A Lush Retrospective: Charles Garabedian at LA Louver
By Genie Davis
Through April 1st
LA Louver Gallery offers a strong retrospective of the late Charles Garbedian’s works and a taste of the work of his contemporaries. Spanning six decades, Garabedian’s exciting narrative paintings and sculptures were both figurative and abstract, taking on large-scale themes on often-large canvasses.
Whether exploring popular icons from “Jean Harlow” to “Pinball Baseball,” Garabedian tackled familiar subjects head on. “Pinball Baseball,” a 1966 work featuring collage and flo-paque on paper, is as stylized as it is recognizable, with a ripe green playing field and orange backboard against which its players are caught in action, catching a fly ball, or about to pitch. The mannered style gives the piece a haunting edge, a baseball stadium as pinball game. “Harlow” is very different except in the familiarity of its subject. This is a voluptuous oil on canvas, with both the central figure and the painterly style evoking a fecund, rich scene. These detailed, figurative renderings gave way to abstraction over the years, including sculptures inspired by an exhibition the artist viewed and had admired of Japanese sculptures. Note the artist’s “4″, an acrylic on canvas work from the mid-70’s in which what appear to be gauze bandages float next to a ghostly number “4″ above ragged, collage-like colored shapes. At this point in his career, the artist also used sculptural mediums such as resins to create other large scale paintings such as “Woman in the Bathroom,” which is just what it says it is with the eponymous woman posed like a Greek sculpture.
Over the years, the artist did not stray at heart from his figurative roots. The 1991 “Study for the Illiad,” a striking, enormous painting that takes up one full gallery wall at LA Louver, is indeed narrative and figurative, with a touch of the surreal and imagistic. While beheaded bodies writhe, a surreal image of an eye watches. Suffering and defiance alike are represented here, in an agonizing artistic depiction that nonetheless compels the viewer not to look away. We are that eye.
In “The Wine Dark Sea,” Garabedian’s delicate work is more spiritually devastating than it is physically harsh. Here a ship with a white sail floats on a mauve sea stained with something that could be wine or blood or shadow. A textured yet inky black sky filled with foreboding rises behind that boat – we are in for a rocky sail. It will be an interesting float for the green haired woman who could be a mermaid in “Red Sails in the Sunset.” She’s riding a fish, sails behind her head, surfboard images around her, abstract shapes floating through waves on which she floats.
Titles may evoke ancient myths, but Garabedian spins stories of timeless, ultimately modern artistry, with epic subjects, fish-out-of-water stories, tales that scar and sear and soar. Literal, visceral wounds and psychological ones are both presented in a perfectly realized, often mural-like style. With work that’s both intimate and expansive, the artist indeed takes on the world and returns it to viewers transformed.
Part of what Garabedian embraced in his work was his passion for other artists, contemporaries ranging from Ed Moses, working in acrylics; to the light and shadow works of Robert Irwin, whose “Carmen” stands alone on one south gallery wall, like a portal to another dimension. From Ken Price’s fired and painted clay sculpture to Sam Francis abstract untitled egg tempera, whose bold gold and violets jump from the paper, it is easy to see what drew Garabedian to other artists’ work – their originality and their vibrance; their ability to create new worlds.
And humorous, brilliant, scathing, and mysterious new worlds are exactly what Garabedian’s own work presents. There is both a lighthearted context and tragedy in this retrospective, a panoply of human experience that is encompassing and elevating. The must-see exhibition runs through April 1st. LA Louver is located at 45 N. Venice Blvd. in Venice.