"By removing the barrier of the traditional two-dimensional painting format I think the pieces seem to confront the viewer and command a greater sense of interaction."
Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practicing artist and where did you study?
I loved to draw as a kid and started painting when I went to LaGuardia, an arts high school in New York. After that I got my BFA at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA. At Carnegie Mellon I was introduced to other realms of art like video, sound, and printmaking which I enjoyed a lot but continued to focus primarily on painting and drawing. Following my time at school I returned home to New York and was fortunate enough to meet a gallerist, Tanja Grunert, who was interested in showing my paintings. I had my first show with her in 2011 and have continued painting since then.
Your paintings often depict the figures, some have a slightly sinister tone. Could you talk about these people you paint and your process?
A lot of the people I paint, particularly the kids, come from my parents’ old school pictures. My mom went to school in Armenia when it was a part of the Soviet Union. I think the somewhat dark quality of these subjects comes from the rigidity of the source photos. I like the dichotomy of the seriousness of the faces and poses that come from the official class picture format and the fact that the subjects are young kids. I think that they convey two worlds. One is the individualism involved in being so young. The other offers a view of the society that composes these class portraits to promote a sense of uniformity and solemnity. In picking the kids to paint I look for subjects where I can perceive the tension between these two worlds.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine? What is your studio like?
My studio is a really rough space which gets tiring at times but is ultimately great to not worry about throwing paint around or destroying anything because it is usually in ruins anyway. I come in in the morning and it takes me a while to get started painting, to wash my brushes from the night before and get going again. I like to have a few different things going at once so I move around the walls as I work to try to keep things from getting overworked. The hours and routine vary depending on what I’m working on but I do like to paint at night after I’ve been in the studio for a while. This only happens when the painting is going well. Other times it’ll become clear that no matter what the painting is going backwards or worse so I try to recognize those moments and leave before I can mess anything up, get up and try again the next day.
Could you talk about these curiously strange paintings/sculptures (like Sitting Boy, 2016) where these figures seemed to of some how escaped the canvas?
The painted sculptures came to me relatively recently when I became frustrated with being confined to the four corners of a stretched canvas. It occurred to me that in making art all my decisions in terms of subject, color, composition, everything is intentional. The one element I never questioned is the traditional format of the four corners and the process of filling in the space between. By removing the barrier of the traditional two-dimensional painting format I think the pieces seem to confront the viewer and command a greater sense of interaction.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
I recently went to the Volta art fair and saw a piece by Faig Ahmed that's been stuck in my head. It was a traditional Persian type carpet that was completely dismantled on the bottom half to reveal the raw materials of deep red, thick strands of wool that it was made of. The piece was hung on the wall and took on an overwhelming figurative quality. I was impressed by how the artist transformed the familiar material object of a traditional carpet into something so figurative and emotional.
How do you go about naming your work?
When naming my work I like to give very little information. I pick titles that are mostly descriptive because I think that one of the most exciting things about showing work is how different people relate to it depending on where they are coming from. I wouldn’t want to limit that with titles that are dogmatic.
Where has your work been headed more recently?
I had a show last summer with Galerie Andreas Binder in Munich where I got to exhibit a bunch of new paintings and the first painted sculpture I made.
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
I am working on creating site specific installations involving painted sculptures to further incorporate them into real life spaces. I’m having a lot of fun experimenting with it, cutting out paintings left and right and positioning them around. I’m trying to push the confrontational element of them and the play between dimensionality.
All images courtesy of the artist
Published date: 5/4/17