Long-limbed women composed of cigarette packaging, torn-up comic books and thick layers of paint sit with their legs crossed and their striking, angular faces turned away from their viewer. These mysterious ladies are part of a series of paintings, drawings and sculptures by Jason Noushin currently on display at Susan Eley Fine Art that are accompanied by a number of birds and horses.
The exhibition’s title, All Her Number’d Stars, has been taken from John Milton’s epic Paradise Lost (written between 1667 and 1674) and, while the written word appears throughout the display, it appears in an Iranian script, not an English one. Born in England, raised in Iran and now living in the US, Noushin’s characters fuse East and West. Captain America, (2017) oil, shellac, pencil and comic book leaves on linen, positions the silhouette of a woman covered in American cartoons, surrounded by a background of Iranian letters and numbers. While, The Hawk In the Rain, (2017), wire, paint, plaster, barbed wire and encaustic, is a three-dimensional model of a bird with its face covered in a banner that is covered in text both in English and in Farsi.
All of the work is multilayered. The paintings aren’t just paintings, they are collages, not only fusing together cultures, but materials too: paint, magazines, newspapers, linen. The final images look flat, but in reality the work is much deeper than what is reflected on the surface. The same ethos is carried through to Noushin’s sculptural work. Upon his birds Hawk Roosting, (2017) and The Hawk In the Rain, (2017), he has painted their bodies and embellished them with text. The majority of the lyrics encrusted on top of his works are written in Persian. However, despite Iran being known as the birthplace of such literary figures as Rumi and Omar Khayyam, the Farsi text is actually the representation of the transliterated words of British writers like Keats, Shelley and of course, Milton.
There appear to be three motifs within the display at Susan Eley: birds, horses and women. The two hawks – with their faces concealed by a curved banner – evoke a sense of sadness. This sense of melancholy is mirrored in the presence of three painted horses that appear alone, with their heads turned downwards. Horse (2017) and Horse II (2017), both pen and ink on antiquarian paper, look as though they are fading away. Drawn on top of aging, tattered paper, one even looks skeletal. The two animals are facing the opposite direction to each other, they look as though they might have been abandoned, they are waiting for something, but what? Similarly, the horse that forms Comus (2017), oil, shellac, ink and pencil on linen, also appears with its face down. Comus is the title of a masque written by Milton. Noushin’s white horse appears with its face covered in black Iranian calligraphy, perhaps the positioning of the text over the animal’s visage is a reference to what modern-day audiences would first think of upon hearing the word ‘masque’, referring to a mask that would cover the head.
While Noushin’s animals are intriguing, it is his women, or rather the single woman who appears throughout the exhibition, that steals the show. Always appearing in profile and under multiple guises, the female protagonist starring in Noushin’s work transfixes the viewer with her porcelain skin and her strong jaw line. She is turned away, she has lost interest in her audience, but where is she looking? The title of the exhibition All Her Number’d Stars suggests that her thoughts are somewhere else. Perhaps they are in the stars. While she disregards the viewer, she doesn’t appear rude or conceited; rather her mind is somewhere else. The title has been taken from the eighth book of Paradise Lost, in which Adam first meets, and consequently marries Eve. Perhaps this woman is supposed to be the representation of the first woman, no wonder then, that she attracts all attention. At times, this mysterious lady appears draped in the comic strips of Tintin, Batman and also the Iranian cigarette brand Bahman, as well as in the nude: painted in oil with a warm wash of turmeric or saffron. The two most striking images are Sonnet III (2016), oil, ink, cement, plaster, pencil, tea and encaustic on linen and Turmeric (2016), oil and 23K gold leaf on linen. In these two paintings Noushin’s heroine is seated on an armchair to the side of the image, amongst a mostly blank space. She is waiting? But for what? For whom?
Throughout the display, Noushin’s characters are turned away, distracted by something in the distance. Perhaps it is the stars that they are searching for. Whatever it is that has captured their attention; their gentle investigation has been beautifully contained at Susan Eley.
All Her Number’d Stars is on display at Susan Eley Fine Art, 46 West 90th Street, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10024, until 22nd February 2018