Born in Tunisia and now based in Berlin, Taher Jaoui has lived many lives as an engineer, an actor, and an artist. While it might not seem like these three career paths have anything in common, Jaoui’s background in mathematics and financial engineering has had a profound impact on his artistic style and identity. The three new bodies of work in “Controlled Entropy” merge colors, numbers, and mathematical principles, presenting moments of both lucidity and chaos. Organized in conjunction with Uncommon Beauty, the exhibition is Jaoui’s first solo show and is now up at 81 Leonard Gallery through February 28th
What initially struck me about Jaoui’s work is the grand scale of his canvases and his ability to combine the forces of colors, figures, and textures in a way that works. With no formal art education or training, Jaoui pulls inspiration from diverse sources — the street art scene, artists like Vasily Kandinsky and Jean Michel Basquiat, African primitive art, and the COBRA movement. It is clear that he is not afraid ‘to go for it.’ Spontaneity is his game, and his canvases are a melded combination of oil, enamel, charcoal, and spray paint. While it is hard to tell if each painting is meant to tell a specific story or reference to a specific period of time in his life, Jaoui’s successful in portraying what chaos looks like to him and more importantly, how chaos can be controlled within the confines of a canvas.
Previous: Installation View. All photos courtesy of 81 Leonard Gallery and Uncommon Beauty. Photographed by Hannah Rozelle. Above: “Midlife Crisis,” 2019.
If you have a chance to see this show in-person before it ends, give yourself time to soak in all of the details and to let your brain wander. Trust me, you will have many as the nuances of Jaoui’s work are so subtle that it takes a moment to process, and to figure out what this exhibition is really about. The exhibition feels like a truly personal inner reflection of the artist’s psyche, as well as possibly the stress that occurs from being pulled in many different (and maybe conflicting) directions. As the Wall Street International Magazine aptly sums it up, “Taher Jaoui’s cosmos is always in motion.”
“Don’t Pretend Nothing is Wrong,” 2019.
Even after revisiting the work post the opening night, there was a lot that I overlooked the first time, including how Jaoui cleverly turns common phrases (my particular favorite, “Don’t Pretend Nothing is Wrong”) into titles. There is no deeper explanation for what he’s chosen. It is up to the beholder to imagine a relationship between the specific piece and its implications, a freeing exercise in our conceptually overridden art world. For example, was he going through a midlife crisis when painting “Midlife Crisis” or was that just an appropriate fitting title for this darker piece, that is filled with scribbled over numbers and symbols?
Lastly, the exhibition’s switch from mainly painting to suddenly including a sculpture is such an abrupt transition, and I wish that the small sculpture “A Can Opener for Penguins” was explained more thoroughly. The sculpture is comprised of different 3D-printed objects made out of colorful resin mounted into an intertwined structure. For those not apt at picking out movie references, the title refers to a surreal moment in David Fincher’s film “Fight Club” in which Edward Norton’s character met a sliding penguin, an embodiment of his subconsciousness.
Taher Jaoui: Controlled Entropy is open through February 28th, 2020 at 81 Leonard Gallery. 81 Leonard Street, 10013, NY, NY.
For more information on “Controlled Entropy” or to learn about upcoming shows, check out 81 Leonard Gallery.
For more information on Uncommon Beauty, a globally curated and socially responsible art space, check out their website.
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Alexandra Israel graduated from Bates College in 2010. A museum aficionado since her introduction to Jean Dominque Ingres' portraits as a small child, she enjoys spending her free time at museums and finding off-the-beaten-track gallery shows. Israel has been working in PR for over seven years, primarily within book publishing and in the art world. She has held positions at Penguin Book Group, Aperture Foundation, and Third Eye among others. l Instagram l