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Salon Nino Mier, Cologne is pleased to announce our first solo show with artist Orkideh Torabi.  The exhibition, titled Once upon a time, will feature twelve works created over the course of 2019 – 2021.  In this survey show of her recent work, we see how Torabi constructs a cast of male characters to explore both artistic genres (think: the Venus or odalisque portrait convention in Nailed it, normally used to tease an exoticized female form for a male viewer) and social genres (think: the platonic intimacy of a hug in I Got Your Six that is usually at odds with machismo).  Torabi’s playful, funny, and abject portraits stick in the gears of such genres, displaying the absurdity of their will to code behavior and identity.

The works in Once upon a time make grand burlesques of masculinity.  Torabi’s world is one absent of women characters but filled with the genres of femininity.  She calls the boys and men that appear in her works her “cast,” as though her paintings were a kind theater of the absurd, crystallizing telling moments of longer, more complicated narratives.  The artist culls from history, fiction, and personal memory to divine the characters that populate her paintings. They appear as humorously clownish, loutish, and lumpen, with exaggerated features such as bulbous noses, beady eyes, thick eyebrows, and exaggeratedly separated teeth.  But their postures and environments are summoned from other tales and aesthetic genres, like odalisque portraiture, depictions of the Virgin Mary with Jesus, melodrama, and other scenes normally deployed to describe and prescribe the experience of womanhood.  This is what happens when conventional logics of how and where bodies should be breaks down: a man cries dramatically as he looks into a handheld mirror, regarding his chubby flesh (Once upon a time); another sits lovingly with two babies, holding flowers and wearing a richly colored striped skirt (It’s never enough). 

Torabi’s labor-intensive process begins with a piece of cloth.  She works with cloth rather than canvas because its softness and pliability allow for dye to permeate and saturate the material more easily.  Instead of painting directly on the fabric, she then paints on a screen, transferring layers of color onto the fabric one by one.  This method is both time consuming and full of risk, but the uncontrollable, unexpected errors produced during the printing process are what compels Torabi to keep working this way.  She finishes her paintings by drying them with a blow dryer to achieve the maximal chromatic vibrancy that makes her patterned backgrounds, textiles, and architectures as beautiful as her figures are grotesque. 

Raised in Iran, Torabi was witness to the stark division of male and female – which is often to say, public and private – spheres.  While discussing her 2019 painting Long time no see, for instance, the artist recalls how women were not allowed to swim in public.  In the painting, a corpulent man with a vacant grin is depicted mid-prance through water.  He appears buffoonish and mentally idle, enjoying a freedom of activity, but not of representation.  The question of freedom and bodily autonomy is integral to Torabi’s practice.  What emerges is a world wherein those who normally enjoy bodily autonomy and control the means of representation get caught in their own traps.  Her work reflects and skewers cultural norms back to viewers not with didacticism, but with excess, liveliness, and play.

Orkideh Torabi (b. 1979, Tehran) graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with an MFA in Painting and Drawing in 2016.  Since then, she has had solo exhibitions at Horton Gallery, New York (2017); Interface Gallery, Oakland (2018); Richard Heller Gallery, Santa Monica (2019); Western Exhibitions, Chicago (2016, 2019); at the Museum of Contemporary Art Atrium, Chicago (2021); and Salon Nino Mier, Cologne (2021), among others.  Her work has been covered by many publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Artillery, Hyperallergic, and the Chicago Reader.  Torabi lives and works in Chicago.