Maryam Eivazi’s Superb Scribbles at Ruttkowski;68

Recently, on an internet-age first date at the Met, I meditated with a man I just met on the value of scribbles. Posed in front of a Cy Twombley entitled “Dutch Interior,” I pointed to thin pencil marks on the imposing canvas, crayon scrawls and scratched-in numbers. He seemed less than impressed.

“Isn’t it interesting how all graffiti is the same?” he asked, feet turned in my direction. “How given the freedom to write anything, we always come to the same shapes?” I glanced back to study the winding circles, the orderly progression of the numerical system, and wondered why I hadn’t thought so before. 

Maryam Eivazi’s first solo exhibition is, at its core, made up of scribbles that we’ve already seen. The show at Ruttkowski;68 is almost suspiciously the only entrance on graffiti-covered Cortland Alley, where one can find something like reflections of the work within scrawled outside on dirty concrete. And yet, the vibrancy of Maryam’s work still jumps off the canvas, playful and singular. Disparate jolts of paint are united with an unencumbered freedom, and her hints at narrative inspire closer looks. Through bright colors and an unabashed femininity, she has made scribbles feel new. 

Through bright colors and an unabashed femininity, she has made scribbles feel new. 

Despite the comparisons that one can make between Maryam’s work and that of famous figures like Twombley or Basquiat, she is ultimately separated from them by her painting’s luscious femininity. Each one oozes a softness of form and distinctive underlying pastel-adjacent colors. 

The first work in the series showing at this self-titled exhibition features a bisected canvas – half abstract expressionism, half strong and straight stripes with lines of shape within. Upon closer inspection, the swooping downward strokes and curves compose a pattern of breasts. The shape separates and looms over the rest of the series, always confidently sloping on a corner of the canvas. As my date went on to so eloquently point out, male genitalia is the stuff that most graffiti is made of. Why should female graffiti be any different? 

This shift in form married with Maryam’s distinctive color palette rewrites abstract art into distinctly feminine territory. The paintings that she has chosen for this exhibition, which progress from straight-lined order to chaos, are all marked by a soft, salmon colored pink, along with a warm-toned brown that acts as a counterpart to vibrancy. 

These colors, which are downright delightful, are the artist’s biggest strength, giving us a cohesive sense of affection for the pieces and all they represent. Various tones of blue, ranging from baby to bright, move across the foreground, a kind of final highlighter that rests above the chaotic action like a sharpie across a pencil drawing. Whites and oranges overlap one another, olive green travels in bean-like blobs. As Maryam herself said in an interview with Mathqaf, “all the world’s colors are beautiful; we do not have any bad colors.”

Watching videos of her at work, it’s clear that she approaches art with the confidence of an artist not afraid of their canvas, instead using it as a space of exploration. She casts strong and unconcerned strokes, blotting out her previous lines and shapes in one single dash. More than just the artist’s hand being present in her paintings, her mind seems to be too. We end up with a kind of uninhibited stream of consciousness, a look into the innermost workings of her mind. At their highest potential, this is what scribbles are able to do: express truths that we ourselves may not be conscious of. 

At their highest potential, this is what scribbles are able to do: express truths that we ourselves may not be conscious of. 

Born in Iran and trained in Spain, this year marked Maryam’s first exhibitions in the United States, and she is all but unknown to the New York arts scene. This itself is not necessary information to absorb her work – the beauty of abstract expressionism is that one does not need words or culture in order to understand shapes and color. It does, though, provide context to otherwise perplexing mentions of her art’s political potential. “As a Middle Eastern woman,” Maryam has said, “I may have less of a chance in my personal and social life to experience living in freedom. But as a painter, I am experiencing every moment in a free and borderless world.”

There is a wonderful joy in trying to piece together a sense of story or narrative across the eight works on display, and any efforts to do are rewarded – the third painting, shockingly, inserts the element of representation with three female faces hastily drawn into the foreground, a far cry from the abstraction of the rest. These fully-formed faces, scrawls themselves, devolve into nothing more than a simple circle with threadbare lines falling on either side for hair. If you look closely enough, you can almost ascribe the nipple of a cartoon-like breast as this final woman’s eye. 

While it’s clear in moments like these that Maryam is made up of much more than scribbles, one is simultaneously given the sense that she is widening our idea of abstraction itself. She proves again and again that she can both employ the traditional shapes of graffiti or scratches while making sure that they are placed in contexts and colors that have never surrounded them before. These distinctly non-abstract faces are followed in the paintings beside them by a kindergarten-like sun, thin crooked lines coming off of a lopsided circle. Perhaps both of these forms, etched with a surety of self, are just as important as one another. 

“Maryam Eivazi” is showing at Ruttkowski;68 through June 25th, and I’d urge you to go and celebrate scribbles yourself. 

© Catherine Sawoski (6/21/23) – Special for FF2 Media®


Read Maryam’s full interview with Mathqaf here.

Learn more about Maryam and her work at her website here.


Featured Photo: “Maryam Eivazi personal photo” by Ata b7 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Bottom Photo: “Maryam Eivazi Abstract painting” is licensed by Maryam Eivazi under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Tags: Basquiat, Catherine Sawoski, Cy Twombley, Exhibits, graffiti art, Maryam Eivazi, Ruttkowski;68, The Met

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Catherine Sawoski is an art critic specializing in theater, literature, and visual arts. She is a senior at Barnard College at Columbia University studying English and Philosophy, and a Deputy Editor for Arts and Culture at the Columbia Daily Spectator. She has covered everything from Off Broadway shows to emerging poets and gallery exhibitions from young female artists. In her free time, you can usually find her at a show somewhere in the city or with her goldendoodle, Amber.
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