Toba Khedoori is a Los Angeles artist, who makes large-scale, detailed drawings and paintings on paper, canvas, and linen. Because of her use of negative space and the absence of a definitive background, her images – devoid of people – seem to float in space. Her work is realistic because of its detailed representation of images. However it is also abstract because of the isolation in which she places these images. The overall effect is quiet and serene.
Khedoori and her twin sister, artist Rachel Khedoori, were born in Sydney, Australia to Jewish Iraqi parents. Both sisters received B.F.A. degrees in 1988 from the San Francisco Art Institute and both received M.F.A. degrees from U.C.L.A. in 1994. Both work in Los Angeles.
The subjects of her paintings are solitary spaces, park benches, rocks, fences, tunnels, windows, doors, train compartments, and horizon lines. She frequently depicts architectural forms from distanced perspectives. She repeats architectural details removed from their context, such as rows of windows, a corridor lined with closed doors, or bricks on a wall. Her precisely rendered imagery envelops the viewer’s field of vision.
Her breakthrough came with her monumental paintings on large expanses of paper some as large as 11 feet and fastened directly onto gallery walls. She would often coat the paper with layers of encaustic, wax, and oil which stiffened the paper and gave it a sheen. Sometimes she would dwarf her imagery to call attention to the blank space of paper around it.
Khedoori’s images of architectural components suggest infinity through her use of repetition. Her l994 “Untitled (buildings/windows)” shows rows and rows of double-hung windows. They all look the same until careful viewing shows that there are slight differences as shades are rendered at different heights and shadows or shapes can be seen in some of the windows.
In her 1996 “Untitled (doors),” long horizontal rows of blue doors scroll across the paper. Again, they all seem identical, but then details emerge. There are different shades of blue and various stains on the walls. The top and bottom rows fade into nothingness. Again, infinity is Implied as these different doorways continue ad infinitum even though we can’t see them.
In the early 2000s, Khedoori transitioned from the large scale and two-dimensionality, found in her early works on paper, into medium-sized oil paintings on canvas. These smaller-scale works hovered between representation and abstraction and – like her earlier compositions – were enigmatic and detailed.
Her 2005 “Untitled (clouds)” uses a vertical format with the upper half of the painting filled with billowy clouds while the bottom half is empty space. Her 2006 “Untitled (Black Fireplace)” sits small and adrift in the darkness. The black surface is rendered in encaustic, approximating the size of bricks.
Her most recent work shows her technical mastery when she draws and paints from nature. Her oil painting “2015 Untitled (leaves/branches)” is a tangle of green oval leaves, pitched at different angles to the light, with elegant intertwining of thin, twisting branches. Lately Khedoori started focusing once again on creating large scale paintings on paper.
Khedoori won the MacArthur Foundation Grant in 2002. She has participated in a number of international group exhibitions including the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009; Liverpool Biennial in 2006; the 26th Sao Paulo Biennial in 2004; and the 1995 Whitney Biennial.
Khedoori’s first museum solo exhibition was organized in 1997 by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and traveled to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. She received a mid-career survey by Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2016-17. This show traveled to the Perez Art Museum Miami in 2017. In addition, she has had solo exhibitions at prominent museums worldwide, including the St. Louis Art Museum, Royal Hibernia Academy, Whitechapel Gallery, Museum fur Gegenwartskunst in Basel, and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
Her work is in the permanent collections of The Broad, Hammer Museum, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and others.