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Art Critique: The paintings of Razin Laliwala

"Journey" 24" x 24" Acrylic & Embroidery on Canvas

One of the perks that comes with a job in the art world is getting to spend my days looking at art. Sometimes I look at new work from an artist that my gallery shows regularly. Sometimes I look at submissions from artists who hope to show at my gallery in the future. Sometimes I just scan through websites, wander through other galleries, or admire the artwork in my latest book. It’s wonderful to be surrounded by art, both beautiful and challenging. However, after looking at so much art, decade after decade, I start to feel like I’ve seen it all before. Artists find it difficult to paint a beautiful sunset over a field of wildflowers in a way that stands out as unusual or unique. After all, how many hundreds of thousands of other artists have painted the same thing over the centuries? This is a constant struggle for artists. A struggle that luckily many artists are able to overcome.

I met one such artist a few weeks ago. When I sat down with Razin Laliwala to review her portfolio I had no idea what style, subject or medium she worked in. I was quite delighted to find myself immediately drawn to the paintings I was seeing. Before me sat a medium square canvas with the lower half of a figure walking with suitcase in hand. The black, white, and gray shapes composing the figure brought to mind the stencil paintings of graffiti artists such as Blek le Rat and Banksy. The suitcase, a vibrant tapestry of colorful patterns, spills red letters out behind it in dramatic contrast to the rest of the colorless and contained painting. The combination of such dynamic visual elements and the title “Journey” makes me think of my own journey through life causing me to stop and reflect on how the journey is so much more important, so much more colorful, than the destination.

Next Razin revealed a multi canvas painting that, when all the canvases are aligned just right, creates the silhouette of Michael Jackson in his quintessential dance pose on the tips of his toes. The same tapestry of colorful patterns entirely fills this silhouette. In the corner of the first and last silhouette canvases Razin painted a tiny figure of Michael Jackson in red splattery paint.

Throughout Razin’s portfolio three elements appear over and over again; minimal paintings in black, white, and gray, an element of the colorful tapestry, and a splash of red paint. What makes this collection of paintings extraordinary is that the colorful elements of tapestry are not simply pieces of fabric cut out and adhered to the canvas. Razin painstakingly embroiders each canvas to create the intricate patterns and designs of the tapestry. Each composition is a different pattern inspired by Aztec weavings. The addition of the splash of red paint symbolizes the blood that flows through all our veins.

In a time when tension between people of different races or religions has escalated to violent confrontations and soared to top of political debates, Razin Laliwala has created a collection of paintings quietly reminding us that we all have the same red blood flowing through our veins. Razin, an Indian artist, inspired by Aztec patterns, portraying an African American pop icon, shows us how to fall in love with other people, other cultures, other styles of art. Razin Laliwala's paintings & embroideries celebrate the unique beauty and perspective that each culture has, while reminding us that we are all brothers and sisters.

Emily Watson-Rice is the Director and Curator of Atlas Galleries in Chicago and founder of Gossamer Arts.

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