ART: Stillness Has No Place in Real Experience

By Gayane Ghazaryan

Etymologically–indifference means "no difference:" an unnatural state in which the lines blur between past and present–good and evil–light and darkness–crime and punishment–cruelty and compassion. Eventually–indifference reduces one to an abstraction and the other to the reflection of abstraction. Zareh Meguerditchian was born in Syria in 1956–and was not with the victims of the 1915 Armenian genocide–one of the most tragic massacres of the human history. Those victims feel nothing. They are no more. Artist Zareh feels pain–hunger–thirst–fear–and hope for himself and for them; he evokes vitality in everything he does–even in the sufferings of his ancestors. Indifferent human being would sound as oxymoron for the artist who seeks existence in infinite movement–ever-changing shapes and forms–sounds and colors. The entire universe seems to be joined onto itself–emerging from and terminating in a cycle that may begin from any form–any line–any color–any touch. Never-ending transformations and continual metamorphosis haunt Zareh’s works.

Zareh’s young years coincided with the Lebanese civil war where his family moved from Syria in 1963. He was 12 when the local artist noticed Zareh’s pictures in his father’s office and offered to give lessons to the promising boy. His art classes at Kazlik University–Lebanon–were interrupted by the civil war that furnished unexpected opportunities for the young artist to evidence innocent victims of the horrors of war. His family–living through all odds–moved to the United States in 1983 where he continued his education at UCLA. In 1989 Zareh attended Barnsdale Art Center–Los Angeles. He wouldn’t reflect much goodness and wouldn’t try to ring a bell in his short film themes without knowing what enemy and hostility mean to the human nature. He has an enemy–and that is "his highness" injustice and indifference against which his Turkish Soup Made with Armenian Bones (produced by Souren Karapetian–1998) and The Red Trees of the Armenian Genocide (Souren Karapetian–2001) rise to pray. Zareh’s Marry the Priest (2002) illuminates the religious traditions and rituals threatening our civil liberties and our beliefs in individual self-determination. These films–despite their devotions to particular cultural circumstances–are parading campaigns not of a backwater folklorist but of a struggler against injustice where Zareh is an immensely skilled sophisticate.

"Stillness has no place in real experience," says Zareh. What he means is that no two encounters with a person–object–or place are the same. To Zareh–identity thus understood is deeply suspect–for experience cannot be repeated–nor–as a consequence–verified. His paintings and drawings generally present related–but distinct bodies of work. Ideally–viewers see both installations–and carry the memory of the previous when observing the next. This kind of half-remembered–half-observed perceptual experience is a central structuring element in nearly all of Zareh’s drawings. Individual features of objects and images matter less than what happens between and among them-and those relationships are seldom simple. In fact–they are composed of related–but significantly different images: what seems a tidily symmetrical set of reflecting images is actually a thoroughly warped mirror. Viewers encounter the works in a sequential fashion; this enforced progression gives new meaning to each component–but it also makes the point that each oeuvre in Zareh’s seemingly diverse drawings is part of a larger continuum.

"This is me–this is you–and we all emerge from one another," one can interpret Zareh’s works–and the question of the Untitled drawings deliberately beg for a title: sent shuttling from one picture to the other–the viewer searches in vain for a fixed subject. The image contours are smudged by movement–the white spaces made up for maximum mutability into the figures and images of sexless–ageless emotional abstraction. Only once does an eye register with any clarity–revealing the faintest gleam of white and wrinkled black. They scarcely disturb the surface rhythm–but as a kind of visual undertow–they serve as an emotional engine.

A similar effect occurs in Zareh’s paintings. At first glance–intensely colored multimedia canvases can seem completely abstract until one eventually recognizes depicting such images as bottle-like bird (Untitled #4–1997)–the white paper with scripts on it–black outline tinged with blue and yellow–and the ochre contours shaping a rolling hill boot. Then–in a marvelous visual pan–the viewer looks through the glasses of the man in the picture. In his acrylic on canvas or linen collage paintings Zareh lays down elemen’s such as paper–cloth–metal–ring–stone–button–string or shoe top. The atmosphere he creates is nostalgic–referring to a specific place and by allusion encompassing others. Love Outside the Window (1996) displays a wealth of poetic effects as well as an incisive sense of composition. Zareh’s sure hand and sharp eye enable him to work out an image that is both figurative and abstract–accessible and mysterious.

The inscriptive attributes in Zareh’s works–nearly invisible–give an impression of lyrics for the rhythmical chain joining all images in the meshing of their copulations–their mirrors–their metamorphoses. The lapses of memory that they express suggest the usefulness of the word and the improvisatory departure from them. But the mystery of aesthetic achievement occurs when the depicted subject develops energy equal to the strength of the artist’s own regard. Much of Zareh’s wishfulness reveals itself in his deliberate confabulation of the constructed artistic personality with the flesh-and blood life personality. His 3-D conceptually driven works Christian Soaps (2000) and Edible Gods (2003) open the field for a more expansive range of meaning. The provocative titles suggest how ambiguous and–in some cases–misleading the religious conceptions can be. Though–he knows the difference–he prefers to see a moral continuum running between art and reality–a view which infuses his art with the resonance of life.

Zareh’s solo and group exhibitions achieved broad responses by the National TV and press media. What more than anything else characterizes Zareh’s art is his voracious appetite for connecting everything-logical and emotional–the spiritual and the material–ecstasy and paranoia-with everything else–without beginning and end–one and many at the same time.

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