FARIA RAJI - CRAZY GODS

“If everything in a dream were realistic, it would have no power over us; if everything were unreal, we would feel less involved in its pleasures and fears. Its fusion of the two is what makes it haunting.” --Robert Greene in The Art of Seduction

The audacious curve of a hip, the serpentine sinew of a spine, the perfect weight of a breast that calls out to be caressed, the jaunty pop of an ample bottom, the golden storm of a tousled mane; rumpled bedsheets and burned-down candles. The sparkle and sizzle of glitter and gold-speckled starlight; the erotic distortions of shadow, flame, and time. The mystery of Salome’s high-stakes veils that both conceal and reveal the promised body. Faria Raji’s works are elusive and compelling, frank and flirtatious, the embodiment of seduction. They whisper, so you lean in closer. They flicker, and you see with your heart what you cannot see with your eyes. At the same time, they are smart, self-aware, composed, conceptual and art historical exercises along the boundaries of abstraction, emotion, story, and action -- fusing, as Greene noted, dream and reality. 

Raji demonstrates an omnivorous art historical appetite, with painting and photography influences from Gerhard Richter to Erwin Blumenfeld, Velasquez, Moreau, Helmut Newton who said, “My women are always victorious,” and Marcel Duchamp whose “Nude Descending a Staircase” offered a genre-bending break with convention and concept, offering a modern vision that was partly only an idea. By calling his figure a nude, Duchamp issued a challenge to his viewers, to look closer, dream longer, to linger and decode the image, to finish the story according to their own fantasies. As Raji takes up this challenge alchemy comes to mind, as he distresses and strategically destroys the surface of his images by selectively applying pigment with impasto texture and contrasting color. Raji will mark, burn, distress, rend, crimp, and paint each print to heighten and clarify its visual language and object presence is a risky technique; nothing once done can be undone.

Among the most salient facets of this work are the lighting effects that animate the photographic foundations. He employs ambient, in-room, in-camera techniques to create optical distortion and a panoply of effects, all of which happens in the room with the model so the effect is unified and concurrent, holistic visually and emotionally. In this way, Raji creates scenes that are cinematic and narrative despite the prominent facets and elements of abstraction. The palettes are deep whether warm or cool, elemental, with the tangible qualities of earth, air, fire, and water. Where a painter could work to deconstruct a composition, Raji, working foundationally as a photographer, build his atmospheric, gestural ambiguity in the room. His techniques are both advanced and intuitive, as he works to create layers throughout his process -- in the room, with the lights, in the camera itself, and ultimately on the object as he paints, burns, scars, and otherwise enriches his photographs with the attributes of unique, dimensional objects, so that come also to bear the marks of a dangerous game of knife and flame.

The restrained balance of the emotional and the abstract achieves a fragile equilibrium, like the painting and the photograph, whose surface and depth produce unique objects as well as engaging images. The works are based on photography, yet claim a pronounced physical presence comparable to paintings; one of a kind, hefty objects with a variety of evocative treatments that amplify their compelling nuances. The most classical art historical motif of all -- the female nude -- is a perennial subject of patronage, emblem of power, sparker of passions, landscape of poetry; both an idealized vessel and a real living person. Female flesh is also the battleground of politics and social philosophy, the proving ground for ideas about progress, autonomy, agency, equality, identity, and the disambiguated modern Self. In Raji’s hands, this paradigm is further layered with another kind of story -- a story about rock n roll, the energy of sexual freedom, the frenzy of the trance and the release; erotic like a dream is, and like in a dream there is permission to feel the shock of letting go. On a personal level, this is the territory where Raji feels most himself as an artist. An acclaimed photographer, art director, professor, and designer with awards and accolades for his work in the erotic, editorial, and music industries, Raji has always has a personal and professional love for the giants in his industry that have merged playfulness, skill, art history, and popular appeal to create worlds of images that tease, entertain, and inspire a wide audience. 

Within the numbered “Nudes” series, the individual subtitles of works come in response to the results, they are poetic and evocative as they direct the viewer but remain ambiguous, encouraging closer attention and personal vision. The monumental sea blue odalisque “Shadow of Love,” the fiery consecration of “Fever,” the cheeky “Freight Train,” the dangerous passions of “Wildfire,” the perfect sweetness of “Sugar,” -- all of these works’ titles are descriptive of their unique aesthetic character even as they speak to the same overall theme of being carried away by the moment. And more to that point, witness the core perfection of the pliant statuesque “Theia Mania,” which is also the name of the series. Theia Mania is a term from ancient Greek philosophy meaning “divine madness from the Gods” -- and in fact, his images often specifically evoke Greek and Roman antiquity, but as with the witty and almost literal “Venus with Arms,” with a modern, sometimes nostalgic, sensibility. In the immortal words of the ancient poet Virgil, who in his Aeneid describes a Delphian priestess as prophesying in a frenzied state, “...neither her face nor hue went untransformed; Her breast heaved; her wild heart grew large with passion. Taller to their eyes, sounding no longer mortal, she prophesied what was inspired from the God breathing near, uttering words not to be ignored.” If this is a madness, it is a godly one.

- Shana Nys Dambrot - Thea Mania 2017 / Art Critique, Los Angeles, CA (Arts Editor for the LA Weekly, and contributor to Flaunt, Art and Cake, Artillery, and Palm Springs Life)