Outside the Gates
Outside the Gates
In a bi-coastal collaboration, Betty Cuningham Gallery and L.A. Louver are pleased to present Charles Garabedian: Outside the Gates. Drawing from both galleries' long histories with the artist, this exhibition brings together two dozen paintings from the last three decades of Garabedian's life. The artist’s ability to tap into the collective unconscious renders the work timeless; while many of the figures may be familiar from myth, their staging speaks to our common lot as humans. With distinctive humor and pathos, Garabedian takes us on a trip as he moves toward finding himself in history, mythology, and by accident.
Garabedian embraced grand themes in his idiosyncratic and compelling body of work. Inspired by Armenian manuscripts, Biblical stories, and the epic poetry of ancient Greece, his iconoclastic approach to figuration breathes vibrant, pulsating life into these old tales. His works are populated with warriors and gods, bathing beauties and epic journeys. Abstractions lie unsettlingly at the edge of recognition, seeming to take on the unknowable logic of Olympus.
A hallmark of Garabedian’s style is his Mannerist approach to the body. Twisted and elongated figures lounge, bend, and stretch across his compositions. That nearly all of his figures from this period are nude reinforces a feeling of otherworldliness. He treats the body as something malleable, something that can be distorted or even truncated. For example, the painting Man in the Brick Wall features a fleeing figure, a brick bust, and a torso with legs but no upper half.
Most of the works are on paper, a material the artist embraced for its flexibility and fluidity. As his concepts developed, Garabedian affixed additional sheets to the original page in order to achieve his desired composition. This expansive narrative approach may be seen in works such as You Should have Looked at Me and Outside the Gates, and led to marked vertical and horizontal formatting which is evidenced too in the rare multi-canvas mural-scale painting Willie Snake. According to Garabedian, “I find the paper more liberating, it’s not as formal a concept. I like to think of it as more of a physical experience.”
See L.A. Louver's presentation of Charles Garabedian: Outside the Gates here.
If you knew you were going in there to knock out great paintings, it wouldn’t be any fun. This is what makes it interesting to be an artist. It’s the idea of finding yourself and knowing you can be 100% wrong with each decision, each brushstroke. The fun is wandering around in the fog, with a cliff nearby.
~ Charles Garabedian
Chas had a difficult childhood. After his mother’s death when he was a small child, he was in and out of orphanages until he was finally reunited with his father and 2 sisters at the age of 10. This experience left Chas with the feeling that, for him, ‘home’ would never be more than an elusive dream. In time, he found solace in the writings and histories of his ancestors, gravitating to ancient Armenian manuscripts as well as classic Greek mythology. The artist once said, “When I first encountered The Iliad, and Greece, and Armenian manuscripts, I immediately felt at home with them”. Unsurprisingly, the heroes and scenes from these stories frequently find their way into Chas’ paintings.
The ancient Greek myth of Prometheus is one that has inspired many artists throughout history, including Chas as he painted the god repeatedly throughout his career. Legend has it, the Titan Prometheus gave humankind the gift of fire. Many of the other gods, particularly Zeus, were not pleased with Prometheus' sharing of this sacred knowledge and felt he should pay for his transgression. As punishment, Prometheus was chained to a rock and an eagle, an emblem of Zeus, came daily to feast on his liver. Every night the liver grew back, and every day the eagle returned for his meal.
There is, of course, an element of faith in making art; you must have faith in the value of the search for who you are, because that's essentially what art is.
Charles Garabedian came to painting at age 32, and was almost 40 before he had his first solo exhibition. His career as an artist followed his service as a Staff Sergeant and gunner during World War II, during which he flew 30 misions in Europe. He subsequently worked for the tire company B.F. Goodrich, assembling cars for Chrysler, and as a clerk for the railroad. Garabedian studied literature and history at USC, and, encouraged by his friend Ed Moses, he took art classes with Howard Warshaw, which led him to UCLA. Upon graduating with an MA in 1961, he stayed on to teach at the university and would teach at several established art institutions throughout the 1960s, '70s, and '80s.
In 1962, Garabedian began showing with the Ceeje Gallery in Los Angeles. He had his first solo museum exhibition in 1966 at the La Jolla Museum of Art, and his first retrospective at California State University Northridge in 1974. In 1978, Marcia Tucker included Garabedian's work in the exhibition "Bad" Painting at the New Museum in New York, which she had founded just a year prior. Numerous solo and group gallery and museum shows followed, and culminated in a survey exhibition curated by Julie Joyce at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in 2011, which drew widespread critical acclaim.
Betty Cuningham began working with Garabedian in 1982, and Betty Cuningham Gallery has represented the artist since 2004. L.A. Louver has represented Charles Garabedian since 1979.