Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, raised and still living in Miami, Tomm El-Saieh paints large, colorful abstract paintings that consider the Western nonobjective tradition but also, in their complex embodiment of smaller forms, can seem puzzle-like, look like the designs of cities, or complex patterns that might suggest, synesthetically, the intricacies of music. “Toma,” the title given to the show, refers to El-Saieh’s childhood nickname but also to Ayiti Toma, the name Haitian revolutionaries gave to Haiti. Thus, even if the paintings are abstract, it can be noted that this excellent show has intimations of private and public life. The subtlety of the paintings, with their remarkable complexity based on gradations of form, is intensified by El-Saieh’s use of color, which is often intense and can, in a few cases, be nearly pastel-like in its suggestion of light. A younger painter in his middle thirties, El-Saieh makes it clear in this show that traditional abstraction can be reworked and made new. His work, striking at first glance, also rewards extended study. Often bands of color, thought to be uniform, lacking specific elements when seen from a distance, are in fact composed of many smaller parts, in nearly mosaic-like fashion.
In large part because of El-Saieh’s beautiful use of color, the paintings convey deep emotional states. Yet that does not mean that the artist’s works are lacking in structure. Instead, what visitors note is his determination to convey feeling through subtle relations between shades of related color. In the painting titled Toma (2021), red, yellow, and orange streaks take over the composition, becoming close to drips as they move down the painting. The middle part of the work is taken up with reds and oranges, and the yellow passages occur on either side of the center. Given its large size, Toma takes on a majestic aspect. It fits neatly into the history of the New York School, but, at the same time, its inner complexities suggest other experiences, perhaps referring to Haiti’s current difficulties. Choublac (2021), which means hibiscus flower in Haitiain, possesses a green center framed by red, with a purple passage in the upper right corner. The painting is made energetic by the daubs of green, yellow-green, and yellow embellishing the entire effort; the short marks are darker at the bottom of the picture. In addition to suggesting the hibiscus flower, the percussiveness of the painting might be linked to music.
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