This retrospective touches on Haleh Mashian’s 25-year study of the female form. Consistently painting from live models, Mashian’s deftness is in capturing the essence of her subjects beyond the light and shadow of their corporal articulation. Sensuality, sexuality, sureness, and the unflinchingly feminine—radiate from each canvas without apology or ambiguity. For her later series, the Abstract Collage, Mashian pushes the boundaries of the positive and negative so that her female subjects are both one and distinct from their surroundings. This series of abstract portraiture introduces collage and dimension as Mashian uses a variety of materials to add layers to the canvas. Glass, beads, tile, gold leaf, paper, and other materials add a scintillating geometrica to her figures as if the viewer is given the opportunity to see each shimmering atom of the woman, as she fragments and reconstitutes. When painting with live models, Mashian is at her most free: “I let the brush guide me. To draw from a live human figure is to be totally in the moment, to get lost in their form, light and texture.” As an artist, Mashian revels in what psychologists call the “flow phenomenon,” where you are completely engulfed in the act of creating—unconcerned with perfection or error. “To see and render the human figure heightens my awareness of the moment and living in the present. One cannot simultaneously be thinking of something else and paint or draw the human form.”
Mashian’s latest pursuit, portray the figure squarely situated in the center of a vast canvas. The small figures, painted within a thick border of resin, are surrounded by life as a sea surging all around them. Mashian describes these works as “life happening in isolation,” because regardless of where we are and what we’re thinking, life evolves and moves on. Reminiscent of John Lennon singing that life happens while you’re making other plans, Mashian implores that life—even in these trying times of the pandemic lockdown—is still meant to be lived: we can still make an art out of it. “These new paintings represent going with the flow,” Mashian affirms. “Yes, these ideas also illustrate one’s dreams, but it’s about realizing that your dream is not against the world. Your dream will materialize in whatever way it needs to.”
From abstract figures to more realistic renderings, the strength of Mashian’s “characters” shines through. Women are depicted as sexual, powerful, and exactly who they are—without having to capitulate to masculinity as a show of strength. These women are not hard-edged or defiant. They are facets of the internal woman—who embodies a fluid grace, an essential femininity, an inner fortitude. Mashian’s Magenta Series employs the immediacy of portraiture and the pop feel of the color magenta to celebrate the internal and external in her woman characters.
60 x 60 in
Magenta becomes a bridge to her latest work, which fuses the idea of life as an eternal question with the fleetingness of life. As in her Tree series, Mashian mines the recurring theme of life happening as we fret about it. Mashian’s answer: create.
“To me, the joy of painting is to be in the moment. Creativity is the root of all. In order for it to come out, we need to connect to a place of silence and clarity. Let it come to you, and let go of any attachment to the outcome.” Mashian is speaking both as an artist and as an adventuress of the quotidian. “Let yourself loose. The moments those thoughts come in of perfection, it belongs to the ego—not your painting,” she imparts. “You have to work from the moment. That is real freedom.”
The women depicted in Figuratively Speaking incarnate an organic freedom that was always theirs, to begin with. Mashian cultivates it to full bloom on canvas.