Tomm El-Saieh

Imaginary City

January 29, 2022–January 8, 2023

Tomm El-Saieh

Tomm El-Saieh

Canapé Vert

Acrylic on canvas
84 × 60 in. (213.4 × 152.4 cm)
© Tomm El-Saieh; Courtesy of the artist, Luhring Augustine, New York, and CENTRAL FINE, Miami Beach
Photo: Farzad Owrang

The large-format, abstract paintings of Tomm El-Saieh (b. 1984, Port-au-Prince; lives and works in Miami) teem with dense and dynamic marks that evoke ornament, language, and architecture. By variously layering and erasing his linework, and using vibrant color to optically push or pull his pictures, El-Saieh creates rhythmic, all-over compositions from which larger forms appear to emerge—testing both the limits of our perception and our expectations about abstraction.

The project title, which comes from one of the works in the show, refers to a cityscape theme common in Haitian art (Vilaj Imaginé). El-Saieh’s paintings, which resemble informal urban plans, likewise develop intuitively, without the use of preparatory studies or outlines. For the artist, who has been unable to return to his birthplace in recent years as a result of the instability there, Port-au-Prince now also exists mainly as a figure in his memory and imagination—a site of joy and trauma, potential and uncertainty.

Tomm El-Saieh was born in Haiti and grew up in Miami; he is of Haitian, Palestinian, and Israeli descent. He was the subject of a solo show at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) Miami in 2018 and was included in the New Museum triennial in New York that year. He is partner at the artist-run gallery CENTRAL FINE in Miami and long directed the El-Saieh Gallery in Port-au-Prince, a venue for contemporary Haitian artists that his grandfather established in the 1950s.

This yearlong special installation of four paintings by El-Saieh appears in public spaces around the Clark and is free and open to the public. It is organized by the Clark Art Institute and curated by Robert Wiesenberger, curator of contemporary projects.