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'It's the canvas that has the last word. I don't discover it, it discovers me. Art is greater than me, greater than any artist. I will remain an apprentice until the end. Art is our oxygen, it keeps us conscious, and without it we are insignificant. It's the crossroad of all disciplines, of all sciences. Like a sun it illuminates the past, the present and the future. It preserves our humanity, it is so much more important that man is hardly a rough draft. Our problem is that we don't live up to our humanity'. (Paul Guiragossian).
A trajectory of Paul Guiragossian's oeuvre conveys an evolution of an abstract practice that originated in figurative portraiture. He is of Armenian origin, born in Jerusalem and lived in Lebanon. Undoubtedly his background has highly influenced a body of work that not only responds and is limited to the region's historical context but one that engages with the postmodern occupation with notions of identity, and 'the other'.
In Madonna and Child (lot 13) dated circa early 1960s, Guiragossian draws from a palette of warm hues of red often associated with religious iconography. The main figure appears to be flat against the surface whilst tablets of religious narratives frame Mary. We begin to witness the emergence of thick brushstrokes- a style that defines Guiragossian's later works. Additionally, the context in which this work was executed is significant in gaining insight to Guiragossian's earlier practice. The Middle East was in upheaval, the Arabs were defeated in the 1956 war with Israel, and the Armenian community was vulnerable to constant persecution. Guiragossian was granted a scholarship and travelled to Florence and Paris to pursue his studies in painting. He was abandoned by his mother from an early age, thus possibly explaining the ubiquity of the female figure in his works. It may be suggested that this work reveals the artist's personal struggle and marks a shift from a more traditional style towards the later abstract work that is manifested in vibrant and luminous colours. Nevertheless, it certifies and reasserts Guiragossian's mastering of figurative technique and his proficiency as an artist.
In lot 14 dated circa 1968-1972, Guiragossian employed thick brushstrokes in a muted brown palette to depict a laborer who appears to be kneeling on the ground with his head resting on his arms. The figure's posture suggests melancholy, fatigue and hardship. By observing and painting the everyday life, he sought to express the human condition in its most difficult and most wonderful state. He called himself "the artist of the people", always acknowledging himself as one of them, therefore accepting that this was also his own condition. Guiragossian creates a certain intimacy and understanding between himself and his character in lot 14. This painting further resonates traditional drawings of the labour workers executed by European painters in the 19th century.
Guiragossian arrives at his later works of elongated abstract vertical slim figures in the late 1970s. Vertical figures are manifested through the use of thick brushstrokes. The artist often used multiple layers of paint to create a thick opaque texture on the surface offering multiple depths throughout. Additionally in this period, his palette expanded to vibrant and luminious colours intrinsic to a Mediterranean landscape of sea, mountain and sun. 'The colors of the sun and the rainbow', he said, 'belonged to us in the Orient, it's from here where the sun rises and it's from here where it all begins'.
However, the 1970s had witnessed the cusp of a Lebanese Civil War, raging throughout the 1980s, yet the brightness of his colours were also a symbol of giving hope to his people in the Middle East during these decades of war. Guiragossian's abstract figures resonate with Jackson Pollock splurges of expressionist dismay or even recalls Barnet Newman's vertical zips conveyed in Adam and Eve. In Guiragossian's work there is nonetheless an undertone of positivity, a deliberate upward movement that is drenched in a vibrancy that is both static and in motion, possibly also evoking Alberto Giacometti's existentialist bronze sculptures that effect a perspective of distance. The elongated figures in Nocturne (lot 12) stand with their heads slightly bowed, possibly suggesting a sense of mourning or resignation. The palette adopted in this work is cold with predominantly blue hues. Nocturne responds to the rhythms of the night.
We thank the Guiragossian family, who have created the Paul Guiragossian Foundation, for their kind help in cataloguing the following four paintings.