London-based artist Idris Khan was born in the UK in 1978. Since completing his Master’s Degree with a Distinction in Research at the Royal College of Art in London in 2004, he has received international acclaim for his minimal, yet emotionally charged photographs, videos and sculptures and is without question one of the most exciting British artists of his generation.
Drawing on diverse cultural sources including literature, history, art, music and religion, Khan has developed a unique narrative involving densely layered imagery that inhabits the space between abstraction and figuration and speaks to the themes of history, cumulative experience and the metaphysical collapse of time into single moments.
Whilst Khan’s mindset is more painterly than photographic, he often employs the tools of photomechanical reproduction to create his work. Photographing or scanning from secondary source material–sheet music, pages from the Qur’an, reproductions of late Caravaggio paintings–he then builds up the layers of scans digitally, which allows him to meticulously control minute variances in contrast, brightness and opacity. The resultant images are often large-scale C-prints with surfaces that have a remarkable optical intensity.
This visual layering also occurs in Khan’s videos, such as Last Three Piano Sonatas…after Franz Schubert, a three-channel video installation wherein he films multiple camera angles that capture numerous performances of the sonatas Schubert composed on his deathbed. The work is both an elegy and a paean to creative genius. As Khan explains: “The last three sonatas form a kind of cycle and thus illuminate one another when performed. Thematic, rhythmic and harmonic links are evident between the movement of each sonata and they also hold the idea that each piece is in some way inhabiting the persona of the lonely, alienated wanderer.” As with his richly layered photographic images, the meaning of the work emerges slowly and experientially with the passage of time.
Khan’s oeuvre has expanded to include sculpture and painting. For sculptural works, using materials such as steel plates, cubes and horizontal stone slabs, Khan sandblasts the surface with templates of musical scores or prayers, continuing his investigation into the ways in which cultural, visual, cinematic and temporal memories coalesce into a dense, synesthetic whole.
In 2012, Khan was commissioned by the British Museum in London to create a new wall drawing for the exhibition, Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam. In addition to the wall drawing, Khan’s stunning floor sculpture, Seven Times, was installed in the museum’s majestic Great Court. In March of the same year, The New York Times Magazine commissioned Khan to create a new body of work that was published in their London issue.
Khan has had solo exhibitions at international venues including the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, Toronto, Canada; K20, Dusseldorf, Germany; and Gothenburg Konsthall, Sweden. He has also been featured in numerous group exhibitions at venues including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Tate Britain, London, England; Hayward Gallery, London, England; The Saatchi Gallery, London, England; Espace Culturel Louis Vuitton, Paris, France; Baibakov Art Projects, Moscow, Russia; the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, England; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Helsinki Kunsthalle, Finland.
His work is in the permanent collections of many institutions worldwide such as The Saatchi Collection, London, England; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel; the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the de Young Museum, San Francisco; and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France.
Idris Khan lives and works in London, England.
Blouin ArtInfo: In the Studio: Idris Khan "Beyond the Black", Sep. 19, 2013
Idris Khan Combines the Poetic and the Political at Sean Kelly Gallery, Oct. 22, 2015