GLENDALE—Roslin Art Gallery will present the unveiling of Jirayr Zorthian’s “The Divorcement,” confined to a shipping crate since 1954, along with other selected works on exhibit from July 14 to 28.
“The Divorcement” was created by Los Angeles-area artist Jirayr Zorthian in 1954 as a response to the difficult divorce proces he experienced with his wife, Betty Williams, who was from a prominent New Orleans family.
The massive (77″ x 101″), emotionally charged piece expresses his rage aimed towards Betty, depicted as under the control of her monster money-eating mother, with her three children in chains. Although grim in subject, the piece is an explosion of colors, incorporating photographs, text, jewelry, and animal hair. The divorce was a sensation, as it was the first time in California history where a man received alimony from his ex-wife. The painting was so controversial that it was settled that Jirayr was not at liberty to show it while they were alive for the sake of the family. The painting was sequestered in a wooden crate for 63 years. Jirayr Zorthian passed away in 2004 and Betty Williams passed away in 2011. After all of these decades, the piece will finally be unveiled.
The exhibit will open with the Unveiling Reception on Friday, July 14 from 7 to 10 p.m. and will remain open until July 28. On Saturday, July 15, at 2 p.m., a panel discussing the piece and family history will take place with artist/daughter Seyburn Zorthian, Former West Coast Director of Archives of American Art / Smithsonian Institution Paul Karlstrom and artist / family friend Patricia Ferber, moderated by Pasadena community arts organizer, Tom Coston.
JIRAYR ZORTHIAN was born in 1911 in the Armenian city of Kutahya in Turkey. His family was able to escape the Armenian Genocide and moved to the United States in 1922 settling in New Haven, Connecticut. Jirayr, the eldest sibling of three boys, was eventually granted a full college scholarship to the Yale School of fine arts. Following his graduation from Yale he was granted a fellowship to study abroad and traveled around Europe and North Africa in the 1930s, studying art and architecture. He returned to participate in Franklin Roosevelt’s WPA projects for artists, becoming a muralist. His murals survive to this day in State capitals and in Post offices around the U.S. During WWII, Jirayr was inducted into the U.S. army where he produced propaganda posters and a 157-foot long mural for the pentagon entitled, The Phantasmagoria of Military Intelligence Training, considered to be his crowning achievement. Jirayr and Betty came to Los Angeles where they purchased 27 acres in the foothills of Altadena. Jirayr began in his studio working as a portrait painter and eventually moved his work outside on all areas of the property, building structures out of materials that were discarded by builders and local municipalities, such as broken concrete, river rock, and telephone poles. Several years after his divorce from Betty, he married his second wife, Dabney, and they purchased 21 more acres below the upper property. Beyond his talent as an artist, Jirayr was intensely social and had a wide and diverse circle of friends. He especially cherished his friendship with physicist Richard Feynman. The Zorthian ranch was the site of many parties and other events including jazz performances, retreats, and movie shoots. For the last 15 years of his life, he hosted a Primavera party, the highlight of which was a skit in which he took on the character Zor-Bachus, being surrounded by dancing naked “nymphs”.
The Roslin Art Gallery is located at 415 E. Broadway, Glendale, CA. Admission is free. Gallery hours are from Monday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.