SET IN STONE

Pasatiempo - - SET IN STONE - Michael Abatemarco

I was do­ing and said, ‘ How about if I com­pounded this ma­te­rial for you with color and let’s see what it does.’ He made me some sam­ple paint. It was highly suc­cess­ful. He be­gan to mar­ket it as the paint that’s now called Liq­ui­tex.”

An­treasian, at the age of ninety-four, is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus in the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico’s art and art his­tory depart­ment, and con­tin­ues to pro­duce new work, some of which is on view in Garo An­treasian:

Sys­tem­atic Ab­strac­tion at Ger­ald Pe­ters Gallery. The ex­hibit fea­tures re­cent paint­ings and wood con­struc­tions, the lat­ter in­spired by his­toric and con­tem­po­rary gam­ing boards. “There’s some­thing kind of jolly and yet also in­trigu­ing about the de­signs of game boards,” he said. “They of­ten­times have a math­e­mat­i­cal reg­u­lar­ity and geo­met­ric con­struc­tion; I’m talk­ing about things like Parcheesi, Mo­nop­oly, chess boards, things of that sort. Many of them are ages old in their evo­lu­tion, very colorful, and in­trigu­ing in their de­signs. In a way, [wood con­struc­tions] were not so chal­leng­ing to put to­gether, and I thought it would be kind of fun to do that. So those works, in my view, are light­tem­pered, hope­fully at­trac­tive, and are a con­tin­uum of ear­lier work of a deeper and more chal­leng­ing char­ac­ter.”

An­treasian was born in 1922 in In­di­anapo­lis, the son of Turk­ish par­ents who had fled the Ar­me­nian geno­cide of 1915. In high school, he en­coun­tered an in­flu­en­tial art in­struc­tor, Miss Bard, who asked him to re­port on the school’s de­funct lithog­ra­phy press. “There was hardly any writ­ten knowl­edge in English of the artis­tic process of lithog­ra­phy,” he said. “She as­signed my buddy and me to dis­cover the se­crets of what that ma­chin­ery did.” An­treasian and his friend found in­ad­e­quate books on lithog­ra­phy at the lo­cal li­brary but learned all they could from them. Then they took their re­search a step fur­ther and went to visit a com­mer­cial lithog­ra­phy print­ing house in

In­di­anapo­lis, run by a Ger­man im­mi­grant. “He loved to rem­i­nisce about those old days as an ap­pren­tice in Ger­many. He would help us and give us guid­ance. That’s what got us started. Al­ways, there­after, lithog­ra­phy was a mag­i­cal ‘some­thing’ that kept tan­ta­liz­ing me be­cause I never could get my hands on the real story. Con­se­quently, some­thing about my in­ner be­ing and want­ing to know kept me reach­ing to grab a hold of some­thing that was just be­yond my grasp.” An­treasian re­counts th­ese early years in an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy and mono­graph pub­lished in Jan­uary by UNM Press called Garo Z. An­treasian: Re­flec­tions

on Life and Art, with an in­tro­duc­tion by art his­to­rian and critic Wil­liam Peter­son.

An­treasian at­tended the Her­ron School of Art and De­sign (where he later taught) be­fore serv­ing as a Coast Guard artist dur­ing World War II, in which he was wit­ness to the in­va­sion of Ok­i­nawa and a kamikaze at­tack on the Al­lied naval fleet. Early in his ca­reer, An­treasian, a painter as well as a lithog­ra­pher, com­posed nar­ra­tive scenes with fig­u­ra­tive im­agery, but his work went in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion in the 1950s. “My im­agery was go­ing grad­u­ally from nat­u­ral­is­tic to more and more ab­stract — fig­u­ra­tive ab­strac­tion at first — and even­tu­ally to pure ab­strac­tion,” he said.

Af­ter the war, the lure of lithog­ra­phy would even­tu­ally lead him to a fate­ful meet­ing. “Lithograww­phy was slow to take hold in Amer­ica,” he writes in the mono­graph. “It was only dur­ing the Re­con­struc­tion pe­riod af­ter the Civil War that the process of print­ing from stone be­came a healthy com­peti­tor of let­ter­press print­ing, which uti­lized wood en­grav­ings for its pic­to­rial com­po­nent.” But wood­block print­ing be­came more pop­u­lar at the turn of the 20th cen­tury, and lithog­ra­phy, be­cause of its tech­ni­cal chal­lenges and ma­te­ri­als, was more spo­radic.

An­treasian took his con­cerns about the dy­ing art of lithog­ra­phy to the Print Coun­cil of Amer­ica, which pub­lished his ar­ti­cle “Spe­cial Prob­lems Rel­a­tive to Artis­tic Lithog­ra­phy” in its house jour­nal, News of

Prints. “I was told that the ar­ti­cle pro­voked a lot of at­ten­tion on the East Coast,” he writes. Soon af­ter, he was asked to com­ment on a pro­posal sub­mit­ted to the Ford Foun­da­tion by Cal­i­for­nia-based print­maker June Wayne (1918-2011) and saw that she shared many of his con­cerns about lithog­ra­phy. “There was less than a hand­ful of guys do­ing lithog­ra­phy in Amer­ica in the ’50s,” he said. “June Wayne dis­cov­ered me, in a way, be­cause of the ex­per­i­ments I was do­ing in lithog­ra­phy in the Mid­west. Here she was on the West Coast, also in­ter­ested in fur­ther­ing the knowl­edge of lithog­ra­phy.” As he states in the mono­graph, “The rest is art his­tory as far as I’m con­cerned.” An­treasian was

the Ta­marind Lithog­ra­phy Work­shop’s first tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor and mas­ter prin­ter. Ta­marind re­lo­cated to Al­bu­querque in 1970, was rechris­tened the Ta­marind In­sti­tute, and is now part of UNM. It re­mains a premier cen­ter for lithog­ra­phy na­tion­wide.

An­treasian’s prac­tice in­volves ex­per­i­men­ta­tion in new medi­ums and ex­plor­ing var­i­ous sur­face treat­ments by com­pound­ing chem­i­cals. “For many years — as long as I can re­mem­ber, ac­tu­ally — the sur­faces I painted on were wood pan­els,” he said. “When I was in In­di­anapo­lis in the ’50s and ’60s, I used to paint on can­vas, the tra­di­tional way, with oil paint. I never re­ally liked oil paint. I didn’t like stretch­ing can­vases. If you had to make corrections, you had to scrape off the paint. It takes too long to dry. All of those things in­ter­rupt my nat­u­ral flow of work.” Af­ter the war, he took ad­van­tage of the pro­lif­er­a­tion of syn­thetic poly­mer resins that dried quickly and were easy to com­pound with wa­ter. “It was per­fect for my needs,” he said. “For a short pe­riod of time there was a com­pany in the Mid­west that was pro­duc­ing lac­quers for the auto in­dus­try, but a small depart­ment in that com­pany was pro­duc­ing heav­ily thick­ened paint in a lacquer base that dried very quickly. It smelled good, de­spite the fact that it was highly toxic. It’s amaz­ing I didn’t kill my­self us­ing that stuff.”

An­treasian’s geo­met­ric com­po­si­tions draw on or­na­men­tal pat­terns and mo­tifs. He takes in­spi­ra­tion from a broad range of sources: African art, Middle East­ern art, graphic de­sign, and ar­chi­tec­ture among them, but he still works more or less ab­stractly. His com­po­si­tions hint at fa­mil­iar ob­jects but re­main equiv­o­cal. His

Un­known Tribe from 2003, for in­stance, is rem­i­nis­cent of a stained-glass win­dow. But his works aren’t sig­ni­fiers. While his monochro­matic prints from the 1990s, re­pro­duced in the mono­graph, re­call the let­ters and sym­bols of a writ­ten lan­guage, noth­ing ex­plicit presents it­self. Rather, th­ese ar­chi­tec­tonic, hard-edged com­po­si­tions re­con­tex­tu­al­ize their source in­spi­ra­tions to the point of ob­scu­rity, lead­ing the viewer away, rather than to­ward, any­thing spe­cific.

Whether he is paint­ing or mak­ing lith­o­graphs, An­treasian has re­mained com­mit­ted to mov­ing his prac­tice in new di­rec­tions while still pri­mar­ily work­ing two-di­men­sion­ally. “Th­ese were en­deav­ors to deal with things I didn’t know much about, but they led me for­ward, led me to keep ex­plor­ing and find­ing. That’s the bedrock of my en­tire back­ground.”

Left to right, Game Board, 2015, acrylic on wood, cour­tesy Ger­ald Pe­ters Gallery; Swatch Book, 2012, acrylic on wood, cour­tesy UNM Press; China Syn­drome, 2004, acrylic on wood, cour­tesy UNM Press

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