Shirazeh Houshiary (b. 1955, Iran; lives and works in London) makes painting, sculpture, and animation that seek to challenge viewers’ perceptions of time, space, and materiality. Her works often engage opposing ideas and states of being, including transparency and opacity, sound and silence, energy and inertia, and light and darkness. Houshiary’s painting technique involves the successive layering of pigment and line, a laborious process that often takes several months to complete. Her surfaces are composed of intricate patterns that appear to pulse, undulate, and recede into the canvas, like a veil or membrane. She takes a similar methodical approach to her dynamic sculptures, constructing a tower out of glass or aluminum bricks that, layer by layer, seem to emerge from the floor. Each vertical plane of bricks echoes the original shape of the footprint incrementally rotated to the maximum degree the form will allow before the resulting helix shape becomes unstable. For each work, Houshiary attempts to visualize subjects that are inherently intangible—an echo, human breath, or memory. Formal elements of Renaissance painting can be found in Houshiary’s work through composition, rhythm, structure, and depiction of light. Her work is also closely aligned with Middle Eastern and Islamic art traditions in her use of pattern, repetition, and intricate markings.
Houshiary graduated from the Chelsea School of Art in London in 1979. Solo exhibitions of her work have been organized at Espace Muraille, Geneva, Switzerland (2016); Tate Liverpool, United Kingdom (2003); SITE Santa Fe, New Mexico (2002); the British Museum, Islamic Gallery, London (1997); and Camden Arts Centre, London (1993). Select group exhibitions featuring her work include Regarding Spirituality, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, KS (2018, forthcoming); Phantom Bodies: The Human Aura in Art, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL (2016); Reductive Minimalism: Women Artists in Dialogue, 1960-2012, University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, MI (2014); 50 Years of Collecting Islamic Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2013); Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London (2012); Without Boundary: Seventeen Ways of Looking, The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2006); Happiness, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2003); and Thinking Big: Concepts for Twenty-First-Century British Sculpture, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice (2002). Houshiary has participated in multiple biennials, including GLASSTRESS 2017, 57th Venice Biennale (2017); GLASSTRESS 2013, 55th Venice Biennale (2013); The 1st Kiev Biennale, Ukraine (2012); and the 17th Biennale of Sydney (2010). Houshiary’s work is in numerous international public and private collections, including the British Council Collection, London; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci, Prato, Italy; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; and Tate Modern, London.
Artist portrait: Photo by Dave Morgan