In his paintings Tomm El-Saieh explores the relationship between contemporary abstraction and traditional Haitian representational painting. Using a meditative frottage technique, El-Saieh rubs a partially dried paintbrush in rhythmic patterns onto the primed canvas. The resulting forms, washed-out dots and lines, create networks of marks, at times resembling subtle graphic formations or aerial views of landscapes.

While Haitian painterly traditions are typically rooted in figuration, El-Saieh’s nonrepresentational works retain certain elements and peculiarities of this tradition: dots and marks, color palette, and a sense of rhythm in the paint application. The marks of The Look (Ant’s Tits), in vibrant pinks, greens, blues, and yellows, create a dense pattern across the surface of the canvas, in some sections resembling animal tracks or a map. These suggestions are strengthened by the patterning’s effect of creating a constant confusion of scale. While “The Look” references the title of a 2014 exhibition organized by El-Saieh that surveyed the works of Haitian and diaspora artists challenging the traditional understanding of Haitian art, “ant’s tits” refers to a Haitian proverb that, given enough patience, one might see an ant’s tits. 

El-Saieh (b. 1984, Port-au-Prince) studied at the New World School of the Arts, Miami, and currently directs the El-Saieh Gallery in Port-au-Prince. His work has been featured in solo exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (2017); Central Fine, Miami Beach (2015 and 2018); and the Haitian Hertiage Center, Miami (2008), among others. Recent group exhibitions include the 2018 Triennial: “Songs for Sabotage,” New Museum, New York.