Figure 1. Hadi Tabatabai, DF-27, 2005
Colored pencil with acrylic and vinyl paints on .005 drafting film, 12 x 11 inches (30.5 x 27.9 cm)
© 2012 Hadi Tabatabai

Figure 2. Hadi Tabatabai, DF-29, 2007
Colored pencil with acrylic and vinyl paints on .005 drafting film, 12 x 11 inches (30.5 x 27.9 cm)
© 2012 Hadi Tabatabai

Hadi Tabatabai

In Conversation with Rachel Nackman

The following discussion was conducted by email with the artist in July 2012.

Rachel Nackman: How did you select the materials you used to make these drawings, and what makes them work well for you?

Hadi Tabatabai: For DF-27 (2005; fig. 1) and DF-29 (2007; fig. 2), I used drafting film, colored pencil, and acrylic and vinyl paints. I usually select material based on need, but in this case, I think I was intrigued by the drafting film itself. This type of drafting film has a frosted working surface on both sides, and since the material is translucent you can see both surfaces at once.

RN: Can you describe the process by which you make these drawings?

HT: The drawings are made using a technique similar to glass painting, in which the paint is applied in layers to the reverse side of the glass. Here the windows of the grid were painted first, and then the background color was applied over the first layer. So the entire painted area is seen through the drafting film, and if one were to turn over the drawing, all one would see would be the background color. Afterward I outlined all of the edges with colored pencil on the front side of the drafting film. Because material is applied to both sides of the film, the viewer is allowed to move back and forth between the two surfaces.

RN: What is your working environment for making these drawings?

HT: It varies, but I usually work on a very messy drafting table, where I constantly have to move things around to find a place to work.

RN: How do you prepare yourself for the work ahead of you?

HT: I usually try to take instruction from the work itself. To do that, I try to remove myself from the work as much as I can, since the work ultimately knows what it needs to be, whereas I have only a vague notion.

RN: DF-27 and DF-29 are part of a larger series of drawings. When did you begin making this series, and how long have you continued working within it?

HT: I started making these drawings in the summer of 2005 for a show titled Series at Gallery Joe in Philadelphia. The show opened in December 2005. I continued making these drawings for about four years, and by the end I think I had made fifty-three of them.

RN: Within that series, have you experimented with variations from work to work?

HT: The drawings started out as simply having a painted surface on the back and a line drawing on the top of the drafting film. Afterward I moved from using colored pencils to using a drafting pen, applying acrylic ink lines on both surfaces, before finishing with an overall painted background on the back. From there I moved to using threads to make lines. I would adhere thread to the back of the drafting film and then apply a layer of paint behind it.

RN: You’ve said that rhythm and proportion are very important to you in developing your composition and that those decisions are made intuitively as you work. Where do you try to take each object during the process of making?

HT: The pattern, proportions, and color of each object come from the desire to create work that is neutral. An impossible task, perhaps. So the first piece always informs the second one. If, after finishing the first piece, I realize that it is too light, then the next piece tends to be darker. By making the second piece darker, I realize that the proportions don’t work anymore. Adjusting the proportions in the following piece will affect the temperature of the color, and I will make it hotter or cooler. And so on. . .

RN: Space is also an important element in your work. How do you use your materials in these drawings to engage our perception of space?

HT: Transitional spaces are the main area of interest in my work. This is the type of space where one thing shifts into another—the empty space between things. In the case of these drawings, the material of the drafting film itself is that space. As your eye moves between the painted back of the work and the drawing on the front, you are moving through the drafting film, which is empty of any gesture.

RN: You have made objects using many other materials, including thread, wood, and beeswax. How does working in two dimensions, in acrylic and vinyl paints on drafting film, change the nature of your process?

HT: For at least the past fifteen years, my intentions in making my work have not changed much. What drives me to make my work is often the limitation of the materials. Failures in working with other materials were probably what brought me to using drafting film. Ultimately the process itself does not change. It is always a learning cycle in understanding the materials and trying to come closer to my vision.


Rachel Nackman

Rachel Nackman (b. 1985) is the curator of the Kramarsky Collection, where she has worked since graduating with a BA in Art History and English from Tufts University, Medford, MA, in 2007. In 2011, she completed her MA in Art History at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. Nackman is the founding editor of the Contemporary Art Consortium blog and an associate art editor for the Brooklyn Rail. She lives in Brooklyn.

Hadi Tabatabai

Hadi Tabatabi (b. 1964, Mashhad, Iran) earned his BA in Painting in 1995 from the San Francisco Art Institute. Tabatabai was a SECA Award Finalist at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco in 2004. In 2008 he received a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant. He has been an artist in residence at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco; the Kala Art Institute, Berkeley, California; and the Headlands Center for Arts, Sausalito, California. Tabatabi’s most recent solo exhibitions have been held at Brian Gross Fine Art, San Francisco (2009, 2011); Inde/Jacobs, Marfa, Texas (2009, 2010); and Danese Gallery, New York (2010). His most recent group shows have been held at kunstgaleriebonn, Bonn, Germany (2011, 2012); Danese Gallery, New York (2009, 2010, 2012); RMGallery, Auckland, New Zealand (2011); the Katonah Museum of Art, Katonah, New York (2011); Green Cardamom, London (2009, 2011); ParisCONCRET, Paris, France 2010; the San Jose Institute for Contemporary Art, San Jose, California (2010); Verso Artecontemporanea, Turin, Italy (2010); Gallery Dora Bassi, Gorizia, Italy (2010); Berkeley Art Center, Berkeley, California (2009); and Schmidt Contemporary Art, Saint Louis, Missouri (2009). His works are included in the collections of The Achenbach Foundation at the Fine Arts Museums, San Francisco; the Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, Delaware; The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii; the Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, Maine; The Lannan Foundation, Santa Fe, New Mexico; and The Progressive Corporation Art Collection, Mayfield Village, Ohio. Tabatabai lives and works in California.

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