MYTHICAL FIGURES IN A SILENT LAND
By Rosanna Albertini
C H A R L E S G A R A B E D I A N’s paintings on paper at LA LOUVER
All our language is composed of brief, little dreams.*
Los Angeles, at the crossing of Venice Boulevard and Centinela the morning sky is so clear, so entirely blue that I forget signs and buildings and the few trees. As I stare at the yellow of the traffic light turning into green, I notice a flight of birds: sparrows? mocking birds? They are smaller than crows. The black bodies fly higher and higher in the sky drawing a big circle of joyful squawks. They move toward the right. My feet anchored at the bus stop, I see my mind following the birds as the Etruscan and Roman augures used to do: they said yes. My already made decision to write some notes about Charles Garabedian’s paintings and drawings I had seen the day before was approved by invisible gods.
A glimpse of gratitude followed, hard to explain: Garabedian’s art had moved my mind far away from opinions or reasonable thoughts. For a moment, I was free from obsessions about forecasts, directions, polls, rain or not rain, how many minutes the Uber car is from my feet. I was presently here and ancient, time did not exist.
Each instant falls at each instant into the imaginary, and we are hardly dead before we are off, with the speed of light, to join the centaurs and the angels.**
The sky joined the asphalt. These united elements In Garabedian’s paintings, human and inhuman, are utterly clean. Signs of history or artifacts have been wiped off. Images are painted on paper, big sheets of thin paper that shrinks and moves under the thickness and wetness of colors. Evocation of tragedies vibrates in mythological names: Electra, Cassandra, Antigone, Polynices, Prometheus. Yet these painted characters are the lightest one can imagine, they open their legs and arms in a silent flatness. Magnificent, absurd figures born without bones, with eyes lost in the night of time. No drama is there, no need of redemption.
A chained Prometheus dances on the rocks turning his back to us. One would say he is a wizard titan who generates flames from his fingers, almost a joke. “What did you do with my most precious present? ― he mumbles ― bombs, global warming? When you realized that my fire brought you power, nothing else counted anymore, you cooked your soul. At least I’m devoted to my eagle that eats my liver every day. Because you hate your eagle, or consciousness, call her as you like, your liver won’t regenerate.” He keeps dancing on the top of the Caucasus. The very drama is our memory, imaginary blood congealed in words.
Artist Charles Garabedian doesn’t flinch from his own dream. His Antigone and Polynices leaves the genealogical tragedy out of the scene. Love circulates between the living figure of the woman and the dead young man on the ground, his long arms lying in abandonment as if death was no different than lovemaking exhaustion. Blood is red spread around his head. Sophocles’ story has been translated so many time over hundreds of years that it arrives to our days extremely worn out, with no details except the sweetness of gestures, a right hand hesitant towards a final stroke ―her nails are painted blue. At the same time each painted character seems to have escaped from a miniaturist’s sketch book, bringing us portraits of primary characters, completely contained in a graphic fantasy of absolute nakedness and natural feelings.
Don’t confuse the story with the art. Garabedian dilutes human misery in colors and madness in gentle, benevolent scenes. Gods are pink. Mostly naked, of course. In our messy world threatened by control mistaken for intelligence, he brings us back to our senses.
Myths are the souls of our actions and our loves. We cannot act without moving toward phantoms . We can love only what we create.***
His drawings arise from the middle space between words, thoughts and visual symbols. Transfiguration produced by colors is missing. But charcoal is fragile, heated wood deprived of oxygen, it’s perfect to draw ghosts with the same matter as ashes. Cassandra (2014) and Supplicant I (2013) are two figures that I could count among the cells of my own body: they are part of me as of many other women, for sure. Cassandra is modestly self-contained; her gift of seeing into the future makes her rebuked, no one believes her, so much that her neck disappears, and her head sinks for protection between the collar bones, if at least she were a turtle! Her mouth is sealed forever.
The Supplicant has also lost her voice, she is prisoner of a tower, or simply the house, that covers her like a protective and suffocating armor: as she bends her body toward the unknown space outdoors some bricks fall down, her feet start going but not yet. The artist has entered the tower of women’s condition, keeping their image self absorbed, aware of a destiny we could call impersonal. I believe I feel in my ears the final claim for compassion of a woman in Afghanistan while a group of men in a circle throw stones at her. She is in a hole in the middle of the human circle, the top of her head barely visible. A photo of the ‘ceremony’ was published two days ago in the New York Times. “please, stop, please don’t…” until silence pitied her.
Charles Garabedian knows about pain. His family escaped the Armenian genocide. He doesn’t complain, for himself or others. Physical or moral damage absorbed by bodies and landscapes are painted over, making his art a tapestry of patience, and a source of sympathy: the act of sharing pity and tenderness in stories told for centuries to lift the weight of knowledge, and continue to love.
* ** *** Paul Valéry, “A Fond Note on Myth”  in The Outlook for Intelligence, Edited by Jackson Mathews, Bollingen Series XLV, 1962.