Painted in 1952, Christie's is honoured to present Deux Visages by the pioneer of Modern art in Lebanon, Paul Guiragossian. Its unique composition offers exemplary insight into Guiragossian's artistic foundations and trajectory of style, before his pivotal shift from figurative art to abstraction.
Guiragossian's oeuvre maps his development as an artist though different periods of technical experimentation. His recurring and abstract depiction of his surroundings, particularly of the human figure, was continuously reinterpreted, by revisiting time and time again his choice of colour palette, depth, form and size of his subjects. From the late 1960s, Guiragossian began to move away from his figurative approach towards the use of abstract brushstrokes to later make up his fully abstract style of the late 1970s and 1980s for which he is most well-known. Each period reflects a deeply emotional subjectivity that is heavily inspired by Expressionism, rendering each of his works alive that is characteristic of a true Modernist.
Painted deftly in an artistic vocabulary that draws heavily from the use of solemn and luminous figures, the present work is a seminal example from the artist's earlier compositions that references Guiragossian's deep rooted appreciation for Christian iconography which he studied intensively and remained an integral part of his oeuvre. Much like the icons of the Greek and Russian schools, the artist depicts two figures, one frontally while the other in profile, of what appears to be a young couple in a manner akin to holy saints, the painted frame exemplifying the suggestion of the borders present in icons of the past. There is a sense of the sacred within this moment of intimacy, as if the young man is leaning forward to catch his first embrace. The artist's use of a rich polychromatic palette of jewel-like tones of red, green and yellow in almost solid blocks, the luminous effect rendered in the work in addition to the thick black lines that outline the composition's subjects, is reminiscent of stained glass windows that adorned the many churches that Guiragossian often frequented. In this sense, Guiragossian highlights the sanctity of love in this captured intimate moment.
With this in mind, in Deux Visages, the artist's mastery in capturing the fragile boundary between abstraction and naturalism, faithfully captures within its contours a melancholia of human suffering. Deeply affected by the tragic events of the Armenian genocide and the suffering of the Palestinian and Lebanese people during the numerous conflicts which punctuated his life, upon closer examination of the two figures there is an underlying, yet overwhelming sense of sadness that permeates the canvas, particularly as their eyes appear somewhat hollow in their vacant stare.
The artist's choice to combine this sense of despair with the aesthetic vocabulary that is used in Christian iconography serves to show, however, his sense of optimism, hope and faith in a brighter future, filled with love and family that he held as sacred and untouchable. As such Deux Visages is an endearing example of what to hold dear and is a celebration of love and optimism that is to be approached carefully.