Anna Navasardian: Cry, Rage, Paint
CRY, RAGE, PAINT
Opening Reception: February 9, 6 – 8 pm (RSVP)
251 West 19th Street, New York, NY
Ethan Cohen Gallery is pleased to present Cry, Rage, Paint, its first solo exhibition of Anna Navasardian, which will take place February 9 – March 18, 2023.
Take the peak moment when the Modernists launched their innovations, before abstraction or examinations of pure form, draw a line to the present – and you arrive at Anna Navasardian's paintings where the human condition is front and center. Experimentation in line, form, and color serve strictly as ways to illuminate the consciousness of the living beings portrayed. The palpable heritage of German Expressionism informs her angst-ridden, fraught, sometimes misshapen subjects – vividly recognizable to us as fellow sojourners in life's psychological Dantesque forest. When figures seem trapped in swaying contours as in Kirchner or Munch, inner corrugations rich with mental estrangement cry out to us. Where groups cluster in observance of social norms, at a wedding or reception, a phantasmal blurring of features and colors transform the scenes into gorgeous nightmares. Acting upon the flesh and the surface appearance, a corrosive vision constantly threatens to unveil the grimacing skull beneath.
Navasardian began life in Soviet-era Armenia. She moved stateside at age three and for years, she says, she fixated on portraits of Soviet year-book school photographs, exploring the internal entrapment eloquent in their unsmiling faces. For many more years she painted portraits based on days-long sittings. From externalizing hidden truths within the limits of realist figuration, her work progressed to a freer motion of brush and paint, allowing the demons within to bust out and break the bounds of literal depiction. The lines melted, the colors fuzzed at the edges. The depicted became metaphors of themselves. So many of her faces now, like Francis Bacon, void into smears. Her mingling dancing party-goers threaten to be revealed as Botero-like creatures. Art historical erudition haunts her compositions. These artists pioneered my path, she seems to say, their foreshadowing allows me to occupy these remote regions of perception.
But in actuality Navasardian's paintings are narratives of self-perception and reluctant self-revelation. How she sees, what the world looks like to her appalled eyes, is her fearful, her uneasy secret, its macabre alienation perpetually outed by her own artistic truth-telling, a kind of compulsive courage. For these are not mere exercises in aesthetics. They articulate the deep existential dread at the heart of her vision. And part of the dread resides in other people knowing about it, that she sees them – us – in that weird distorted way, a kind of artist pariah, set apart from the complacent mainstream. Hers is the age-old predicament of the artist as other, unable to unsee the cruel jest behind the decorum of things, especially at recognizable moments when everyone else is happy – the haunted seer redeemed by the truth in art, however dark the message or uncomfortable the role.
Hence, often, the highly intentional derivative influence from celebrated painters visible in her work. Implicit is a silent statement: I am no mere misfit. I do belong but it's to a higher tradition of estranged visions, she is telling us. That is how her personal becomes universal. This is what real artists do; they suffer and show the ugly reality. Thus her works are, in a way, her mission statement, her apologia pro vita sua, to friends and community.
The eyes in Navasardian's works, always scary and chimerical, concentrate all the ambient horrors, a memory of the Armenian superstition of the evil eye, a kind of curse that first haunts your fears in childhood. The artist it seems is still haunted by those early fears, the old world's unexpunged secrets, phobias, and repressions, trailed into the new world. They too, are part of her narrative. Yet her paintings are paradoxically quite easy on the eye, certainly not decorative, but infused by color and composition with a fierce contradictory beauty.