A s soon as I step into Kour Pour’s studio in Inglewood, Los Angeles, I'm overwhelmed by wafting smells both familiar and foreign. I notice a jar of cinnamon and paprika on the table next to a roller and jars of paint. Next to the door is a canvas covered in incense powder. On the working table next to the paints are small unstretched canvases where the artist says he’s been experimenting, acknowledging that he’s constantly messing around with new materials. Excited about the freedom of multiple styles and visual languages he takes interest in different mediums, often letting the material dictate the practice.
With great enthusiasm before taking me further into his studio, Pour shows me the exhibition space in the same complex as his studio, a new project space he’s started with his wife Katya. Called Guest House, Pour has been programming shows and events here since 2022. As its title suggests both transience and hospitality, the space is oriented around artists who have come to Los Angeles from other places, who have immigrant backgrounds or origins. Pour says of the project, “It came out of necessity, in a way, of wanting to create a community space where I get to spend more time with artists – with an emphasis on artists that have moved here from other places that perhaps you know, are away from home to kind of create that feeling of support, because that's something that I definitely felt was lacking when I started exhibiting.”
In February of this year during the Frieze art fair Pour invited six artists from Dastan gallery in Tehran to exhibit in Guest House since their space had been closed due to protests. Last year he showed Alexis Smith’s works she had made about the Iraq War (the show coincided with her retrospective at Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego). Pour himself is English-Iranian, growing up in England he moved to Los Angeles in 2005 to attend art school, graduating from Otis College of Art in 2010. The experience for him as a young artist coming to a new country was a definitive period of his artistic life that has consistently informed his work. Guest House, Pour tells me, is a project he hopes takes on a life of its own acting as both a community space and an exhibition space.
In a way, the project is an extension of his practice which centres around notions of multicultural identity, cultural exchange, and diaspora. In Namaste (from India to L.A.) (2023), on view at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, on a field of rich blue a shade somewhere between Yves Klein’s International Klein Blue and the Ishtar Gate are symbols and objects related to healing and medicine: crystals, chakra map, shells. “I think that the common thread throughout everything in my studio is that I'm always looking at things that have these kinds of multiple histories or identities,” Pour tells me, “and that's something that relates to my biography.” For this body of work, the paintings are produced in sections, screen printed and hand painted onto the canvas. In most of the paintings the symbols gather but they rarely touch. While they all are part of the painting's logic there is a graphic negative space that makes their presence together on the same plane even more stark. If these symbols have certain religious or political connotations, here, the hierarchy of those meanings become collapsed in the space of the painting.
This collapse is further explored in the exhibition in which his paintings will be displayed alongside a curation of objects, rugs, paintings and furniture from Sotheby’s spanning two millenia. Like the imagery in the painting, the objects that Pour has selected to show come from different time periods, countries and cultures. He says of this decision, “I think it'll be a great opportunity to play with these different energies that each object brings and put them in a room together. In a way, it’s how I wish museum collections would be rather than separated by geographic location or time period. I think it would be much more interesting and fluid to bring all of those things together in one room, rather than focus on their differences, you’re giving the connections a bit more room to breathe.” For this installation, Pour introduces a kind of visual fluidity as with the images that he features in his paintings. The objects in a way transcend their cultural or geographic contexts.
Pour often begins his paintings with a loose pre-existing logic of a Persian rug pattern (he grew up around Persian rugs in England), drawing from imagery in the archives and catalogues of museum collections. The Persian rug pattern mimics the aerial view of a traditional Persian garden so in a way they represent abstracted nature. In line with this abstraction of nature, Pour uses different borders in each work: Earth, Wind, Fire, Water. Star Map (2023), with symbols of astrology, is surrounded by the outside of a single motif of flames that you might see on a skateboard and for Voyage for Tea and Spices (2023) the border contains a Japanese water motif. He says, “I want to break open the idea that this image might be Persian, or this image might be Chinese, and actually go a little bit deeper to discover that while these images might have been produced in ancient Persia, there are so many stylistic influences from East Asia and then perspectives from European painting. It’s a way to get rid of that simplistic notion of identity.”
Pour is obsessed with these kinds of perversions of imagery and the shift in meaning or legibility that occurs through the process. He shows me a catalogue from New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) from 2013 for an exhibition called Inventing Abstraction, in which the curator states in the first paragraph of the curatorial statement that abstraction is an invention of the 20th century. Next to this claim is Pour’s handwriting in bright highlight yellow; “really?” it reads. Pour flips through the catalogue showing me that he has printed out and pasted images of mostly Asian or Islamic art that is nearly indistinguishable from the modernist works in this MoMA exhibition. The gesture is simple: identifying and juxtaposing, setting up a relationship between two works or images to establish visual connections. In Pour's paintings he carries out a similar process not to make a statement or argument necessarily, rather to present a collection of things one might not typically see together and in doing that allows the viewer to construct meaning that meanders through time periods, cultures, and feeling.