In 2018, Jason Seife’s solo exhibition Nucleus took place at the Sharjah Art Museum in the United Arab Emirates. Since then, Seife has been building towards A Small Spark vs a Great Forest. After undertaking a personal and artistic journey through Iran, Syria and Turkey, Seife will present, till February 6th, his first solo exhibition with Unit London (opening on January 6th).
At the heart of A Small Spark vs a Great Forest is an understanding of the collective nature of humanity: in Seife’s mind we are all trees in the same forest. Whether from North or South, East or West we are, in essence, cut from the same cloth. This kind of universal humanity has only been emphasised by the Coronavirus pandemic. Covid-19 has no concern for man-made borders; it spreads indiscriminately, irrespective of race, gender or religion, one more wildfire in our burning world. Jason Seife looks to take this renewed appreciation and understanding of cultural equality and explore it by connecting with his Middle Eastern heritage. By studying the skills of craftsmen from different cultures and adapting these aesthetics, Seife is striving to make these processes relevant to new generations. Embedded in this process is the desire to absolve people from the anxiety associated with an uncertain identity; just as the pandemic was a great leveller, so too is art.
Seife’s process is tripartite: moving from hand to machine, and then back to hand. He begins by sketching an ‘outline design’ inspired by carpet makers in the Middle East, these often include byzantine arabesques and intricate, intertwining floral shapes. This hand-drawn foundation is then rendered in 3D using computer software that manipulates colour and light, producing a reference image that has a sense of relief. This software also allows for the introduction of negative space in the reference image, conveying a sense of decay. Seife zooms in on certain sections of this digital work – certain segments of his forest – and begins to meticulously hand paint these areas without the aid of any technology.
In the other works in the show Seife is exploring a new direction, creating unique works based off of the same large images, highlighting the changes that can occur from modifying mediums and colours. These works showcase Seife’s first use of concrete. Inspired by building materials seen in Damascus, the artist created a formula for his own kind of mortar. This simultaneously creates an interesting contrast between the floral patterning of the work and the theoretical foundation of the forest, all while further grounding the work in Seife’s heritage.
This physical-digital-physical process not only allows Seife to create a more powerful visual experience, it also stresses the notion that craftsmanship remains at the centre of the artistic process. Although these ideas are evolving and there are now numerous contemporary artists that have never picked up a brush, A Small Spark vs a Great Forest is testament to the past ideals of both the artistic process, and the effect it can have on anybody in the world.
“The whole gallery is thrilled for Jason. This exhibition has been a long time in the making, and to see Jason realise his vision and bring such a complex body of work together is incredibly rewarding. These works were influenced by Jason’s experiences travelling through the Middle-East and connecting with his heritage in a truly profound way, he really matured as an artist over this time. A Small Spark vs a Great Forest is a celebration of craftsmanship, of detail, and of tradition. Only Jason could present this timeless practice in such a uniquely contemporary fashion”, said Joe Kennedy and Jonny Burt, co-founders of Unit London.