Historical Journal


Carl Affarian

January 30, 1991
Jude Schwedenwien

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In the current period of constantly shifting theories in art, the emergence of an artist whose vision is highly individualistic is a refreshing occurrence. Carl Affarian’s paintings and sculptures exist outside the convoluted paradigms which occupy and confuse the art world’s consciousness. Affarian’s knowledge of art history and theory is thorough and it is precisely this comprehensive understanding which has brought him to the realization that an artist should not speak from anyone else’s point of view. In his educational background, Affarian has acknowledged and worked within the parameters of Conceptual art and performance. This experience has led him back to painting and the making of objects with a new determination. He defines his approach as a process of growth through elimination and subtraction. His judicious removal of excessive elements and obsolete references allows his work to encounter the audience with conviction. The new work is unfettered by trend and temporality. There is a rarefied spiritual quality to the work which is reactionary to a prevalent nihilistic thread in contemporary art.
Affarian does not adhere to any constrictive rules or preconceptions about how to make art; instead he works from his daily interpretations of the world as he strives to generate new thought. These pieces employ a strong visual capability to convey various meanings to the viewer. Perhaps Affarian’s work challenges rather than alienates the audience because it evolves from positive motivations. He does not view the studio as an abandoned ruin of an outmoded, era. Indeed, Affarian’s works are wonderfully evocative documents of his personal discoveries made through a creative process which he enjoys. For there is no doubt that creating art objects is a vital activity which provides him with artistic transformation through learning. One such crucial discovery which has influenced the recent direction in Affarian’s work is the obsolescence of the image. Over a period of time, Affarian has observed a gradual disintegration of the image in his art, an absence which has made the essence of the pieces much more explicit. The new works are more focused and uncompromising as they demonstrate a lucid intuition enhanced by a refined formalistic vision. The more uncluttered the pieces are, the more precise the messages become. This nonspecificity precedes a more intensive level of clarity.
Affarian believes in a necessary gestalt between the viewer and the art object, a friction generated by chance through changes of time, place and context in the display of the art. The paintings and sculptures are dependent upon subjective viewer response to elicit a nonverbal meaning. He views these pieces as nouns engaged in a relationship with the viewer, who assumes the role of verb/activator in constructing a narrative. The artist also maintains a great deal of control over how his works are installed in a particular show. This deliberate orchestration of how the objects are placed in a viewing space dictates an abstracted narrative structure which is never didactic or literal. Affarian’s choices made in the studio and in the installation process insure the presence of a distinguishable metaphorical quality. The new paintings are indicative of his firm belief in the efficacy of intuition, risk and the element of chance to add a new dimension to the art in accordance with the context of the exhibition.
Affarian’s commitment to his work is ethical in nature, sustained by a romantic reasoning. The concentrated simplicity of his new pieces forms the foundation for their metaphysical qualities. He finds significance in organic history and credits his own Orthodox Armenian Catholic heritage for his sense of responsibility to excellence and craftsmanship. Affarian mines the source of his background experiences which provides him with a purist approach to his art. His conscientious evaluation of his relationship to art history has helped him to define his position. He proves that in the 1980’s, an artist can still go back and reclaim a primary consciousness, then filter these impressions through a contemporary interpretation.
Specific works still allude to earlier themes: the halo, the maelstrom, entrances and ellipses. Many of the new paintings confirm the impact of stripping down the image to its essence. In The Tempest individual components of gold gouache and layers of varnish applied to plywood are arranged in a manner which appears somewhat chaotic yet betrays a more formal grid structure. The synthesis of Affarian’s technical proficiency and his certain faith in the power of chance allows various incongruities to operate in service of the whole. These paintings function on a level similar to a Rorschach test because there are no set guidelines given to produce specific readings. Like the psychological test images, these paintings are open to a multitude of interpretations. Other works also possess a sensuous tactile quality. Affarian applied fifty coats of permanent blue varnish on a surface of plywood and plaster to create the haunting piece Heroin. The result is stunning in its sublime strengths. In the finger painting Pleasure, the title relates to the artist’s instinctive response to the visceral and involving process. The handmade marks made with graphite, beeswax and gold gouache are visually enticing and impose a viable and memorable presence. Here the artist’s gestures are transformed into a solid documentation of his existence in the world, in an art historical context and in contemporary culture. No amount of clinical detachment or pervasive dogma can ever fully repress the artist’s need to express a personal vision. Affarian has absorbed the implications of art history’s declarations and developments. He understands the complexities of art and the need for artists today to avoid dangerous entrenchment in exclusive ideologies. As a result, Affarian, relying on his own strengths and convictions, has liberated himself from debilitating strictures to accept new challenges and reach his own conclusions.
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