Rafael Mahdavi: Letter from Paris

Cadavre exquis II: Seascape, dog, geranium, calla lily, vase

By: - Apr 01, 2023

In the decades that I have known and admired the work of Rafael Mahdavi a constant has been change.

As well as return, reevaluation and morphosis.

Some years ago I curated an exhibition of his work, simultaneously, at New England School of Art/ Suffolk University and Boston’s French Library.

He arrived from Paris with the work rolled into a tube as a carry on.

My assistant and installer, James Manning, constructed stretchers for the large paintings. After the show they were removed and rolled into a large tube. They were returned to the artist with minimal insurance as “table cloths.”

It was a curatorial coup to mount an international exhibition on a miniscule budget. The artist is adroit about circumventing draconian French customs fees that would have made such a project absurdly beyond our means.

From that adventurous project Rafael gifted the large “Dog With Birds.” The painting hangs in our loft bedroom. As we sleep the dog, a striding profile presence, hovers over us protectively. It is our great pleasure to live with a large and diverse collection conflating Old Master and modern prints and drawings with works by artists we worked with over the years.

In that phase of the oeuvre the canvas of the abstracted dog and birds was scored with a pattern of staccato lines in relief. Recently, I used that image to illustrated my poem “Doggerel.”

The work has become more representational and surreal in the past few years. Today he sent an image of the most recent work as well as a self portrait with it in the studio.

Imagine my excitement and surprise to ferret out the profile of a dog. There is a striking evocation of the abstracted pooch in our bedroom.

As one says in French plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

The latest work is  "Cadavre exquis II: Seascape, dog, geranium, calla lily, vase" 160 x 160 cms oil on canvas 2023.

The artist’s statement.

When I was 15 at boarding school in Vienna I fell ill. I was taken to the school infirmary. The nurse shoved a thermometer into my mouth. After five minutes she took it out and said in Deutsch:

“You should be dead. You have 41.9 C (107.24F) fever. Take these sheets and go make your bed.” 

Then she called the school priest. When he came to my room for my last confession I threw a glass of water at him.

 That's what I was at fifteen. An exquisite cadaver. I still am in some ways. Many visions (and folds) later this painting is about belonging nowhere, an exile from exile, and that is very rare. I rarely use the word very.

My mother loved geraniums. The sea is disjointed. The dog leads a dog's life. The calla lily is rebirth, which is what happens when I paint––and I don't believe in any kind of transcendence.

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