Over the extensive breadth of this survey—covering two decades and featuring more than 25 works—among the consistent threads of Toba Khedoori’s approach, irrespective of the shifts in scale or medium, are her acute attention to line and detail, and an unexpected approach to perspective and space. Khedoori’s earlier work straddles disciplines, eluding categorization. Her vast scale hybrid drawings/paintings—several of which measure in the range of 144-by-240 inches—involve an intricate process, starting with a layer of microcrystalline wax the artist brushed on the paper as it was laid out on her studio floor. After scraping the wax with a razor to achieve a smooth surface, the paper was hung on the wall, where Khedoori rendered her images using graphite transfer and diluted oil paint.
Even while awestruck by Khedoori’s intricate detail and precise draftsmanship, what is almost more riveting is her innovative approach to envisioning space, which seems to contravene the conventions of composition. While pursuing graduate studies in painting at UCLA in the 1990s, Khedoori began gathering images of a range of subjects—trains, explosions and model houses—which foreshadow the subjects of her large-scale architectural drawings/paintings, such as the repeated rows of windows i, (1994). The subjects are centered on the paper, with vast borders of white space surrounding them.
This vast negative space is oddly destabilizing, setting the viewer adrift without the familiar landmarks of composition, and giving her works an almost surreal effect. Her subjects appear to be static, frozen in time. Although Khedoori didn’t study technical drawing, she adopted aspects of technical drafting, along with the use of tools like T-squares and fine-line pens. In works such as Untitled (hallway), (1997), portraying a long corridor tunneling deep into the background, the subject is placed in two-point perspective in the midst of the surrounding white space. In a Village Voice review of Khedoori’s second show at David Zwirner, in New York, Jerry Saltz alluded to the way the artist translates three-dimensional space onto a two-dimensional surface, referring to her as a visionary minimalist. Her work has also been compared to that of Vija Celmins, with its characteristic broad expanses, photo- realistic contouring, rich surfaces, and meticulous attention to detail.
Khedoori’s actual large-scale early works are extraordinary objects in themselves. Mounted on the walls of the gallery as they might appear in the artist’s studio, they are fragile unfurled sheets of paper mounted without protective glass or frames. The waxy surface creates a patina on the paper, giving it substance and a creamy texture, along with traces of the studio environment—bits of lint, dust and other detritus—captured and integrated into the works like insects in amber.
Khedoori often uses photographs as references for her subjects. Paradoxically, while her paintings are void of figures, they focus on somewhat generic manmade structures and objects. The only figurative allusion appears in Khedoori’s paintings of her hand, as in Untitled (hand I) (2014). Derived from photographs she had someone else take, her hands are somewhat incongruous in the mix of static interior and exterior settings and objects. While almost clinical, they have special significance, in that they represent the hand that rendered the work, providing a profound, almost intimate, connection to the artist.
After the quiet, intricate, contemplative detail and almost monochromatic palette of the large earlier pieces, it is almost startling to encounter Khedoori’s more recent paintings: flames leaping from a wall and a nuanced painting of clouds in a rectangular sky—amorphous subjects dramatically untethered by line. Her newest works, mounted in a back gallery, consist of paintings in oil on linen, conceived within a more conventional construct and on a much smaller scale. The artist’s 2009 move to a smaller studio may have contributed to the downsizing. Abandoning the restricted palette of the earlier works, the paintings are vivid with color. Without the surrounding white space, her subjects fill the frame. Yet while different in scope, and with a broader range of subjects, there is a subtle continuity between these paintings and the earlier work. The artist continues to concentrate on the most infinitesimal detail. She adheres to a focus on line and to the grid as a sort of portal, along with an affinity for repetition—the profusion of leaves on a web of slender branches, the tiny squares in a receding compositional grid resembling a geometrical mosaic—in paintings that straddle the continuum from almost photo-realistic to the seductive verge of abstraction.