Hagop Najarian; Atonal Chromatics
at Rio Hondo College Art Gallery
Through October 2, 2018
By Lorraine Heitzman
Step inside Atonal Chromatics at Rio Hondo College Art Gallery and you are suddenly enveloped in the exuberant, colorful world of Hagop Najarian. This recent body of work originates from the artist’s interest in atonal harmonics and represents his interpretations of musical experiences, bringing his background as a musician and avid listener to the task.
The idea of creating visual equivalents to sound has historical precedents, from Wassily Kandinsky to Stanton Macdonald-Wright, who developed Synchromism. Walt Disney, too, could be said to fall into this category. Even without the benefit of narratives, Najarian, like his predecessors, creates compelling stories of rhythms and dynamics, using their passion for music for inspiration. In Najarian’s paintings, he explores his connection to music with the ear of a musician and all the tools of an abstract artist: color, line, shape, transparency, texture, and composition.
When asked about his relationship to abstraction, Najarian explained: “I’ve painted figurative narratives for most of my career to tell stories and explore color. My work progressed into the reduction of forms through cubism and expressionism, leaving me to realize my real joy in the work was in moving colors around. I’ve found it more liberating to communicate without imagery, but still explore the endless results of color, light and space within the painting process. I am influenced by music as I paint, and the narrative now is to capture the emotional impact from the music I am responding to in the process. I think someday I might reinvestigate a way of merging the abstraction with figuration in my paintings, but for now this work has been a great way of developing a new visual language.”
Najarian captures his visceral reactions to jazz, punk, and classical music in primarily two formats: large, forceful paintings, and smaller, more refined, works on paper. Each has their own charms; the larger paintings deliver an impact with a variety of techniques and a multitude of color combinations, while the smaller works are more intimate and quiet. The latter are every bit as tangled as their larger counterparts but their relative simplicity provides a needed rest in the panoply of so much activity.
Of the many abstractions that line the walls of the gallery, several stand out. Sound Grammar (referencing an Ornette Coleman album of the same name), Know Your Tribe, and Sun Ra is Contagious succeed in capturing the essence and fluidity of music. The latter is bright with fluorescent shades of pink and green, with two rainbow striped vertical elements in the foreground. These textile-like totems bring a sharp focus to the painting, interrupted only by a translucent cloud floating by. Organic shapes mesh effortlessly with loosely rendered geometric forms while the repetition of shapes creates a rhythmic beat. Many of his smaller works in gouache are especially good. They benefit from a less ambitious effort and are unified by a their singular approach.
Najarian explains that besides Coleman and Sun Ra, other composers have influenced him, including Bartok, Stravinsky and Brahms. In the realm of painters, Giotto, Matisse, Guston, Stanley Whitney, Dana Schutz and local artists have provided inspiration. In particular, Najarian’s use of clear, brilliantly hued colors suggest an energetic and optimistic mood that is reminiscent of Whitney. When asked about the possibility of working in other media, Najarian replied, “As a musician, I have found that my recent drawings and paintings have been the closest that I’ve found to merging my love for painting with songwriting. I have often thought a about an installation or creating a series of noise making objects that reflect the same feeling as trying to paint about musical translations of color and sound.”
For those curious about the intersection of painting and music, you can see Hagop Najarian’s Atonal Chromatics at Rio Hondo Gallery through October 2. In addition, he will be curating a show focusing on color and abstraction for Cerritos College, opening October 31.