UNTITLED, 2000, 34x29,2, Mixed media, Décollage
UNTITLED, 2000, 34x27,8, Mixed media, Décollage
ME, MYSELF AND I, 1998, 197x245, Mixed media, Collage on Rollo
UNTITLED, 2000, 152x52 Mixed media, Décollage
UNTITLED, 2001, 157x142, Mixed media, Décollage
BRIEF, 2002, 200x300, Mixed media, Décollage
BLAUER BRIEF, 2002, 170x130, Mixed media, Décollage
BRIEF 2002, 150x150, mixed media, Décollage
AN UNBEKANNTE KÜNSTLER. 2000, 110x110, Mixed media, Décollage
UNTITLED 2001, 160x172 Mixed media, Décollage
THE WAY I DO (1), 2001, 171x182
Mixed media, Décollage
UNTITLED, 2001 157x219, Mixed media, Décollage
He already started painting as a schoolboy and surprised those around him with unusual Dadaistic art actions that were nothing short of shocking. Smitten with a fascination for paint cans, the young Sam once demolished and painted the furniture in his classroom in an attempt to redesign in according to his own ideas.
Sam Grigorian was born in 1957 in Yerevan, Armenia. His artistic development was marked by an amazingly independent and uncompromising attitude as early as the 1970s. This was a time when the cultural climate in Armenia was still set by a paralysing bureaucracy, despite the openness it enjoyed as a border republic in the Soviet Union and the influence of the Armenian Diaspora.
In the 1980s, Grigorian painted large-size abstract, expressionist pictures and his works appeared in exhibitions of Third Floor, an independent group of artists. The name came from the fact that the first and second floors in the House of Artists in Yerevan were reserved for conformist painters. The free-thinking artist community could present its works only on the top story under the roof. In 1988, together with well-known national and international artists, Grigorian participated in the Yerevan Museum of Modern Art and the State Gallery of Armenia. As of 1990, his works can also be found in private collections of US-American art connoisseurs who were introduced to his works in Armenia.
Sam Grigorian moved to Germany in 1992. After a successful Berlin debut, Galerie Nothelfer presented Grigoian´s works at the 1995 Art Cologne, together with works of Christo, Rauschenberg, and others. Numerous exhibitions followed for the artist now internationally renowned in Germany and abroad most recently in the De Rijk Gallery in The Hague alongside works of Tàpies and Appel, as well as in Galerie sphn in Berlin.
The present catalogue shows a representative selection of his multifaceted works from 1992 2001, the period following his move to Europe. The broad spectrum of his oeuvre includes both large- and small-sized décollages, paper works using a technique he developed himself, and assemblages made of books and other objet trouvé materials.
His Armenian roots are manifested in his art especially through his very special relationship to paper, which remains Sam Grgoiran’s favoured artistic medium. He prepares and processes the paper with unique mastery. His décollages use paper as a multilayered medium with different textures. Numerous layers overlap like a relief, which the artist adds structure to by bending, crumpling, or tearing the surface. Thin folds and frayed textures of the tears and perforations transcend the surface of the painting in depth and making the papier collé appear virtually sculptural. Grigorian uses tracing and self-made paper, parchment, and paper scraps, such as in the assemblage of dried tea bag papers, which totally overlies Van Gogh’s The Sower, transforming it into an abstract form of orthogonal and square shapes.
Gregorian penetrates the paper with a unique technique that opens the surface and uncovers hidden layers. The artist’s scoring, nicking, and scraping always also signify a process of liberating the work down to its essence. Grigorian tells us “Like a sculptor, I try to remove something and reduce all that is superfluous.”
The exposed paper reveals a number of enigmatic, sgraffito signs: Egyptian, Armenian, or East Asian characters, childlike drawings, and abstract animal forms add rhythm to the surface. Typographical fragments, musical notes, and numbers collide with pictograms or modern emblems. And finally, invented symbols enter into a fascinating dialog with traditional semiotic worlds of early high civilizations, with cuneiform scripts from Mesopotamia and Babylon and relicts from Stone Age cave drawings, which mark the beginning of written language.
The signs combined in a totally innovative way are transformed into elements of an encoded symbolic language at the limits of logic. Horizontal lines appear as it were as rows, along which the artist carves the ciphers of his secret message. The viewer is continually exposed to new ways of decoding and deciphering. References to Armenian cross stones (khachkars) can be identified, and the inscribed steles whose symbolic meaning has yet to be unravelled. This traditional imagery also comes from the cross, which we encounter again and again in Grigorian’s work, whether as rows of signs, carved like the signs of life and protection on the walls of Armenian monasteries, or as a basic geometric shape in monochromatic paintings. In combination with other symbols it becomes a conduit of traditional codes, which the artist gives new life in his layers of paper: “I release past energies with my hand.”
Paper production has existed in Armenia since the tenth century. The extremely personal and intimate relationship that Armenian writers have developed to their manuscripts is literally legendary. A legend from the fourteenth century tells us that Timur Lenk once tried to conquer the inhabitants of Koshavank. He threatened to burn their writings, but the Armenians were able to save the illuminated paper by offering him all their treasures. These manuscripts, according to legend, meant more to them than their lives. Later attempts of the Armenians to save their valuable writings by fastening them to their bodies at times of suffering, persecution, and expulsion have been verified many times in history.
Grigorian’s assemblages made of book covers, fabric, plaster, and sandpaper are dyed and burned with an iron. Their ciphers and calligraphic fragments conjure up images of medieval manuscripts collected in codices. Enigmatic word fragments, carved symbols of distress, or a handwritten sentence in Armenian script: “I have said it a hundred times” appear here, however, with a formal aesthetic quality. Freed from their original context, they seem like encoded relicts from the memories of the artist. By working creatively with the language material, the artist manifests the attempt to save symbols passed down in writing as well as the painful loss of oral tradition in the Diaspora.
A series of works by Grigorian also deals with the transformability of paint. Viewed close up, cracks in the paint can be seen that impart structure and life to the deep black surface fine craquelures that five the impression of an antiquating process at the surface of the painting. Here the artist worked with the paint, wanting “to let it age, but not die.” Sometimes he did not merely apply paint to the surface, he virtually soaked the cardboard or the papier collé in paint, as if wanting to demonstrate the absorptive capacity of the paper.
Grigorian’s progressive tendency to reduce the form peaked in 1999 2000 in décollages of an almost systematically constructive severity. Vertical and horizontal lines become compressed in some of his works into lattice structures that dominate the entire surface like rasters. Here, Grigorian accentuates structural clarity by letting grid like patterns come forward from the collaged paper layers through scoring. Their tabular form sometimes brings to mind canon tables of illuminated manuscripts, a medieval miniature painting tradition in Armenia that continues to fascinate the artist. It is not by chance that mathematical references appear in his works, as Grigorian explains: “I build surfaces as in mathematics; everything has to fit, but according to my rules.” In this way the artist constructs a proportional balance of shapes at test, allowing viewers to immerse themselves in contemplation of the abstract work. Tension within the painting also develops through minimal deviations in the regular rhythm of the surface. Systems of lines take on spatial dimensions to some extent, expanding into checkerboard patterns; the optical tipping effects and metamorphoses relax the supposed severity of the calculated patterned piece. In other works, accents of colour applied sparingly and slanted lines and sloping surfaces continually break up the strict symmetry and verticality of the painting’s structure. Grigorian speaks of “calculated coincidences” in this context, which make it possible to put the static and motion of a picture’s forms into a dialectic tension.
Grigorian’s minimalist world of distinct forms and simple basic structures always also includes elements of the dissolution of form. Herein lies the distinctiveness of his style, which can unite or contrast totally different ways of creating form. Scratches on a rough tectonic base and blurring, with its form-dissolving tendency, seem to refer metaphorically to the texture of Armenia’s rocky landscape. The materiality of the artistically prepared paper appears equivalent to a haptic experience of the natural world, marked by the passage of time.
1957 born in Yerevan, Armenia
Solo exhibitions (selection)
Group showes (selection)