“Card Players,” an oil-on-canvas work by Armen Gevorgian, is utterly true to its name. The piece evokes any number of card games from art history – Cezanne’s five “Card Players,” for example, each of which finds peasant men sitting, facing one another in affable contest. Cezanne’s work renders his card-players with great individuality.
In Gevorgian’s study of balance, on the other hand, the near-identical figures – contestants as well as the supporters arrayed behind them – are rendered in a stylized, uniform angularity that makes them look like aliens, or else mannequins or effigies of human beings.
The setting in Gevorgian’s piece looks less like a public house than a family home. Unlike the Cezanne, which is superbly evocative of time and place, Gevorgian appears more concerned with formal symmetry. The one “natural” element in the work – the utterly spherical treetop, carefully placed at the center of both the window and the work as a whole – serves to further displace the location from the natural world.
Slight details in the rendering of the contestants – one figure’s minute bowtie, the playing of a heart by one player and a spade by the other – suggest they are man and woman. The onlookers therefore assume the identities of respective family members, offering advice in the politics of personal relations.
“Card Players” is one of 64 works on display in “Symphony of Colors,” an exhibition of work by “Armenian Masters” nowadays up at the Jeweler’s Souk, in Downtown Beirut. The exhibition is organized by the Arame Art Gallery, an Armenian-based outfit that recently opened a branch in Gemmayzeh’s Tekian Center, with the aim of promoting the work of Armenian artists in Lebanon.
“Symphony of Colors” is the third exhibition Arame has organized in Beirut. Michael Vayejian, the manager of the Beirut location, explained to The Daily Star that this exhibition is being staged at the Jeweler’s Souk because “the gallery is too small” to hold the works they wanted to include here.
The show gathers paintings by 15 artists, including Gabriel Manoukian (aka Gabo), Ruben Abovian, Sarkis Hamalbashian and Tigran Matulian. These works represent a wide range of approaches from abstraction to figuration, defying any expectations that the artists’ common national heritage should make their work thematically or formally similar.
Ruben Grigorian works with settings in a far more realistic manner than Gevorgian, yet he too unhinges his subject from the everyday world.
His oil-on-canvas work “On the Way” (80x80 cm) appears to depict two characters against a wintertime landscape – the ground white, as if covered in snow, the trees bereft of leaves in the mist.
Though depicted as naturalistically as their setting, Grigorian’s two figures are incomplete. The more complete figure, on the right, is comprised of boots, a little girl’s dress, beret and hair. The parts of the body that would be exposed – face, hands, legs – are absent. Diminutive wings can be seen to project from the girl’s dress.
Her clothing appears to be addressing a second figure, on the left side of the canvas, though the only mark of its presence is a pair of brown boots, possibly the sort of thing a man would wear.
The figures that are the subject of this depiction are literally absent.
The obvious question arising from the work’s title is where are the absent figures going? The cherubic wings on the absent girl – and the heavy symbolism of the “dead” wintertime landscape – suggest the figures are en route to heaven.
Sarkis Hamalbashian’s colorful oil-on-canvas “Silk Way 1” (130x200 cm) is a landscape rendered in patchwork – that is, without benefit of false perspective. The patchwork consists of cutouts from a medieval bestiary – if you can imagine a bestiary that includes exotic human cultures and antique technologies as well as animals.
The work’s title suggests the work is a rendering of the historic land route linking the Far East with the Mediterranean, a sort of thematic map that places exotic humans and means of transportation front and center.
The impression of motion saturates Arthur Hovhannisian’s “Awakening” (132x190 cm). Four women – who bear a strong physical resemblance both in their facial features and in the prints on their dresses – are dancing in what looks like a field. The family dog has joined their happy exertions.
Several questions linger in the mind. What sort of “awakening” is the work evoking? Are Hovhannisian’s figures simply morning people, or is he attempting to render an epiphany (emotional or otherwise) in figurative terms? Whatever his intent, his pervasive use of reds conveys a feeling of great warmth.
“Symphony of Colors” is up at Jeweler’s Souk in Downtown Beirut until June 6. For more information, please call 03-362-423.
By / Daily Star