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Vasken Brudian

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Vasken is the founder/director of Center for Experimental Art & Architecture at Casitas in Atwater Village (Los Angeles).

Exploring the new aesthetic of Vasken Brudian

by Lory Tatoulian

Vasken Brudian transgresses the bounds of established aesthetics and introduces a new paradigm to the trends of art. With broad brush strokes, photography, poetry, architecture, and acrylic paint, Brudian blends together the disparate elements of seeing and being and translates these concepts into his work. It is obvious to see the symbiotic relationship Brudian has created with his art, interweaving the linear dimensions of design and coupling this form with unruly and abstract renderings. Brudian himself has the hyphenated career of artist and architect. Employing both his artistic and dialectic faculties, the artist has developed a style of his own that is provocative, technical, haunting, progressive, and simply beautiful to look at.

"If you look at my paintings, it's very heavily influenced by architecture, and if you look at my architecture, it's very heavily influenced by my paintings," Brudian said. "I try to find the artistic aspect of architecture, and in my paintings, I try to reflect the thinking process that goes into architecture."

With this inverted exchange, Brudian has seamlessly blended minimalist iterations with the whimsical gestures of abstraction onto large canvases that measure in range from small-scale pieces to canvases that are over 20 feet in length. In some of Brudian's work, the image on the canvas is divided into two halves. In one of his paintings, The New Atlantis, Brudian bisects a vast monochromatic landscape and juxtaposes the image with the words of Francis Bacon's New Atlantis that was written in 1627. The landscape is set in an electric blue, as if reflecting the glare of an x-ray, echoing the hidden sensations and ideal perceptions that are often gleaned from the sub-conscious. The other half of the canvas has Bacon's abstracted text fading in and out of undulating whorls of sweeping orange brush strokes. The text, reminiscent of Chinese calligraphy, or perhaps modern graffiti, ordained within its bounds, attempt to rupture beyond the edges, creating a vague de-contextualized compositional ambiguity.

"Francis Bacon was the first philosopher who viewed nature as a tool, and suggested the betterment of society through science," explains Vasken. These types of grating and strident juxtapositions are recurrent themes in Brudian's repertoire. The convergence of these ostensibly disparate mediums and concepts, metaphorically examine the relationship between the thoughts and images that swim in the murky vortex of the sub-conscious and its link to the visual perceptions that are yielded from the periphery of the mind. They simultaneously oppose and yet seem to depend on one other, impacting the formation of a complex visual imagery that simultaneously embodies a coded abstract language with multifaceted layers of place, space, time, subjectivity and objectivity, as if attempting to unfold multiple, fleeting realities. These two worlds combined, wield an image that explores the connection between thought and sensation, environment and identity, vision and sub-conscious.

Even though it may seem that technology and poetry are the antithesis of each other, Brudian uses mixed-media to parlay his message. The artist knows that technology is very much an intrinsic part of our daily reality, and because of its ubiquity, Brudian naturally responds to the onslaught of the influences of industry and culture, and embraces it. "I am trying to find or uncover a new visual experience that may reflect our moment in time and history," Brudian said. "For me, technology is the tool, the means and the metaphor for expressing this increasingly interconnected, delicate yet gradually more complex character of our 21st century."

Brudian often uses text and verse from his diverse palette, layering his paintings with language that allows a new level of communication between viewer and artist. He incorporates a broad fusion of poets and writers such as Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Balzac, Victor Hugo, Maya Angelou among others and philosophical writers, such as Jean Le Rond d'Alembert, Jacques Derrida, and Jose Ortega y Gasset.

In the painting Man, the Technician Brudian again pits two uncompromising, distinct and disconnected visual elements against each other. On the left, an architectural turbulent expression in red with rigid orthogonal lines, and on the right, a harmless, serene, tranquil landscape, painted in a bright monochromatic blue that would have made Yves Kline proud. The title is synonymous with Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset's essay where he discusses the character of Man and his association with nature. Here, Brudian's architectural background comes into play. At first, the eye takes in the over-all dynamism and the gestural intensity of the painting. Then, one begins to focus on the vast but densely populated architectural elements: windows, doors, columns and stairways, all subsist in an intricately quilted, combative, dizzying architectural riddle. Reminiscent of Piranesi's Imaginary Prison etchings, where Piranesi depicts impossible architectural spaces, here as well, one needs to visually excavate the various layers of obscure, psychotic structures that in many ways reflect to our own time and space. Yet, it induces a strangely pleasurable feeling of both discordance and harmony.

"It is also the search for an orderly expression of our irresistible presence and our surrounding, that brings purpose to the formation of these paintings and collages," says Brudian. "It is this elusive realm that I think is open to experimentation and expression."

In his youth, Vasken's familial environment was rife with poetry and painting. His mother was a prolific fine artist, and his father was an English teacher who had great respect for both Armenian and American poets. Having been born in Cairo, Egypt, then living in Armenia between the ages of 2-14, and eventually moving to the United States as a teenager, Brudian has garnered inspiration from the diverse lands he has inhabited. This has in turn informed his identity and art with unique sensibilities and a proclivity towards taking risks.

Vasken Brudian has exhibited his work for more than 10 years in various art galleries across the United States. He is currently having a solo exhibition at the Downy Museum of Art which closes on December 23.


Critics’ Forum

Of Man and Nature, Layers and Fragments: The Art of Vasken Brudian
By Ara Oshagan

Vasken Brudian is an architect and artist. He has held one solo exhibition, but his work has been part of many group shows across the country over the past few years. After a long hiatus, Brudian has returned to the art scene with brand new work and the publication of a monograph entitled, “Paintings and Collages: Towards a New Aesthetics.” In conjunction with this publication, Brudian’s work will be on display in a solo show at the Harvest Gallery in Glendale, from March 24 to April 2.

Brudian’s work merges a wide array of concepts and ideas and employs a plethora of media: from architectural drawings, paint, acrylic and ink, to photography, alphanumeric texts, philosophical writings, poetry, literature, and essays by well-known writers. And in complement, the sizes of his works also vary from the very intimate to ones over 20 feet in length. His work is expansive and inter-disciplinary and does not lend itself to easy categorization. It attempts to strike a difficult and delicate balance of form, color and concept.

Brudian is best known for his “architectural paintings”—though these two words are not nearly sufficient to describe what this work is. These “paintings” are the product of a process that combines free-hand painting (the paint and brush) with modern technology-based methods (the computer and plotter). Paint and pencil is used to begin a painting on a surface, typically mylar. Then, after it is dry, architectural forms (everything from lines to beams to numbers to sections of buildings and stairways) are drawn over it with a large-scale plotter. Then more paint is added, then more plotting. This process is repeated several times, layer upon layer, until a dense and multi-storied canvas emerges. Obliteration is used as a tool of construction here. Each layer fully or partially obliterates the one before it. It obliterates and also fuses into it and builds on top of it—constructing a painting in the same way one constructs a building, perhaps. Technology is inherent to the creation of these works—they cannot be conceived nor made without the use of computer technology. The end result of this process is that paint and architectural fragments are held in tension, the fierce linearity of bits and bytes tussle with the free-flow of the hand, instinct is interwoven with technology. Are the two fusing or clashing? This is a question that is raised by Brudian over and over again.

In his monograph, Brudian includes some of this earlier work but also adds a host of new work, some of it continuing in the vein of architectural painting and some of it departing from it completely. The new work takes its inspiration from various literary works, poems and essays. These fragmentary textual references are a strong presence, and they also serve as platform upon which Brudian develops his explorations of various themes. This series also introduces photographic images, mainly landscapes. And although at times they are altered, their essential photographic quality is retained. In the new work, these large natural landscapes are fragmented and altered and then juxtaposed with fragmentary texts or abstractions or architectural paintings. Nature, as a concept, makes itself known.

Where the landscape photograph is brought together with poetic fragments, the result is overtly and simply emotional. “The Caged Bird”—which combines a scenic landscape photograph cast to red with Maya Angelou’s verse about a bird singing of freedom—is idyllic in its presentation of nature and the bird’s romantic musings about freedom. “Two Butterflies,” which presents a very similar idyllic and idealized scene of nature, adds poetics from Emily Dickinson about waltzing butterflies. It is nearly impossible to not imagine butterflies waltzing in those trees or to not see the flight of a bird. These works are like reveries, simple invitations to stop and contemplate nature, to bathe in the serenity and emotional flow of verse and landscape.

It’s quite a leap from these pieces to the much more challenging and compelling ones that bring together nature and man via architecture and technology. This work is a direct continuation of Brudian’s architectural paintings but extends their reach significantly. While the earlier work was based on a process of layering and melding of diverse forms, Brudian’s new work begins with a clash, a conflict, but goes further—that is, it turns in on itself. In his best work, Brudian tiptoes along the razor-sharp edge between man and nature, conflict and harmony, instinct and technology.

These larger canvases are composed of two totally distinct and disparate parts—a color-washed photographic scene of nature on one side and a Brudian-style architectural painting on the other. The works are juxtaposed and placed next to each other and forced to inhabit the same frame. The two sides of the frame are pitted against each other, and while in one moment they are clashing and tussling, in the next they suddenly seem to flow together in a strange harmony.

The best example of this is “/Twisting the Separatix/,” where underneath a serene row of upright trees (cast to blue) mad architectural forms crisscross. At first, it seems the ground ends and underneath the soil, architecture and art begin, i.e. man—the dividing line, the front is demarcated, the trenches are dug. But then, those architectural lines and forms begin to echo strange roots—cold, hard roots—that seem to feed the trees themselves, and suddenly the two parts of the canvas flow into each other, give and take from each other. Nature and man are at war, yes, but also at peace and perhaps even nurturing one another.

The work, at its best, is a constantly shifting perspective, asking and answering and suddenly losing hold of the answer and questioning again. The effect is thought-provoking and inquisitive: are the two sides clashing or complementing each other? What is the relationship between the natural and the man-made? These are the critical questions Brudian poses in his work.

Brudian’s monograph is a bold attempt at embracing a plethora of diverse and difficult concepts using nearly as many diverse media. In his best pieces, he manages to strike a delicate balance between a host of extremes—ideas, forms and colors, all pulling in different directions. Brudian’s reentry into the art world is refreshing and welcome.


All Rights Reserved: Critics Forum, 2006

Ara Oshagan has degrees in Physics and English Literature from UCLA and a degree in Geophysics from UC Berkeley. He used to be a scientist and now is a photographer. But everything still comes from Literature.

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