‘In the marketplace I draw the veiled woman, the merchants of vegetables, the porters, the popular themes and the people. I felt that the more I did their ancient costumes I should also do the oriental language of drawing and colour, so I flattened the forms and worked in 2 dimensions which is very flat. With time I went back to the western technique, but since we live between the east and the west, in Lebanon there is no such thing as typically western or eastern, so we create a synthesis which is eclectic and we do what comes naturally, what we feel.’
(Excerpts from short documentary Styles by Jean Antoine, 1973; translated from French)
The following lot by Paul Guiragossian is a unique composition depicting a porter. This work comes at a time in joyful preparation for the Lebanese artist Paul Guiragossian’s forthcoming exhibition at the Maraya Art Center, in collaboration with the Paul Guiragossian Foundation (24 February – 28 April 2018). With memories deeply embedded in the Armenian neighborhood in Lebanon for over a quarter of a century, the artist revisits themes such as the mother and child, while also captivating the essence of the defiant and proud spirit and kinship felt across the Arab world of the Palestinians during their state of upheaval and exile.
Few of his paintings with the subject of the marketplace appear at auction, and are well sought out for including descriptive subjects beyond his signature maternal motifs he usually places within his works. From the mid-1980s until his death in 1993, a bold new abstraction came to the fore of his oeuvre and led to the production of his most prized masterpieces. The present work seeks to celebrate the role of the man’s occupation in the community as a bearer of goods and news. Simple in his attire, as depicted by the monochrome, balanced and natural hues, and slightly hunched over, bearing an indecipherable bag, the porter is found within a mass of people whose luminous bodies appear as silhouettes in stained glass. The contrasts in color and thickly impastoed outlines that separate the individuals clearly define the figures surrounding the subject, conveying a sense of depth in the foreground as juxtaposed against masses of figures.
Standing with a hunch, the main subject bears with him signs that allude to the fatigue and grief he brought with him. It appears almost as if it were self portrait of Guiragossian himself, who was positioned as a porter to the artistic community, bringing color and life to the people of Beirut within the ensuing chaos that was inflicted upon him since his early childhood years. This work is a celebration of the working class of Beirut; it elevates the common man, as part of the proletariat in hard labor, to a symbol of hope for the people to receive better tidings of joy in the future. Continuing to do his job despite the suffering around him, the porter withstands the ideals promoted by Guiragossian in his work: man is as the center of the cosmos, center of nature, the link between earth and sky, between finite and infinite, being and nothingness.
Born in Jerusalem in 1926 to Armenian parents surviving the Genocide in 1915, Guiragossian spent his early childhood under the care of the Order of the Sisters of Charity of St. Paul de Vence in Jerusalem. Growing up with a single mother, he eventually had to study at a boarding school while she worked to provide for her children. In the early 1940s, the artist and his family moved to Jaffa, where he attended Studio Yarkon, only to migrate to Lebanon, fleeing the Arab-Israeli conflict following the Nakba in 1948. Exposed to a dynamic, bustling neighborhood during the 1940s and 50s, the artists began to produce portraits with charcoal on paper and oil on Masonite from of its inhabitants, deriving much of his early figurative techniques from the bustle of the Armenian neighborhood in which he eventually would become a teacher and illustrator.
It was in Burj Hammoud, the Armenian neighborhood in Lebanon, that Guiragossian was fascinated by the vibrant nature of the marketplace, painting several marketplace scenes derived from the quick sketches out of ink and colored pencil that were to become a favorite subject of the artist. Spending most of his life in Beirut, surrounded by the business of the streets, he wished to partake in the activities of the bustling place, becoming a ‘painter of the people’ as described by Jean Antoine’s 1973 documentary Styles. He would ‘assist to all the celebrations, sometimes, wedding scenes, group weddings from every few neighborhood, five or six people getting married…everyday [he would hear] the church bells and the passing funerals which [he] drew..the children playing in the streets, the pregnant women, the discussions among women and men, it was full of life.’ (the artist quoted Excerpts from short documentary Styles by Jean Antoine, 1973; translated from French).