The son of a Haitian-Palestinian father and an Israeli mother, Tomm El-Saieh (born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 1984; based in Miami, Florida) grew up around his grandfather’s local gallery, so becoming an artist meant entering the family business. (His younger brother Viktor is also a painter.) Tomm ran an exhibition space in Miami Beach and now programs for the family’s space in Haiti, but in his own paintings, he favors an ecstatic abstraction. He overlays vaporous stained fields in smoldering colors or sooty grays with smudges and small repetitive marks that never quite coalesce into pictographs—though suggestions of sunbursts, googly eyes, and smiley faces abound.
Conjuring cave art, cuneiform, and aerial views of cityscapes, El-Saieh’s canvases immerse us in an allover aesthetic in which visual focus proves proves as elusive as meaning. They incite a reverie that the artist has likened to the trance states of Haitian Vodou. The blinding light of the tropics might also have influenced El-Saieh’s vision—one thinks of similar effects in work by Caribbean painters like Wifredo Lam and Armando Reverón. But the earliest abstract painting modeled itself on music, and El-Saieh’s marks can also read like notes in an expanded staff. It may be more than incidental that his art-dealing grandfather was also a Haitian bandleader.
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