Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Essay: David Yaghjian

Out Of The Lawn Chair, Into The Pool, 2007
Oil on canvas
30 x 20 in
$ 2,400

If David Yaghjian is having a mid-life crisis, he isn’t sweating it. He’s running with it, belly and all, juggling snakes, balancing a woman, shouting, dancing with a bull, dragging lawn chairs, serenading his dog with a fiddle and generally balancing the circus act that is life. “Mostly what I paint is around me,” Yaghjian has said, which suggests the man’s existence is eventful.

Mind you, that comment was about his architectural and street-scene paintings, not about his recent body of figurative work with an existential bent. But it could have been; the new work is about a middle-aged Everyman, who resembles Yaghjian, and whose trials and tribulations he catches in symbolic and metaphorical, psychologically pregnant scenes.

The work seems quite the departure from the sometimes austere, formal architectural paintings for which Yaghjian is known. But many of those paintings include life beyond the buildings, including a human presence, albeit often not the human figure itself. Still, the figure has never been absent from Yaghjian’s body of work. A man snoozing at night in a recliner with nothing on but the TV, another man with a vacant look sitting in his car – they were part of Yaghjian’s work well before his Everyman paintings.

“I remember as a child drawing a picture of a radio personality, the ‘story lady’,” Yaghjian says, “reaching into my imagination to discover the setting and the person inhabiting it. For years, imagination and memories were the subjects of my work, interspersed with the odd portrait. Then I painted houses and highways, large planes of light and color.”

The old and new figure paintings are slices of life, sometimes as straight narrative, sometimes as mental state, always with existential angst. The new work is different, though. It’s uninhibited both in subject matter and execution.

Yaghjian exposes himself and humanity in more ways than simply shedding his shirt, which Everyman seems prone to. Making a mockery of vanity, he shamelessly creates scenes that are at best wacky and potentially embarrassing. But Yaghjian doesn’t appear embarrassed; it’s the vicarious embarrassment viewers might sense as they look at the work with hesitation, discomfort and a smile that makes them wonder whether Yaghjian is holding up a mirror. He is, albeit with humor, endearment and humanity – and solidarity; the mirror goes both ways.

The Everyman paintings, which Yaghjian begun late 2004, are loosely executed in fast but sure renderings that stand in contrast to many of his meticulous architectural paintings. That’s also true for his work in the current show, all monotypes. After painting with acrylics for 30 years, Yaghjian turned to oils, which brought him, he says, “an almost irrepressible joy.” His Everyman work suggests this newfound joy in painting has transferred to other media.

“Painting may not keep me sane,” Yaghjian says, “but it points me in that direction and gives me temporary relief.”

Wim Roefs, 2007

Old White Man, 2007
Oil on canvas
14 x 11 in
$ 960

No comments: