In this two-person exhibition, Shiferaw and Melake meet one another in a space of genuine conversation.
The combination of the two artists Tariku Shiferaw and Luam Melake at the Private View Soho gallery makes me think of bars and measures. For Shiferaw’s work, I can’t avoid thinking of bars because they are the centerpieces to his visual compositions: utterly black, horizontal redactions deployed across his substrates. The bars are as rigorous and resolute a visual gesture as I have seen from the old New York School or Color Field painters. But Shiferaw makes that arch, insular language generated from the choir of Abstract Expressionism into a pidgin that also references hip hop, contemporary politics, and the precariousness of black life. Shiferaw frequently uses titles that shout out the names of black musicians, and in previous work has referred to specific songs. I’ve written about his paintings before, intrigued by his turning rigidly austere visual motifs into evocations of the lived experience of black life by way of Biggie Smalls, or Rakim.
For his paintings in this exhibition, he’s changed the game a bit. He’s layered textured surfaces underneath the bars so as to create a kind of pictorial field on which the bars now float unmoored — though not adrift. In his “Janet (Berhana)” (2018) the bars cohere as a frame that keeps me from the shadowed blue iridescence beneath. And in his “Rewind (Kelala),” the folds of material, like accordioned paper, overwhelm the bars. They become oceanic and I wade into the waves.