Los Angeles

Charles Garabedian

The old adage that art offers the viewer a glimpse inside the artist’s head isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Often, a tour of an artist’s psyche feels like sitting in on a stranger’s therapy session or listening to a cocktail-party acquaintance recount last night’s dream—boring, even embarrassing. But when Charles Garabedian opens the door to his mind, it is an entirely different experience. In his first Los Angeles show since 1996, Garabedian’s twenty-three works on paper and canvas inspired not so much thoughts of escape as fears that the gallery might close too soon.

Many of Garabedian’s new works involve his trademark idiosyncratic mingling of figuration, abstraction, landscape, symbolism, dream imagery, history and mythology, and comedy and tragedy. Butterflies, 1999, depicts two fragmented male nudes with brushlike fingers; one pushes his hand into the chest of the other in an ambiguous act of violence, intimacy, or healing. Around them float fillets of veiny flesh, pictograms and ghostlike figures of unknown origin, and a dreamy vignette of a boat with lips on its side and a noselike treble clef for a mast, sailing under clouds that become the eyes of a face. In Dragon, 1999, human bodies and serpents blend in and out of the landscape while two severed feet hover in the air; from a corner of the composition a cyclops peeks in with a string of ears trickling down its head. Figures become flesh, vegetation, water, and stone in Workshop, 1999, and the cacophony of abstract forms, symbols, and objects in Salmon Studio, 1998, is punctuated by a small volcano erupting and a giant pair of lips surrounded by a fence.

Other works in the exhibition were quieter, more intimate, and more pared down in imagery. In Memoriam LLL+ELC, 1999, consists of a simple, almost diagrammatic rendering of two small houses: one yellow with an open door, the other blue with its door shut. Garabedian’s own forehead disperses into a checkerboardish pattern in Untitled (Self Portrait), 1999. The two teardrop shapes in Along the Road, 1998, sit adjacent to one another in an abstract field—a lovely, basic formal design, and a sweet yet provocative image of intimacy—while Homage to MH, 1999, a small, ordered composition with a flowerlike form, is so clear a fusion of Garabedian and Marsden Hartley that the title seems redundant.

Garabedian manages to tip his hat to Expressionism and Surrealism while avoiding the faux-heroic posturing, self-indulgence, and melodrama that too often mark neo-Expressionism and neo-Surrealism. His works are decidedly unpretentious; one doesn’t get the impression that Garabedian expects anyone to marvel or assert the artist’s genius in front of these paintings. Instead, it seems that what we get is unedited and unhyped, what’s on his mind rather than a scripted outpouring of what’s supposed to be on an artist’s mind. And while you aren’t likely to “get” Garabedian’s paintings (this tour of his head is not a guided tour), you are likely to get a lot from them.

Christopher Miles