Shirazeh Houshiary: Smell of First Snow, Lisson Gallery, London

Shirazeh Houshiary: Smell of First Snow, Lisson Gallery, London

For her eighth exhibition at Lisson Gallery, Shirazeh Houshiary presents a series of large-scale works in pale ocean hues – pencilled with words, sentences, sprawling like branches or undulating ripples. The cumulative affect of these thousands of hand-written words leaves them illegible, more vibrations and echoes of language than directions or narratives.

Nominated for the Turner Prize in 1994, Shirazeh Houshiary came to the fore as a sculptor in the 1980s, and her practice now includes painting, installation, architectural projects and film. Instead of focusing upon medium, she is idea-led, explaining “I set out to capture my breath, to find the essence of my own existence, transcending name, nationality, cultures.”  Her work is often characterised by references to veils, membranes and mists, drawing on contemporary science and the cosmic, and now using Arabic words pencil-stroked onto canvas and coated in fine layers of pigment.

In this exhibition’s enormous central diptych, A Deluge (2015), these texts swirl and crystallise across the picture plane, catching on powdered cobalt and violet pigments – functioning in a similar way to a Rothko, the surface drawing in the viewer and various forms appearing from the haze.

Small works such as Zero (2014) begin with a black or white aquacryl ground with eddies of words describing senses and memories of the artist, connecting with two wall-based sculptures, Allegory of Sight and Allegory of Sound, which strive to evoke synaesthesia in the viewer. Their pure white and dense black ribbons float from wall into mid-air, throwing sharp shadows onto the gallery walls and alluding to the organic and the mystical, like the artist’s gentle transcriptions on canvas.

Shirazeh Houshiary: Smell of First Snow, until 4 July, Lisson Gallery, 27 Bell Street, London, NW1 5DA. For more information, visit

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1. Shirazeh Houshiary, Allegory of Sight (2015). Courtesy of the artist and Lisson Gallery.