Charles Garabedian: Works from 1966 to 1976 at LA Louver

Reading this you will understand that I focus on only two out of a dozen works in this exhibition. The same is true of the Frederick Hammersley show downstairs, which I will address in an accompanying post. Although I spent most of two hours in the gallery I felt rushed for time. Both shows close on May 12, so there is an opportunity for me to return. Maybe you’ll find a reason to do so as well?

There is an uneven band 4 inches to 6 inches high that begins close to the leftmost border of the painting and runs across the top to the far right side. I see when I get closer that pieces of what looks like paper are adhered to the surface board. Conceptually this band, on which are depicted roof tiles, spinning ventilators and the top floor of a neighboring building, continues the scene of the painting – a television set before an apartment window with views out the window to a cityscape (and a remarkably active cityscape it is – there is an apparent murder taking place and action everywhere) – but visually its strongest relative is the lower frame of the old fashioned T.V. set. Both areas have similar brushwork and similar colors – the frame receives its color from the reflected television screen, and the top band includes a portion of sky.

That the frame of the T.V. resembles and even becomes a windowsill compounds my confusion and makes it seem necessary. I think in Daytime T.V. (1966) Charles Garabedian is superimposing the powerful myths carried by television waves onto real life, and not in a half-hearted way, for the murder I mentioned seeing on the sidewalk outside might have beginnings inside, on the set.

About that television show, wow. A partial face appears at the right, just the sticking out bits are painted (these being brow, nose and mouth, like on a cartoon, cut off by the edge of the ptg. This is funny since elsewhere on this painting Garabedian has glued bits of matter to depict features and parts) out from this mouth pour symbols and letters – this could represent the wordspill of a talking head news anchor or it could be some directive seer-like emissary from Olympus, giving to them/us language that consciously we miss while our subconscious understands and obeys. (Since seeing the retrospective last year at Santa Barbara I cannot see Garabedian’s paintings without thinking of the role of the under-mind and of myth in his work.)

Below this, a be-derbied man, a rough looking sort with ginger hair and a five o’clock shadow, cannot quite hold his gun as he points it at a naked lady. Her ankles are in the air and her knees are at her shoulders, the expression on her face is one of mild panic mixed with confusion – in fact both the ginger man and the naked lady seem surprised by their circumstances, as though they have woken up and found their bodies engaged in actions directed by another. (Maybe. Maybe I impose on Garabedian’s work my own fantasy of being driven by myth too far. Maybe in ancient days, as now, humans did not receive messages from gods or unconscious voices or mass media. But maybe we did, and do.)

I notice now that the ginger gentleman has an upper body: a shoulder and a sleeve appear out of the clouds, this is pale, flat blue and it is woven from chicken feet, or of razor wire. This vision fades back into the clouds and it disappears.

There is excitement all over this painting, it is emphasized yet frozen: dark green crayon marks radiate from the ginger head, our lady has flesh-toned sweat beads in relief – these might be wood or ceramic – and they scatter out from her face.

A clay disc that is glued to the surface feels like the heart of this action-packed painting, it is painted with sickly green and a wine spittle red, it hovers above and to the right of everyone else; this disc is the approximate size of my, or of your, head. Red and blue brushstrokes spiral out from it and it might be spinning, and it might be the world.

It occurs to me now that frozen action is desirable in a painting.

Quickly now:

White(ish) background. Stripes in soft but strident colors: Daiquiri Ice. Raspberry Sherbet. Fatter smears of Chocolate Fudge. There is a landscape in there somewhere, in fact there are several. I see a sun, rising or setting, but clear yellow. It might be a hill though, for next to it is an oxblood mirror-image. Although horizontals are the rule, behind is a loose, light network of grey webbing. (This is remarkable and beautiful.) Is that a hand holding up a cup? Are there Oriental screens protecting another (hilly and fogged) landscape? Does this painting (Henry Inn No. 3 1975) depict a curio shop? A vitrine is open at the bottom left and a “C H i И a” rises.

Apologies for the lack of images, there are plenty at the LA Louver site:

Santa Barbara Museum of Art exhibition site:

Betty Cunningham Gallery, site for 2011 Charles Garabedian solo show:

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