Khan was born in Tripoli in 1978, and his family settled in Pakistan in 1981 before moving to the United States in 1985. The Late Show's aptly titled East/West collects thirteen oil, acrylic and ink paintings on 12-inch-by-12-inch panels and fourteen oil paintings on canvas. Hung in a penciled-out grid on a bright-pink plywood backboard, the panel paintings make a checkerboard of images, bringing to mind an artsy version of the children's game Memory.
Each panel depicts an object, abstract pattern or scene, all of which function as symbols. "They definitely refer to specific instances, stories or people in my life," Khan says. "At the same time, I just find certain objects intriguing." In one panel, Khan paints a fairly straightforward hammer, complete with shading and highlights, lying on a tawny, textured background. Catercorner from that hangs a panel with a black-ink outline of a bottle on a background of golden-orange and red waves, sporadically brushed with thick blue-gray paint. In the top-left corner of that painting appears some calligraphy in Urdu, the national language of Pakistan.
The center panel depicts a significant event in Khan's life -- the death of his grandmother. Khan paints her lying in the center of the sepia-toned background, her face peering through white cotton sheets wrapped around her body and head. His portrayal of her face is simple yet effective: Two small, slightly curved lines form her peaceful, unopened eyes, and an upside-down crescent represents her mouth. Above the elderly woman hangs a yellowed rectangle of parchment covered in writing.
"That image was made from memory in my sketchbook just after her funeral," Khan says. "My father wrote a poem that day, and I included it in with a transfer of the drawing." Khan's grandmother had a hand in raising him, and he felt close to her; the painting was a way for him to deal with her death, and on that level it worked for him. Yet in retrospect, as a piece of art, he says, "it could definitely be pushed more."
Most of the other paintings in the show have bright color schemes. "I love the relationships between colors when you flush them together, like in the 12-by-12 panel series," he says. "It's fun to see how they communicate on the wall with each other."
The bright pinks, blues, oranges and greens carry a surf-wear connotation in this country, but Khan took his color design straight from Islamic art -- the intricate, geometric-patterned tilework common in Islamic architecture and the opaque, flatly painted illustrations and calligraphy of two-dimensional work. "For me, I just pull from the colors that excite me and in some way or another I have seen in my travels."
But he also uses color to convey emotions and concepts. Khan puts a twist on "Needlenose," a framed painting on canvas, with his clever use of pink and blue. Over a streaky mint-green and warm-tan background, he has painted the outline of a pair of pliers; one side of the metal tool is a deep hot-pink, the other blue-gray. The pliers, slightly open, join in the middle with a circular pink bolt. Here, his colors cast sexual implications on a not-so-sexy instrument from a handyman's toolbox.
In another panel piece, Khan has painted a picture of a deep-maroon pomegranate against a geometric background of white, orange, blue and maroon triangles and diamonds. In a nearby work, he has sketched a tiny outline of a bowl. The bowl and fruit represent nourishment -- a common theme of his paintings that he believes comes in many forms, sometimes from other people. "I love watching people and their interactions," he says. "As people, we are like animals. We usually feed off of each other for many things. It's a way for us to get nourished for growth and maintaining a normal condition of life."
Most of Khan's artistic education took place in the United States. He received a BFA in 2001 from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, spent some time studying in Aix-en-Provence, France, and graduated with his MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York City this month. But the artist is heavily influenced by his childhood in Pakistan and his trips to other countries.
"When I visited Spain, I fell in love. Cities like Granada and Cordoba provided Moorish architecture that captivated me and compelled me to include it in some work," Khan says. "Also, my Pakistani roots allow me easy access to such themes. I take a lot of my patterning from when I grew up in Lahore and Karachi [both in Pakistan] looking at architecture from [Taj Mahal designer] Shah Jahan's time." Patterns from Islamic architecture -- X shapes, organic vine and floral patterns, stars and a bumblebee pattern inspired by a piece of fabric the artist received as a gift -- appear over and over again in his paintings, sometimes subtly in the background, sometimes as the main focus of the work.
Khan combines that aesthetic with Western paint handling -- shading, translucent and textured application -- to create his East/West dynamic, then throws in his own personal yet aloof symbolic subject matter.
"It's important to me to make art about my duality because there is a sense of self-gratification every artist gets when they can successfully define themselves through their images," he says. Conceptually and narratively, Khan wraps his paintings in too thick a shroud of mystery to truly reveal himself to his viewers, but the colors and symbols Khan leaves behind as subtle clues create more than enough visual interest to pull his audience in.
Showing jointly at The Late Show is Trevor McIntyre's Prodigal Son, the bright, geometric oil paintings that complement the patterning in Khan's work.
A 1996 graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute, McIntyre took a hiatus from painting while recovering from a bout of depression; on display here is work produced shortly after his recent return to painting.
On each canvas, McIntyre has painted hundreds of tiny rectangles, dabbing contrasting dots of color on top -- they're like little multicolored Lego blocks. He covers the entire surface of some of his large canvases with a dull, metallic-gold paint to tone down the color, probably so it better matches the living-room color schemes of prospective buyers.
McIntyre's work is wallpaper art, purposely devoid of any conceptual goal but still pretty to look at.