Depicting characters that negate both race and gender, Laylah Ali’s paintings and drawings often infer the moment before and after acts of violence. In her initial series, Greenheads, Ali references not only comic books and 60s animations but also images of historical unrest and uprisings. (from: Black-Visual-Archive)
Laylah is best known for her Greenheads series (1996-2005), made of more than sixty paintings and characters that are brown skinned, androgynous characters that she used for her dark subject matter. She also has a fascination with weak superheroes, regimentation, alliance and betrayals, tense environments, and oddly dodgeball. Laylah has even admitted that “I’m not sure that my personal rage or anger needs to resonate in the work. It does fuel my need to make the work, to engage, to destroy, rebuild, keep at it.” She goes on saying that she’s trying to see what happens when that becomes part of the process, a meticulous one at that where strains and ideas and questions pop up about the world. The anger is an important part of her process, but not necessarily the final goal. She has to deal with the stress of working on the paintings, especially since she’s not too fond of using gouache, a technique using opaque pigments ground in water and thickened with a glue-like substance, since the slightest mistake immediately makes her start over. (from Cleveland State Art)
Ali creates images which are as simple as comic books and as complex and hieroglyphics. Their flat, cartoonish aesthetic sharply contrasts their aggressive and ambiguous subject matter, creating an ambiguously violent viewing experience. (from Huffington Post)
Ali approaches race in a rare and fascinating manner, by confronting it directly but avoiding the usual narratives. In the video below she ruminates about the possibility of racism stemming from the literal visual experience of seeing a darker face, a color that absorbs more light and looks more mysterious. She asks: could racism be attributed to bizarre visual phenomena? (from Huffington Post)
While Ali’s work has been described as ambiguous and confounding, she welcomes discussion about her art—even differences of opinion about it. “You don’t have to paint, or even like my style of painting, to have a conversation,” she says. “A mistake often made about artists is that we assume their style is their substance. And that’s not necessarily true.” (from BU Today)
Solid colors and everyday objects—sneakers, Band-aids, dodgeballs—appear frequently in Ali’s work and are often juxtaposed with themes of political resistance and betrayal. Her carefully plotted gouache on paper paintings often result in scenes saturated with tension.
(from BU Today)
"I love how traditional portraiture is so restrictive and that it seems to rely on the discomfort of the sitter. I liked working within such restrictions and trying to elicit as much as possible."
INK DRAWINGS ON PAPER
Ali has created intimate drawings in ink on paper, inviting viewers to draw meaning from the figures she creates. They are beings that share some similarities with humans but whose clothing, facial expressions, postures and movements are confounding and disorienting. By playing with the figures’ hairstyle, body type, dress and physical limitations, she opens up a litany of questions into how all humans create and interpret identity.