Robert Hughes

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Sam Nejati is an artist living in San Francisco, who has created his own language in abstract painting, an idealist doctrine, with metaphors, and hyperboles. A strong individualist driven by enthusiasm, a visionary painter who believes in the inexplicable, determined to create come what may, devoted only to the expression of emotions. Since earning his fine arts degree from San Francisco State University, he has gradually unlearned the habit of imitating reality and the habit of reproducing shapes. His artistic training taught him an awareness of the different means of expression inherent in color and composition. His classical education naturally led him to study the old masters, like Velasquez and Goya, and to assimilate them as much as possible, while considering such things as volume, value contrast and harmony, and to relate his own observation from nature. At least until the day when he took stock in himself and realized that, for him it was necessary to forget the methods of old masters, or more accurately, to comprehend them in a completely personal manner. Sam is an idealist, an intellectual, and a poet. Seeking the essence of painting, he moved away from realism, and his compositions became increasingly personal and confessionary. He has reduced the world of objects to paintings which have become refinements, subtle graduations, and dissolutions without energy, suggestive of greater reality, a call for soulful blues, reds and yellows. Matter to stir the sensual depths. 

Sam is not wedded to artistic directions or conventions, but draws upon the forces that shaped modern art, and speaks with admiration of some of the artists. He feels indebted to the great masters of the 20th century: the lush exuberance and complex vision of Philip Guston, the essentiality of drama in Anslem Kiefer, the brilliant brush strokes of Sean Scully, the sparseness of William Kentridge, and the dramatic language and aura of figurativeness in works of Yang Pei Ming and Marlene Dumas. He draws upon these works for inspiration, distills them through his own emotions to create something new, a mystical world of his own, until the inner creative need amalgamates into lyric abstract paintings charged with emotions. Dynamic harmonious paintings full of conflict between the sensual and material of an abstract universe that is deeply mystical. He is far better versed in the humanities than his artist peers, particularly in music and poetry, and quotes from Kahil Gibran and Robert Frost with equal ease, but in his art he is more like Debussy: colors blaze, lines vibrate, and surfaces tremble. He explains that “Painting is like music. My paintings is composed from exact rhythms and a very strict structure is needed to produce great symphonies.”

He is an artist who confesses to the canvas. His body of work is the purest and most direct translation of his artistic practice; his very soul is burning bright in these works. Abstraction allows that. At the same time, these paintings are more complete than they may appear at first glance. They generate a quality of surrounding light, in addition to the quality and sensitivity of the brushstrokes, light and value, and atmosphere and all the other elements which can only be expressed by painting. Sam confesses to the canvas, expresses his innermost emotions, his work is suggestive of greater than physical reality. For him, the painting medium is to be or not to be, to feel or not to feel. Sam’s best works remain equidistant between emotional distillations almost fiercely set down, and elaborations lingered over and refined. His creative genius bursts forth, so much brilliance and violence will be translated onto canvas, but at the same time restrained, color is sublimated in its pure tone and in carefully orchestrated combinations with other colors, it recovers its autonomy and independence. Once this emotion is committed to canvas, he can neither add nor take anything away. The symphony is written; no correction is possible.

These paintings are a reflection of his emotions; he gives free reins to his brush, a painter who paints from his heart with great energy. Sam obeys reasoning not so much as the promptings of his own temperament, his works are a metaphor for his very existence, and he is guided by an internal force that frees him to paint boldly. What he is after is expression, bringing out his inner feelings, baring his soul to the surface of the canvas. His destination is always the same, but he travels a different route each time, setting down on white canvas sensations of blue, of green and of red, each brush stroke emphasizing or diminishing the importance of the preceding one. The infusion of color brings the temperature up or down, and in most subtle ways. He orchestrates a living harmony of colors, a harmony nearly analogous to musical composition, a pictorial rhapsody that engulfs the spectator. The result is the physical translation of an inner need, images that are intense, romantic, monumental and full of pathos. Contemplating his work, with an open and receptive mind, allows the interplay of depth and lyricism to create a meditative state that transcends the limits of visual world. The viewer is drawn into the warm harmonies of blue and black, combined with the glimmering red and yellow highlights. The handling of the texture echoes Sam’s emotions, with heavy impasto in some places, and scraping away layers elsewhere to reveal underlying color. This vacillation between elaboration and reduction adds tension to his creations, a brush fire that ignites both the canvas and the viewer’s imagination. Mesmerized by emotional intensity, canvases that overstep human boundaries, connect with inner feelings and realms of personal memories, and invite the viewer to enter a secret place. These Paintings express deep idealism, raw emotions, inner torments, boundless optimism, or the melancholy of a foggy day.

Sam is a painter’s painter, who works on large scale canvases, alternately applying thick luscious layers of paint with deft touches, followed by maniacal scraping to reveal the surface beneath. At first glance, his paintings appear quick and facile, but the pleasant image soon enters through the eye, goes deeper than the eye and touches our very emotions. This kind of painting resists explanation, a subtlety of emotional resonance and delicate sensations, and a visual palette with all the qualities of a magic spell. Sam Nejati’s art defies conventional categorization. In his own words: “I confess to a canvass my canvases are like church where people go and pray and confess the truth to release themselves and become clear. Although I am not religious at all but to make myself more clear here, I would say that my body of work is a metaphor for my very existence and I try to distill my innermost emotions about the outside world into each and every painting.”

Robert Hughes
Art critic from New Time Magazine
Winter of 2010