Los Angeles

Charles Garabedian

Charles Garabedian has consistently painted some of the freshest, most idiosyncratic and emotionally compelling paintings to come out of Los Angeles. His territory is standard: landscape, still life, abstraction, and the figure, and he has made the most of these modes for 25 straight years. At various times all of these genres have crawled and blurred their way into one another in his pictures. In a painting of a cityscape is a solitary arm, lacking a torso, fitted neatly within the archway of a building. Inside a still life are abstract markings, nonsensical calligraphy, and stonelike frozen figures. The combinations are too numerous to mention, always perplexing and reasonable. Garabedian’s is an expanded field of references; he allows the direction of a painting to be dictated by a chance marking, creating a plurality of meanings. What he ends up with are brilliant unforeseen truths —a pileup of unsuspected rewards relating to the body and to the land we occupy.

Garabedian takes advantage of the difficulties of painting on canvas. He builds up stony figures, and has them reside in the picture like bulky stunted dinosaurs. On canvas they’re tight and rigid, and appear to be stuck in the tar pits. On paper things loosen up to an infinite degree; the artist has a field day with the informality that paper elicits. Throughout, Garabedian shows a fondness for dismemberment; he has a tendency to cut off figures at the knee and elbow, to leave a standing gentleman, smiling, with an arm missing, or the top of his head gone, or a head with no trunk. This creates a morbid comic edge, a bit of surrealism, but when the figures are in one complete piece this device has more to do with poignant cropping to emphasize a radiant belly or the tragic bridge of one’s nose.

The Garabedian strategy seems to be one of full-bore intuition. An emotional logic guides each painting to a distinct place of recognition. The works are littered with poetic visual accidents and puns. A nipple that drips; hair that could absorb an ocean; a butt crack as forgotten, benign, and silent as an untraveled cul de sac; an arrow that fluctuates between weapon, horizon line, diseased limb, and fragile twig. Another Garabedian trademark is nudes making a show of their genitals. These figures—unself-conscious slabs of flesh——are usually witnessed in severe private contemplation. They often appear worried, dazed by the weight of the world; at other times they seem to be euphoric, addressing an audience of cheerful and responsive elements. Garabedian frequently treats the figure like a wounded, twisted doll. His point is to present people as awkwardly as possible. This translates into a frank view, the inside story, a brand of honesty and truth about how we really are: face down, perpetually falling, moving from one contortion to the next, in a kind of grandiose robotic ballet.

In the end, Garabedian’s troupe has gently posed for a series of literal statements about men and women. His characters speak with their bodies, mostly with their toes and fingers. These fragile doughy tools are cues which demonstrate a way to live, to be together with people and to be apart, and how it is to suffer and die. The happiness of Garabedian’s figures is as intriguing and specific as their sorrow. It’s remarkable to see such an elaborate vocabulary made from body parts primarily used for walking and grabbing. It is a language all his own.

Benjamin Weissman