M.H. Yaghooti’s ‘Recent Images’ is an Exploration in Individual Thought

Portrait photo: Vanessa Flores

They say things are not always as they appear, and the 32 Jones Gallery is no exception. Located in the middle of a quiet residential block in a converted two-family home, the gallery is a surprisingly ample space for a one-man show. On this recent Friday evening, M.H. Yaghooti is the main attraction as his second solo exhibit, “Recent Images,” lines the walls of what could have been a formal dining room in the gallery’s previous life as a home.

Yaghooti, a towering figure, is stationed in the middle of the room nervously greeting friends and family who have come out in support of his latest endeavor this opening night. The work is a vibrant and diverse mix of oil on wood, acrylic on canvas, graphite on paper and one large mixed media piece. The collection, ten pieces in all, boasts a versatility rarely seen in an exhibit of this size. The work conveys powerful, oblique commentaries on the artist’s surroundings and experiences.

“Each piece in the show is inspired by an individual thought,” Yaghooti explains. “The pieces are all self-contained. One may be political and another a sketch for a future piece.”

A self-described “very visual person,” Yaghooti gravitates to images. “They are powerful things that can influence humanity for the better … or the worse,” he says.

Tonight his work seems to be as intriguing as it is influential. One couple is captivated by a piece dubbed “Golden Heart” and lament as they notice that it’s already been sold. On the other side of the room a group gathers in the corner buzzing about the saturation and bold use of color in all the pieces. All around, eyes are fixated on the art as I sit down with Yaghooti — who counts Francis Bacon, Alex Grey, Egon Schiele, H.R. Giger, and Picasso amongst his influences — to find out more about his passion.

This is your second solo exhibit; tell me about “Recent Images.”

This exhibit is primarily an effort to showcase my newest work for this year. A couple are dated 2008 but one of them is presented differently and the other is a large scale format I’d like to work in in the future. I’m looking to break outside my normal aesthetic to bring more energy to my art. I like to look at a lot of art and so many artists are doing such great work so I feel I should take it up a notch. I’m also a firm believer in change. It’s so important to an artist.

What’s your creative process like?

I really approach each painting differently, so i can’t really say. Sometimes I’ll have a sketch of something or I go straight to canvas. I don’t like to necessarily work from photographs but they are excellent reference materials so I don’t exclude them. Books, music, conversation, etc. find their way into my subconscious and an image can come from that.

I checked out your website, isitandthink.com, which prominently features your artwork but also has a blog on which you’re very vocal on issues ranging from health care to the current financial crisis. How do politics play into your artwork?

I like to touch on political issues but I don’t want it to dominate my work. I think all artists are political whether they want to be or not. We all have to or want to say something. What’s even better is that we can create an image that’s just as powerful as words. It also is a way to take higher ground with your reactions to important issues you take to heart.

“Capitalist” and “King & the Kingdom” are featured pieces, both seem to have political subtexts, what’s the story behind each?

I can’t say I had any inspiration making “King and the Kingdom” [see below] except that it was a subconscious effort. Sometimes it’s pleasant to let your soul speak. Plus working with watercolor and ink is always fun. We can’t forget how fun art is.

“Capitalists” [see below] was strongly influenced by the 2008 financial industry bailout. The cyclops characters represent bankers only seeing it their way … and if you don’t you get burned.

As a local artist how has Jersey City nurtured your artwork?

I was born and raised in Jersey City so the city itself has nurtured me. It’s made me who I am and that is reflective in my artwork. Jersey City is a city of change and has been for quite a number of years. And in seeing that, it’s helped me understand how change is so significant to an artist. I went to New Jersey City University, which has a great arts program from 1995-2000. I was taught by some of Jersey City’s best art professors. That’s helped my artwork and me greatly. I received my BFA in communication design with a concentration in illustration. I’ve been taught by Ben Jones, Hugo Bastidas, Anneke Prins-Simmons and Dennis Dittrich to name a few. It’s a very supportive program as well.

How’d you hook up with 32 Jones?

I saw a friend’s show there last year and was curious how she got the show. She introduced me to the curator and he offered.

Talk about being at the right place at the right time! Any advice for local emerging artists in the area looking to break out?

Be yourself. Your art helps you soul search. Be stimulated by everything.

What do you want people to take away from the exhibit?

Great question. It would have to be subjective experiences people can relate to in my work. For instance, I had a viewer talk about how one of my pieces reminded her of her father and her childhood. That’s powerful because the work didn’t necessarily present a moment or situation from her childhood but rather an emotional response. That’s learning something about who you are and what is important to you. If my work can make individuals learn more about who they are, then I’ve done something positive. Everybody wins. She ended up buying the piece too.

What’s the next chapter look like for you?

I’m looking to transition from my 9 to 5 web developing job to getting my art more exposed and making a living that way. Corporations aren’t in my foreseeable future. I was also playing music for a number of years playing in a band called BONBOMB. My art took a backseat during this time since music occupied much of my time. I still love making music and currently, I’m working on a couple projects but my real focus is my art. It’s a life’s work. I don’t look at it as a career although in our society it’s viewed that way. It’s a part of me.

M.H. Yaghooti: Recent Images
32 Jones Gallery
32 Jones St., 1st Floor
Sept. 4 – Sept. 30, 2009

a freelance writer born and raised in Hudson County. A culture junkie, she can be found blogging away for various local and national music and art websites.