one might glimpse from a subway window. This pastoral/urban dichotomy permeates the entire exhibition; in specific works, the contrasting materials conjure both a soothing rural vista and a spattered city sidewalk. Take An Idea (After HM), 2022, where the lower half of the painting is a cutout Dura-Lar semicircle of grey and green, like a cloud hovering at the edge of the sunny landscape on top. Perhaps this duality can be traced to the artist’s having spent the first eight years of his life in Trinidad, before he and his family moved to New York. All the paintings have a ubiquitous ambiguity of locale and affect. Simultaneously exuberant and rigorous, they appear to allude to the passage of time as well as discoveries made in the moment. Their overarching sense of optimism would seem to answer affirmatively the question posed by Jeff Beck in “Shapes of Things,” Will time make men more wise? WM
Amanda Church is an artist living and working in New York City, where she is represented by High Noon Gallery.view all articles from this author