Gallery's debut show reminiscent of Gorky

If you favor Arshile Gorky, you will love the new Mkrtchyan Art Gallery in Glendale.

As an Armenian American, Gorky (1902-1948) was a central figure in the development of 20th century art, blending imagery from his youth in Armenia with innovative artistic techniques. The Mkrtchyan exhibition represents artists who capture a similar emotional and subjective content, and collectively cross boundaries between impressionism, cubism, surrealism and naïve art, which were seminal in Gorky’s early work.

Eduard Artsrunyan’s oil painting on canvas titled “Churn” (1993) is a coalescence of Gorky’s figurative works in the 1920s and ’30s. A female figure leans against a wooden pole, resting her hand momentarily on her implement of labor. She is barefoot in an orange peasant dress with apron, and white cap over her dark hair.

Symbolic details, cross around her neck and rifle hung on the pole where she takes her comfort, hint at her life. Blocks of color create geometry and a confused depth of field. The warm palette and facial expression of the woman project more repose than fatigue.

The composition and potential political undertones, represented by the images of a laborer, rifle and cross, are characteristic of Gorky’s work, who was profoundly impressed by the strife of the Armenian people during their abuse by Turkish troops in 1915. Artsrunyan’s painting has the pathos that inspired Gorky.

Quarik Hovhannisyan’s “Still Life” (2006) is reminiscent of Paul Cezanne, considered to be a father to modern art and one of Gorky’s influences. Gorky was mostly self-taught but was profoundly impressed by the vivid color, energetic brushstrokes and original compositions of Cezanne’s work.

Hovhannisyan’s vase of flowers and apples rest on a hint of a table. The gray nondescript background sets off the bright pink, white and lavender flowers in a yellow vase. Two apples in the right foreground accentuate the naïve perspective that is characteristic in both Cezanne and Gorky’s still-life works. The composition is well calculated.

Traditionally, a still-life composition might require a grouping of objects in odd numbers. By separating the two subject groups — the two pieces of fruit from the flower/vase subject — the composition is unified, engages the entire canvas and keeps the viewer’s eyes on the picture. The composition has the uniqueness of Cezanne‘s original manner, as well as its ethos. It is both naturalistic representation and abstraction.

Ashot Hovhannisyan’s oil painting on canvas titled “The Yard in Mayisian” (1996) is an abstract painting representing family, foliage and domestic architecture. Great blocks of primary colors, browns and grays, and tiny human figures, provide scale and create a narrative surrounding the “yard” expressed in a very fine abstract style, which is similar to the stylistic thread that wove together Gorky‘s lifelong body of work.

Gorky learned by copying and analyzing the work of great artists who moved artwork into many new directions. Because the artwork in this exhibition mostly postdate Gorky (works are dated between 1939 and 2006) one wants to call them paternalistic, but it could be ethnic familiarity that has inspired those who were born into it, to create an artistic mode, which has become the embodiment of classical Armenian art.

The Mkrtchyan Art Gallery in Glendale is the latest effort by arts and culture promoter Armen Mkrtchyan, who has organized dozens of Armenian art exhibitions in Armenia and abroad. Mkrtchyan is pure in his representation of Armenian artists, and has assembled works from the mid-20th century to date, in an effort to formalize Armenian art as a genre.

Terri Martin is an artist, art historian and art critic.


What: “Armenian Classical Art” exhibition

Where: Mkrtchyan Art Gallery, 117 N. Maryland Ave., Glendale

When: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily until Feb. 15

Contact: (818) 281-6371 or

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