Talin Megherian—Kiss the Ground

Page 1

Talin Megherian—Kiss the Ground


Gagik Arotuinian—Kiss the Ground Curated by Todd Bartel Thompson Gallery, The Cambridge School of Weston Published on the occasion of the exhibition Talin Megherian—Kiss the Ground December 18, 2014 – March 13, 2015 © Thompson Gallery, The Cambridge School of Weston Forward © 2014 Todd Bartel Essay © 2014 Todd Bartel Edited by Eli Keehn Design Todd Bartel Printed on demand by Lulu.com All photos © 2014 Todd Bartel All rights reserved The Cambridge School of Weston 45 Georgian Road Weston, MA 02493 Cover: Talin Megherian, Khatchkar No. 2, 2013, gouache, ink, tempera and gesso on tiled watercolor paper, 18.625 x 15.75 inches

Thompson Gallery 2

Kiss the Ground Gagik Aroutiunian, September 5 - November 15, 2014 A New Armenia, part 1, December 6, 2014 - January 20, 2015 (Armenian Museum of America) Talin Megherian, December 18, 2014 - March 13, 2015 A New Armenia, part 2, January 25 - March 1, 2015 (Armenian Museum of America) A New Armenia, part 3, March 30 - June 13, 2015

Kiss the Ground is a five part exhibition series that examines and celebrates contemporary Armenian art, one hundred years after the 1915 Armenian Genocide. Talin Megherian—Kiss the Ground, the second exhibition in the series, focuses on the artist’s abstract-narrative paintings and her interest in the stories and traditions of the Armenian people, compromised by the atrocities of 1915. Megherian’s eclectic work explores the memories of her family and of Armenian women in particular. Her colorful paintings are bejeweled by historical events, literary references, and cultural artifacts. ABOUT THE THOMPSON GALLERY The Thompson Gallery is a teaching gallery at The Cambridge School of Weston dedicated to exploring single themes through three separate exhibitions, offering differing vantages on the selected topic. Named in honor of school trustee John Thompson and family, the Gallery promotes opportunities to experience contemporary art by local, national and international artists and periodically showcases the art of faculty, staff and alumni. The Gallery is located within the Garthwaite Center for Science and Art, The Cambridge School of Weston, 45 Georgian Road, Weston, MA 02493. M–F 9–4:30 p.m. and by appointment (school calendar applies). Visit thompsongallery.csw.org to view exhibit art. ABOUT THE CAMBRIDGE SCHOOL OF WESTON The Cambridge School of Weston, located in a Boston suburb, is a progressive, coeducational, day and boarding school for grades 9 through 12 and post graduate. Established in 1886, the school is dedicated to fostering individual strengths and deep, meaningful relationships through a wide range of challenging courses and a variety of teaching styles. csw.org


Talin Megherian—Kiss the Ground

Forward & Acknowledgements I met Talin Megherian in my first painting class, during my sophomore year at the Rhode Island School of Design. We did not connect much during that year, but during our junior year we both lost a parent and that fact brought us together. We developed a close friendship while enrolled in RISD’s European Honors Program in Rome during our senior year (September 1984 - May 1985). Our adjacent studios created many opportunities to visit and explore each other’s work. At some point, we developed the habit of daily morning ventures to see art and architecture—something new each day—for many of our days in that ancient city. We shared a collage aesthetic and a love of antiquity that is made manifest to this day in our respective studio practices. Our relationship as a couple began just weeks after graduating from RISD in the early summer of 1985, and by Thanksgiving of that year, as I like to recall, I became part of the Megherian family. It was that first Thanksgiving when I learned about the Armenian Genocide from the point of view of the fortunate survivors. A story I have heard often repeated is how Talin’s father, Rev. Fr. Vartan Megherian, was born on the run from the Ottoman Turks. How often I have contemplated the chances of my actually meeting Talin when I consider the improbability of her father’s survival. It was difficult for Ottoman Armenian families on the run to support the survival of newborns. As challenging as it was during the winter months to be on the run, hide from enemy combatants, and tend to the needs of an infant, somehow Vartan made it through. Many families tragically left infants at the wayside and many died in transit. Talin’s grandmother refused to “leave her baby in the snow!” She chewed grass to feed to and 6

sustain Vartan. This is what haunts me: no Vartan, no Talin.

would never have felt brave enough to take on this monumental project.

Sadly, I never met Rev. Fr. Megherian. He died in January of 1984, just three months after my mother passed away, during the early winter of 1983. But the proximity of our respective parents’ deaths is what brought Talin and I together initially: we endured unbearable pains and needed to talk about it.

I wish to thank Yefkin and Zarmi Megherian, who have helped me in so many ways over the years through answering my many questions about the painful past. Their support and caring has been a consistent wellspring for me.

Before we were married in 1990, I had come to learn quite a bit about the Armenian culture and the many stories of survival, reconnection and relocation within the Megherian family. Over the years, I have picked up many words and phrases in the Armenian language, and have been exposed to a great deal of art and architecture through books and exhibitions. One of my favorite memories is making the trek to Washington D.C. to catch the last day of the Treasures in Heaven (1994) Armenian Manuscript exhibition with Talin. We both brought notebooks and made drawings of imagery found in the illuminations, and all those drawings have entered our respective work over the past decades. Indeed, several of the drawings Talin made on that trip have ended up on the paintings in this very exhibition. 2015 is a 30-year marker for me, being a part of the Megherian family, but it is a 100-year marker for Talin and the Armenian people. During the past 30 years, I gained much experience that I have drawn upon as I have put together the Kiss the Ground exhibition series. While my part in bringing this exhibition to the CSW community and to the Armenian public of the Boston region has been partly a product of happenstance, it has also been a product of great dedication. But if I had not had 30 years of experience within an Armenian family, I

I am particularly grateful to my partner in life, Talin Megherian, who makes art I deeply respect, who I love looking at contemporary art with, who continues to inspire me, and who, like me, loves to incorporate the world and its past into collagist practices. I especially want to acknowledge Talin for being so generous and willing to articulate her stories, which presented her with several personal challenges as she is not accustomed to collecting and retaining the sources that inform her work. She put a lot of energy into researching and trying to verify her memories and was able to site almost each story she imparted. I am most grateful to her for allowing me act as her scribe to document the stories that inform her art, which in turn provided our community with a unique experience, and insight into Talin’s private world and her Armenian heritage. It is our hope that theses visual and written remembrances can guide, teach and perhaps bring a measure of justice that has been so long in coming. It is that same hope that fueled the making of the paintings in Talin Megherian—Kiss the Ground and likewise that same powerful motivator inspired me to bring this exhibition series to light. It has been my honor and privilege to exhibit the work of Talin Megherian. Todd Bartel Director, Thompson Gallery February 23, 2015 7

Talin Megherian—Kiss the Ground

Gagik Aroutiunian—Kiss the Ground ԵՐԿՐՊԱԳՈՒԹԻՒՆ


It is a given that nothing is whole. Everything has contradiction embedded within it.1 Shahzia Sikander There is death…but there is life. And that’s what we have to see…create.2 Elliot Baker Kiss the Ground is a five-part exhibition series that examines and celebrates contemporary Armenian art at a particular moment in history, organized to overlap with the centennial memorialization of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. The second exhibition in the series focuses on Talin Megherian’s abstract-narrative paintings and her interest in the stories and traditions of the Armenian people, compromised by the atrocities of 1915. Concurrent to this exhibition, Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia—itself an exhibition in three parts—was installed at the Armenian Museum of America. Parts I & II of A New Armenia took place between December 2014 and early March of 2015. Part III of Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia occurred in the Thompson Gallery in April of 2015. Talin Megherian (Watertown, MA) mines collective Armenian memory, the specific memories of her family, and Armenian women’s stories in particular to inform her art. A second generation ArmenianAmerican, she was born in Queens, NY, studied at the School of Visual Arts (New York, NY) for two years, and ultimately earned her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design (Providence, RI) in 1985. During her senior year at RISD, she lived and painted in Rome at RISD’s European Honors Program. Megherian developed a sustaining interest in antiquity while

in Rome, and her work today is littered with artifacts from past cultures. In 2004, Megherian traveled to Armenia—a visit that inspired the creation of the paintings on display in this Kiss the Ground exhibit. Megherian’s work examines powerful stories of loss and brutality toward women during the Genocide, while also exploring personal identity within the fabric of her culture. Next Homeland, Next Generation Megherian’s parents are first generation Diaspora Armenian-Americans. Her father, Rev. Fr. Vartan Megherian (1921-1984), “was born near Bagdad, Iraq while his family was escaping from the Ottoman attacks and ‘deportations.’ After he was born, the family was able to go to Aleppo, Syria and Fr. Vartan eventually made his way to the United States in 1946. Through his efforts, his family was able to join him in the United States soon after.”3 Her mother, Yefkin Megherian—whose work is included in parts I and III of A New Armenia—was born in Troy, NY. Yefkin Megherian points out, “Though I know my family was from Marash, they didn’t talk about these things clearly; you heard a little scrap here and a little scrap there.4 Inheriting a dark past creates fraught and complex choices; one must decide whether to reject, acquiesce, to embrace or explore one’s history. For many years Talin Megherian accepted her past without it playing a major role in her art. Reconnecting with her family’s homeland allowed for many pieces of Megherian’s past to fall into place, which in turn inspired her to enfold family stories into her personal and creative inquiry. Some of Megherian’s imagery is linked to clear, namable sources, while other imagery is relegated to mystery. 11

Megherian works with disconnected fragments as a way of piecing together a complicated past. Neither circumstance eclipses the other in terms of importance. Each story she explores, regardless of how it can be remembered or verified, holds vital information that the artist feels obligated to explore or preserve. All of us possess stories from our childhoods that we cannot fully understand or even recollect, and key parts of these stories are often lost by the wayside. For Megherian, like so many contemporary Armenian artists, dredging personal and collective memory for useful fragments helps to reconstruct a splintered and restive sense of identity. Today, many Armenians are compelled to advance their century-long campaign for justice for the victims of the Genocide. As Megherian attests: “There are tragic stories from both sides of my family. I feel compelled to give them a voice—in part for a people that have not healed, in part for myself, and in part for my family that still remembers.”5 As artist and author John Ros notes in his essay Fractured Landscape: Megherian is a story-teller, reliving memories of past atrocities through her own experience. This interpretation creates a slight distance that gives Megherian a vantage point of greater scope. She imagines the land, much like a child of an immigrant might have to, traversing land and air, to feel “normality” in the unfamiliar or strange. This roaming of the land (or the page) is an important way to un-tap experience in a way to better understand the past and the future. Identity is of utmost importance as Megherian treads the line in and out of two worlds. Megherian’s surreal landscapes are borne of this subtle 12

dance with memory and reality.6 Indeed, walking in the here and now, while also traversing the past as a secondgeneration diaspora Armenian, Megherian’s “distance” provides her with a distinct vantage—the ability to look at material that was perhaps too painful for the last generation to explore creatively. Perhaps that is why the stories Megherian paints today offer us a vivid account of not only the destructive capacity of humankind a hundred years ago, but also the imagery of humankind’s creative potential right now. Contradiction as Catalyst Megherian’s imagery is often punctuated by powerful visual, emotional and conceptual juxtapositions. Haunting stories set into abstracted landscapes, surreal and otherwise colorful patterned spaces—difficult imagery surrounded by imagined, if not worldly splendors. In pain, hope can abound. Over the past decade, Megherian has produced series work—the Khatchkar series and the Braids series—in anticipation of the centennial remembrance of the Armenian genocide on April 24th, 2015. In both bodies of work, her eclectic and colorful abstractions are lavishly bejeweled by images of Armenian artifacts, historical events, literary references and the objects and explicit stories she has re/collected. Megherian has necessarily developed a personal iconography to accommodate the interconnected sacred, profane and personal imagery she assembles. Unlike the sacred iconography of the first Christian nation—Armenians were among the first people to develop gospel iconography,7 which has a visual language,

is promoted by many cultures, has evolved over millennia, is still legible, and is in wide use today—Megherian’s iconography at times requires the knowledge of the specific referenced imagery or narrative, if not a willing, loosely interpretive eye, in order to appreciate its content and depth. Thus, the problem of accessing implicit narratives sets up an important contradiction that activates Megherian’s work. Megherian’s juxtaposition of complementary colors establishes the visual grounds for opposites to coexist. Her stories are present, but they are not legible in the conventional sense. Yet, a palpable feeling of hope, strength, and grounded connectivity is perceptible at first glance. The intense color and sense of light in the work evokes a definite positive and uplifting spirit. But Megherian also counters material luminosity with immaterial darkness—immaterial in the sense that the dark, cryptic stories she imparts are not readily apparent to the average viewer. On the one hand, Megherian depicts clearly rendered, namable images of things that act as intellectual placeholders for cultural and private stories that, over the past century, have been relegated to Armenian Genocidal memoirs. On the other hand, these stories are only available to those who know them, or who understand what to consult in order to learn about them. Thus, if enticed by Megherian’s visual oppositions— invitations—viewers are encouraged to become curious and explore any of a number of Armenian novels and nonfiction accounts of the genocide to learn of the many tragedies still prominent in Armenian consciousness today. Megherian’s iconography is unmistakably well distilled. Though some of her narratives are not readily legible, clues to her subject

and interests abound. Images of women on fire, or hands tied, or severed braids above a red-stained field, send definite messages that something is amiss. The overwhelming sense of beauty in the work creates a comfortable platform from which to contend with the harsh reality of what the work memorializes. Contradiction necessarily must be a part of Megherian’s art. She works with clear memories and vague recollections of distinctly painful remembrance; she works small, but assembles large. At its heart, Megherian’s work is about establishing a visual language in which contradiction presents possible futures. To enhance the experience of our viewers, the artist has generously provided, for the first time, commentary for many of the works in the catalog. The stories Megherian depicts in her art are of a personal nature, and offer insight about her ArmenianAmerican identity as much as they illuminate Armenian consciousness. For example, in You Can Stop Carrying Her (2014), Megherian has developed an iconography for a particularly heartwrenching family remembrance. Megherian paints a blue outline of the overall shape of a Renaissance drawing by Raphael (14831520) entitled Young Man Carrying an Old Man on his Back (c. 1514). She places it over a water-filled fount, surrounded by appropriated images of scores of feet taken from various Armenian illuminated manuscripts, all painted atop a practice calligraphy sheet of English letters. The family story she calls to mind in this exquisite composite work is about her greatgrandmother, who, too weak to walk during the Ottoman deportations of Armenians from Marash, was carried by Megherian’s greatuncle—until someone noticed she had died on his back. 13

Braids It’s a piece of me from when I was 9. To paint actual hair that was mine seems so appropriate and it feels like a way for me to connect to being an Armenian woman. I love painting the weaving of hair. I am interested in the powerfulness of hair. Every time I paint my braids I feel like it states: Here I am, and, we are not forgotten.8 Talin Megherian I passed through the room into a town square, where I saw a row of girls hanging by their braids, their eyes empty sockets, their lifeless bodies swinging to and fro.9 Carol Edgarian If I am shaven, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak… However, the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaven. Judges 16:17 & 22 On the heels of her trip to Armenia in 2004, Megherian began painting images of braids with painstaking detail, reminiscent of Andrew Wyeth’s realist works. Comprised of small paintings on paper and wood panels, the Braids series was Megherian’s first body of work that engaged with her Armenian remembrances and heritage. In her artist’s statement, located in the back of the exhibition catalog, Megherian describes her interest in using the imagery of braids:

My braid images hold stories and memories, most of which I have not experienced myself, but are closely connected to me.

While the exact intersection of influences, elements and events that inspired the Braids series are difficult for Megherian to pinpoint, the idea to paint braids took shape 14

when she recognized the potential imagery of the relic of her own 9-year-old braids (figures 1 & 2, pages 22-23). Megherian points to passages like the one from Carol Edgarian’s Rise the Euphrates reprinted above, along with Megherian’s childhood recollections of traditional Armenian dance and costume, in which “braid extensions were very common.”10 Ultimately the culmination of connections prompted her Braids series. Megherian explains: I made a connection between Armenian traditions, my own braids that were cut off when I was 9 years old, and stories I read in the past about Armenian women during the Genocide. And that for me, lead to the image of braids becoming an icon in my work...11 Intertwining stories and traditions with the artist’s career-long interest in antique still-life objects allowed Megherian to recognized the potential iconic status of her personal heirloom: I love still life painting, but I often draw the object disembodied from its surroundings and paint it on top of landscapes, skyscapes and abstract backgrounds. For me, fractured disembodiment brings in a surreal quality. Braids (Tied) (2004), the first painting in the series, was informed by the recollection of a story Megherian once read about “Armenian women being tied up by their braids, and having their heads cut off.12” In Braids (Tied), the braids seem to float in the air, hovering over a sand-yellow ground, with a wash of red that seems to leak from the braid ends. Clearly suggestive of disembodiment, the braids defy gravity through the artist’s extension of remembrance. Megherian uses painterly

operations not only for their apparent visual qualities, but also as potent metaphors and conceptual underpinnings. As a primary reference, Megherian uses hair as a symbol of cultural and historical identification. But Megherian’s symbolism references other traditions as well. In many cultures, hair has long been associated with transformative power and has sometimes symbolized countercultural revolution. In ancient Egyptian funerary paintings, sculptures and coffins, for example, hair was seen as “an element full of life force,” and was often associated with “the renovating

waters [that] erase the mortal past and transport the deceased to a new existence.”13

In the Biblical stories of Nazirite Samson, hair was the source of Samson’s strength as he fought against the Palestines.14 During the countercultural revolution of the late 1960s, many songs from Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical evolved into anthems of the anti-Vietnam War peace movement. And in contemporary forensic science, hair is synonymous with identity and genetic lineage—another kind of personal story. Such history and associations are potent for Megherian, making art that affirms the strength of her ethnicity, so far away and cut off from her family’s homeland. Khatchkars Monumental painting is so scarce in Armenia that it is not possible to find a set of common principles.”15 Jean-Michel Thierry Two ostensibly contradictory tendencies are found in…[Armenian] manuscripts:

one is abstraction through linear simplification and the use of contrasting colors, and the other is an intention of depicting worldly materiality through picturesque details.16 S. Der Nersessian Megherian’s Khatchkars series includes both large and small composite paintings on paper, embracing both contemporary art practices and qualities that can be traced back to the oldest extant examples of Armenian art. Her larger work, when compared to the size of Armenian illuminated manuscripts, can be considered monumental in scale, but they are in fact inspired by sculptures for which the tradition calls for moderate scale creations. Khatchkars are a type of carved upright stone slab or stele (figures 3 & 4, pages 74 & 75). “The name khatchkar (xač‘k‘ar)

is composed of two words: xač‘ = cross, and k‘ar = stone, and are not to be confused with stone crosses because they do not usually assume this shape, but as ‘stone of a cross,’ since they were defined by the crosses carved upon them.”17 They are often found in the

open air, such as the one located in front of Holy Trinity Armenian Church (Cambridge, MA), but can also be found embedded in the walls of religious buildings, caves, or carved in relief, on rock faces.18 Khatchkars stand foremost as prayers for souls.19

Megherian builds off the khatchkar tradition while infusing it with contemporary innovation, subsuming a sculptural tradition into the genres of painting and collage. Due to the contested terrain the Armenian people have inhabited for the last 3,000 years,20 and as a people surrounded by many different cultures—Turks, Arabs, Kurds, Greeks, Assyrians—all these proximate groups have combined, shared, and infused 15

their cultural traditions. The concept of collage, with its ceaseless potential for combining anything—including cross culturaltraditions—can also be used to describe the ancient fabric of Armenian culture. By involving the strategies of collage, then, Megherian expands Armenian artistic tradition, while simultaneously reinforcing the ancient constitution of her culture. The combined stories and icons of Armenian women during the Genocide in Megherian’s Khatchkars may be compared to a dismembered book, in which collected leaves have been placed adjacent to one another, with many pages missing in between. Megherian’s Khatchkars are fitting tributes to the countless remembrances of the fractured Armenian people. A collage attitude has been a prominent feature of Megherian’s art, from her student work through to her professional practice. Though strictly speaking Megherian’s Khatchkar paintings are not collages, their composite construction is collage-like in a wider application, due to the tiled groupings, the melding of various traditions and imagery, and her appropriationist strategy. For example, the objects that appear in her paintings are often extracted from their original surroundings and relocated to new contexts in which the ways they are depicted defy gravity—much in the same way objects seem to float when placed under a microscope for close examination. Within their new settings, these dislocated and collaged details are often painted to hover over sometimes general, sometimes abstract or patterned spaces, and at other times, referenced backgrounds or specific places. Megherian’s Khatchkars are made up of contradictory tendencies, which ultimately complement their overall schema. On the 16

one hand the Khatchkar paintings are made up of eclectic and abrupt juxtapositions of fractured images, and on the other hand, the overall placement of each component contributes to a larger pattern, which simplifies the whole structure. Megherian’s paintings compellingly echo her forebears’, which share similar attitudes toward “contradictory tendencies,” “abstraction,” “the use of contrasting colors” and “[depicting] worldly materiality through picturesque details”21—qualities which Der Nersessian has identified as signature aspects of Armenian manuscript painting. Megherian’s contributions to the history of Armenian art reignite ancient tradition with contemporary significance, while unwittingly paralleling an aesthetic that has been part of the Armenian makeup since the dawn of recorded history. Traditional Innovation My interest was and still is to create a dialogue with a traditional form—how to use tradition while engaging in a transformative task.22 Shahzia Sikander Armenian art, on the whole, follows two contradictory currents, better, even, two tendencies: One somewhat progressive, is innovative, whether it is or is not inspired by foreign influences. The other is conservative, retaining and going back to past forms and techniques.23 Jean-Michel Thierry While many forces and events added to the evolution of Modern temperaments in art, WWI ignited artists’ dissenting attitudes, anti-art and Dada. Collage, established by

Pablo Picasso’s and Georges Braque’s cubist experiments, had been firmly established by the time the first Dada works were made. Dadaist montages and collages were the first non-naturalistic works of art to promote fractured reality without being beholden to traditional ideas of depicting form. And today, decades after the subsequent appearances of Surrealism, Pop Art and Appropriation Art, these twentieth-century innovations commonly inform contemporary practices. Though not a Dadaist by any measure, Megherian’s work is of course affected by some of the events that caused the Great War. It is the later developments in 20th century art that have had a much greater impact on Megherian’s sensibilities. While not staying true to any one art historical genre in particular, Megherian’s work fuses key aspects from the traditions of Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art and Appropriation. While placing Megherian’s art into an art historical category is a complicated prospect, it is more fruitful to find examples of artists from the last half century with whom Megherian’s work aligns. For example, Megherian’s art shares parallel interests with the work of Frida Kahlo and Shahzia Sikander, both of whom embrace their respective cultural heritage while exploring issues of memory and identity. Megherian’s work, with its unique blending of contradictions, frequently has surrealist overtones—odd juxtapositions and dreamlike depictions—paired with historical events and familial stories. Frida Kahlo’s paintings can easily be described using similar terms, but cannot be considered purely Surrealist. Kahlo, who has often been wrongly called a Surrealist, once remarked, “I never knew

I was a Surrealist till André Breton came to Mexico and told me I was.” 24 Kahlo’s

fantastical imagery is more allegorical and symbolic than it is Surrealist in nature—an iconography of the artist’s own personal reality. Megherian’s art too, is made up of allegorical and symbolic features. Indeed, later in her life, Kahlo rejected the “Surrealist” label, saying: “I never painted dreams, I painted my own reality.”25 Painting her own reality is a key aspect of Megherian’s work, which, like Kahlo’s, is tied to the artist’s ethnicity and cultural heritage. Embracing her ethnicity is what initially helped artist Shahzia Sikander establish her career, who has been much discussed for her infusion of traditional Indo-Persian miniature painting with a collagist attitude—blending cultural and symbolic images, floating objects and surrealist imagery with cultural critique. All three artists depict dark personal subjects along with colorful, ethnographic celebrations. André Breton once described Kahlo’s art as “a ribbon around a bomb,”26 an apt description for many of Megherian’s commemorated stories as well as Sikander’s. Finally, there is a comparable tension in the respective paintings of Kahlo, Sikander and Megherian. Historian, author and curator Hayden Herrera describes Kahlo’s work as being fraught with opposition and filled with “contradictions.”27 Similar to Kahlo, Megherian’s approach to iconography and symbolism results in collage-like placement of objects, images and spaces that embrace contradiction. And all of these relationships can be found in the work of Shahzia Sikander too, who often layers her imagery in physical ways—painted layers, but also actual layers of translucent materials such as velum, paper and cloth— to heighten meaning. In describing her preferences, Sikander asserts, “…layering 17

is the medium because with every addition it alters perception, every time the process provides another way to look at the same thing.”28 Thus, layering is an important

strategy for painters such as Sikander, Kahlo and Megherian because layering—both topographic and juxtapositional—slows down a viewer’s ability to read the work quickly, forcing that viewer to return, time and time again, to unpack the work of art.

In her essay on Sikander’s work, Illuminations, Jessica Hough suggests that many viewers “come to appreciate” Sikander’s paintings, drawings and installations because they “reveal

themselves over time. With repeated viewing comes an opportunity to sort through the layers of imagery and meaning.”29 Megherian’s art operates much in the same way. And all three artists, Kahlo, Sikander and Megherian, harken back to cultural traditions while layering images, personal stories and cultural references. Kahlo revitalized Mexican apparel, jewelry and the traditions of the Day of the Dead. Sikander studied miniature painting and revitalized it as a contemporary vehicle for cultural scrutiny and critique. And Megherian uses history to rejuvenate Armenian identity. But, as Hough points out, “While Sikander is absorbed by the

history of miniature painting, her work is only in small part about looking back. She brings forth this source material, empowers it to speak to us about the present, and encourage us to, if not re-imagine the past, at least see this area of art history with fresh eyes.”30 Where Sikander deconstructs adopted traditions, Megherian works to illuminate lost traditions, verifying continued significance.


Possible Futures While impossibly painful narratives punctuate Megherian’s imagery, symbolic references to regeneration, rejuvenation, replenishment and renewal juxtapose the images of horror. Megherian consistently unifies contradictory material, which in turn raises an important question: Why the beautiful mixed with the horrible? Perhaps the answers that arise in response to that particular question point to the key to Megherian’s iconography. It has been said many times that a beautiful picture of an ugly thing is a cliché. Appropriately, teachers guard their students against the pitfalls of so tempting an artistic strategy—lure a viewer in with something beautiful, then when they are close enough, reveal the dark and brutal secret. Megherian’s work should not be confused with this tactic. Rather, Megherian mixes truth with hope—a necessary strategy for positively “suffer[ing] the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…”31 Megherian’s process is about initiating transformation. What are we to do—or, more poignantly, what are the Armenian people to do—with one hundred years without justice for the atrocities of the Armenian Genocide? Megherian’s work shows us. Remember and Love. Collect and Connect. Honor and Build. Enfold contradiction into the fabric of being. Todd Bartel Gallery Director, Curator Thompson Gallery


1. Ian Berry, A Dialog with Shahzia Sikander by Ian Berry, Opener 6, Shahzia Sikander: Nemesis, The Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery At Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York, 2004, p. 7 2. Elliot Baker, The Past Is Not Past—A Drama, 2014, p. 22 3. Yefkin Megherian, interview, 12/13/14 4. Yefkin Megherian, interview, 12/13/14 5. Talin Megherian, interview, 7/27/14 6. John Ros, Fractured Landscape, exhibition essay (curated by Jannine Bardo), St. Francis College, Callahan Center, Brooklyn, NY, 2014 7. Thomas F. Mathews and Roger S. Wieck Eds., Treasures in Heaven—Armenian Illuminated manuscripts, The Pierpont Morgan Library, Princeton University Press, 1994, p. xiv (Preface); & Fr. Krikor H. Maksoidian, The Religion of Armenia, pp. 24-27 8. Talin Megherian, interview, 7/29/14 9. Carol Edgarian, Rise the Euphrates, Random House, New York, NY, 1994, pg. 121 10. Ibid, Note: As a child, growing up in the Armenian community and especially attending Armenian School, I participated in dance concerts (hontesses). The costumes for these events had braid extensions, but because I had long curly hair, I did not have to wear them. Braid extensions were very common. I saw many professional Armenian Dance concerts and the women always had the same long braids, which moved beautifully with the body. 11. Talin Megherian, interview, 1/1/15 12. Talin Megherian checklist statements, 12/16/14 13. Ibid 14. Judges 16-30 15. Jean-Michel Thierry, Patrick Donabedian, translated from the French by Célestine Dars, Armenian Art, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, NY, 1989, p. 41 16. Thierry, quoting S. Der Nersessian, p. 41 17. Thierry, p. 123 18. Ibid. 19. Ibid. Note: Thierry describes the impetus to create khatchkar in more depth: “ Literary sources and inscriptions give us quite precise information on the donors’ intensions. Khatchkars stand foremost as prayers for the salvation of the donors’ souls or the souls of their parents and are often inscribed: <<This cross was erected to intercede with God for (the salvation of the soul of) X…, and of his parents.>> Khatchkars could, very rarely, be related to a foundation (Although the prayer is always formulated in the inscription)_, or a political or military event (but there again, the event is only a justification of the prayer.) More exceptionally even,

Khatchkars could be erected for apotropaic reasons…” 20. Thomas F. Mathews and Roger S. Wieck Eds., Treasures in Heaven—Armenian Illuminated manuscripts, The Pierpont Morgan Library, Princeton University Press, 1994, p. 5. NOTE: Mathews, points out: “The origin and early history of the Armenian people remain obscure and controversial because of the near absence of archaeological evidence, and because Armenians did not find their own voice until the creation of a native alphabet in the early fifth century A.D., a millennium after their presumed arrival on the [Anatolian] plateau. As a result of this paucity of direct evidence, and the confused, fragmentary, and often contradictory testimonies of foreign authors, the most that can be said with reasonable certainty is that the Armenoi, an Indo-European speaking group, seem to have filtered gradually into the plateau from the southwest during the seventh to sixth centuries B.C.; their presence is attested there in the late sixth century by both the Greek historian Herodotus and the Bisutun inscription of the Persian king Darius the Great (521-486).” 21. Thierry, quoting S. Der Nersessian, p. 41 22. Sikander, in Berry, p. 5 23. Thierry, p. 38 24. Hayden Herrera, Frida Kahlo: The Paintings, Harper Collins, New York, NY, 1991, p. 124 25. Herrera, p. 4 26. Herrera, p. 3 27. Herrera, p. 4 28. Sikander, in Berry, p. 12 29. Jessica Hough, Illuminations, Opener 6, Shahzia Sikander: Nemesis, The Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery At Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York, 2004, p. 57 30. Hough, p. 68 31. William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, in The Tragedies of Shakespeare, Charles Scribner’s & Sons, New York, NY, no date, p. 574, line 1750-51



Fig. 1. Talin Megherian, studio reference childhood braids, 1971


Fig. 2. Talin Megherian, studio reference adult braids, 2013


Some survivors told stories of having being put into wells, kerosene thrown on them and being put on fire. There are also stories of people who were put into wells as a form of slow death. In my own family, my grandmother’s sister died in a well. My grandfather was more fortunate. He was held in captivity for three years by Turkish soldiers until he was released along with two Turkish prisoners, and the three of them went searching for their families together. One night, while my grandfather was sleeping, one prisoner told the other that the following day he planned to put my grandfather in a well to die. That night, after the Turk with the plot against my grandfather in mind had fallen asleep, the other Turk set my grandfather free. My grandfather went from settlement to settlement until he was eventually, miraculously, reunited with his family. The latter part of the story is too long to impart here, but it very much informed this particular painting. This is the last painting I made for this exhibition. I wanted it to be about hope and rising above, coming out from the darkness. Water can be seen as a cleansing and a new start. 24

Braids (Ascension), 2014 oil on Masonite 11.5 x 11.5 inches 25

Braids (Flower), 2013 oil, graphite on Masonite 11.5 x 11.5 inches 26

Braids (Mine), 2013 oil on Masonite 11.5 x 11.5 inches 27

In this piece, I wanted to pull together past and present, young and old, with gray and brown braids. At this point, I had not grown my hair and cut my braids at age 51, so I used my braids from when I was 9 and made one gray. 28

Braids (Wound), 2012 gouache, ink, gesso on watercolor paper 10 x 7 inches 29

Euphrates and Tigris turning red with blood. Above the river is a braid, and the shapes around it become an Armenian cross. 30

Braids (Red-River), 2004 gouache, ink, gesso on watercolor paper 10 x 7 inches 31

I used a photo I took in Armenia of the inside of a church. The delicate ironwork and chandeliers all hanging from the ceiling reminded me of a braid. The braid in this piece is hiding behind “peepholes.� In the churches, woman must wear veils on their heads, and cannot serve on the altar. I wanted the viewer to feel that they were, in a sense, peeking at the woman behind the church. I wanted to honor them by making viewers peer through a veil themselves. 32

Braids (Peephole), 2012 gouache, ink, gesso on watercolor paper 10 x 7 inches 33

I once read a story about Armenian women being tied up by their braids, and having their heads cut off. This was my first painting in the Braids series. 34

Braids (Tied), 2004 gouache, ink, gesso on watercolor paper 10 x 7 inches 35

This piece is somewhat of a self-portrait, in that I am painting both of my braids: one from age 9, and one from age 51. The blue in the center is a water divide. River imagery is a constant in my work—knowing that many Armenians perished in the rivers. 36

Braids (51/9), 2012 gouache, ink, gesso on watercolor paper 10 x 7 inches 37

In Braids (Cut) I returned to what I read about tying women up by their braids and removing their heads. I used thick paint for this piece and painted the braids roughly, unlike my other braid paintings. I then shot this painting with a water gun, and broke up the paint in the braids. 38

Braids (Cut), 2004 gouache, ink, gesso on watercolor paper 10 x 7 inches 39

I read that women during the genocide would bury themselves up to their necks to avoid rape. I don’t know if this is factual. It still had an impact on me when I read it, and I needed to make an image about it. The braids were painted, and then covered over with paint as if it was dirt. 40

Braids (Buried), 2004 gouache, ink, gesso on watercolor paper 10 x 7 inches 41

In this diptych painting, I was thinking about spirit and matter, but also about how a plus sign or a cross sign has traditionally divided land from the sky or earth from the heavens. The horizontal braid can be seen as Earth/World; the vertical braid can be seen as Heavens/Spirit. The “T� shape was an intentional reference to the first letter in my name. But more importantly, the t shape brings these elements together as the place where they intersect. In antiquity, the division of the four elements Earth, Water, Air, and Fire was sometimes represented by a cross (in more than one culture). 42

Braids (Heaven and Earth), 2006 gouache, gesso, chalkboard paint, latex on watercolor paper 41.875 x 30 inches 43



Works On Paper

The top part of Massacres and Deportations is taken from a contemporary image of an Armenian woman wearing a traditional bridal dress form the Gavash region.* The map at the bottom of the painting is taken from a map of the 1915 Armenian Genocide in the Turkish Empire.** It depicts cities and towns where massacres took place. Arrows signify deportations. * http://barevarmenia.com/travelblog/armenian-women-dresses/cilician-bride/, 12/13/14 ** http://www.armenian-genocide.org/map-full.html, 12/13/14


Massacres and Deportations, 2014 gouache and ink on paper 24.75 x 16 inches 49

I read about Armenian women forced to dance. As they were dancing they were set on fire. 50

Dance and Burn, 2014 gouache and ink on paper 23.75 x 17.125 inches 51

You Can Stop Carrying Her is based specifically on a story from my mother’s side of the family. My greatuncle was carrying his mother, my great grandmother, on his back in the snow, during the death marches from Marash. She was not well, and was very weak at that time. At some point during the many days of marching in the desert, someone said to my great-uncle, “You can stop carrying her.” She had died on his back, and he didn’t know. The feet painted in the circles are taken from various Armenian illuminated manuscripts. The blue painted outline is based on Raphael’s (1483-1520) Drawing of a Young Man Carrying an Old Man on his Back, c. 1514. 52

You Can Stop Carrying Her, 2014 gouache and ink on paper 22.875 x 18 inches 53

One Hour Series

The combination of being a parent, a teacher and an artist makes it difficult to find adequate time in the studio. The One Hour Series came out of a self-imposed need to establish a disciplined work habit to insure my productivity: the challenge of starting and ending a small painting in one hour. At times, I am uncomfortable with the results, but remain true to the hour confinement. I paint by exploring both additive and subtractive processes, and normally enjoy a leisurely period of reflection before I risk sanding or washing my paintings. The One Hour Series forces quick decisions and the reduction of reflection time. Ultimately, the challenge evolved into my regular practice to begin a day of painting. 56

One Hour Painting No. 1, 2008 gouache, ink, gesso on watercolor paper 5 x 5 inches 57

One Hour Painting No. 24, 2014 gouache, ink, gesso on watercolor paper 5.5 x 4.5 inches 58

One Hour Painting No. 9, 2008 gouache, ink, gesso on watercolor paper 5 x 5 inches 59

One Hour Painting No. 15, 2012 gouache, ink, tempera, gesso on watercolor paper 5.875 x 4 inches 60

One Hour Painting No. 14, 2012 gouache, ink, tempera, gesso on watercolor paper 5.875 x 4 inches 61

One Hour Painting No. 16, 2012 gouache, ink, tempera, gesso on watercolor paper 5.875 x 4 inches 62

One Hour Painting No. 3, 2008 gouache, ink, gesso on watercolor paper 5.5 x 4.5 inches 63

One Hour Painting No. 17, 2012 gouache, ink, tempera, gesso on watercolor paper 5.875 x 4 inches 64

One Hour Painting No. 21, 2013 gouache, ink, tempera, gesso on watercolor paper 5.875 x 4 inches 65

One Hour Painting No. 7, 2008 gouache, ink, gesso on watercolor paper 5.125 x 4.375 inches 66

One Hour Painting No. 4, 2008 gouache, ink, gesso on watercolor paper 5.5 x 4.5 inches 67

One Hour Painting No. 11, 2008 gouache, ink, gesso on watercolor paper 5 x 5 inches 68

One Hour Painting No. 19, 2012 gouache, ink, tempera, gesso on watercolor paper 5.875 x 4 inches 69

One Hour Painting No. 13, 2012 gouache, ink, gesso on watercolor paper 5.5 x 4.5 inches 70



Fig. 3. Talin Megherian, studio reference khatchkar, Polaroid Mio, Armenia, 2004


Fig. 4. Talin Megherian, studio reference khatchkar, Polaroid Mio, Armenia, 2004


In Armenia, khatchkars are large carvings on stone slabs that are usually made as a kind of physical prayer; a donor hires a sculptor to carve beautifully intricate patterns and a cross into stone, along with an inscription of a prayer. Altogether, khatchkars are a kind of prayer for people’s souls made physical. They are usually made for the donor’s parents or loved ones, but can also be made for people in general. Khatchkars are not to be confused with tombstones. But they always have crosses on them. In my khatchkar paintings, I usually abstract the crosses and play off of the tradition. The small Khatchkars are a tribute to the Armenian women that lost their lives. I chose to make them the center of the khatchkar, rather than the traditional cross. They are shown in silhouette form dressed in traditional dance costumes. 76

Khatchkar No. 2, 2013 composite painting, comprised of 9 parts; gouache, ink, tempera, gesso on watercolor paper 18.625 x 15.75 inches 77


Khatchkar No. 3, 2013 composite painting, comprised of 9 parts; gouache, ink, gesso on watercolor paper 18.5 x 15.5 inches 79


Khatchkar No. 1, 2004-13 composite painting, comprised of 29 parts; gouache, ink, gesso on watercolor paper 71.75 x 26 inches 81

Khatchkar No. 1, 2004-13 1. 2. 4. 5.

Moon phases. Woman from Armenian illuminated manuscript. Elements from nature are common imagery in my work. This bird is taken from a monumental war memorial sculpture honoring the Battle of Sadarabad. It is dedicated to the 1918 Armenian victory there, which stopped the Ottoman advance to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, only 40 miles away. 8. Chapel of the Holy Resurrection of the Monastery at Kecharis, Armenia. 13. This image is inspired by the color of the stone used to build Armenian churches. 14. Pomegranates are common imagery in Armenia. 15. Armenian cross. 16. Pomegranate seed. 17. This Walnut tree, which is still standing in Armenia today, is at least as old as the 13th century. The image comes from a photo I took on my trip to Armenia in 2004. (See also 3.) 19. Church silhouette, Indian miniature inspired. 23. Khatchkar carving. 24. Heaven and earth symbol, flower/cross, radish as heart. 25. I once read about Armenian women’s hands being tied behind their backs and then tied together in a circle, before being pushed into a river to drown. 26. Armenian alphabet with decorative design inspired by khatchkar carvings. The sky images were inspired by the walk up Aleph Road, when I used to be a dorm parent at Aleph Dormitory here at CSW. 27. Cuts/scars.






Khatchkar No. 4, 2014 composite painting, comprised of 29 parts; gouache, ink, tempera, gesso on watercolor paper 71.75 x 26 inches 87

Khatchkar No. 4, 2014 1.


6. 8. 9. 10. 12. 13.

14. 15.

16. 17.

18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 24. 25. 26. 29.


My mother told me a story about my maternal grandmother using her gold ring to bribe Turkish soldiers in order to protect herself and her son and daughter from the desert death march. Inside the ring, I put treetops from a photo of Marash—the city she was from. The ring works also as a shape reminiscent of an actual khatchkar, which has carved convex circles on either side of the topmost part of the sculpture. Borrowed from the architecture of a khatchkar using paint to describe ornate carvings. The two red lines are the shapes of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. I noticed the negative shape inside the cross area of a khatchkar was similar to the shapes of the rivers. My braids forming the right side of the cross shape. Skull inspired from an Armenian illuminated manuscript. Unfolding braid. Intricate lace design from Marash. Snakes were borrowed from an Armenian illuminated manuscript. Two churches named after saints: Soorp Arakelotz and Soorp Garabed, in Efkere, Armenia. The horse is taken from a stone carving I photographed in Haghbat, Armenia. 29. & 10. Depictions of the phases of the moon: from April 2015 along the top, and April 1915 along the bottom. Sometimes, the person that commissioned a khatchkar was shown kneeling in the bottom corner of the stone carving, and sometimes they are depicted in prayer. I placed an Armenian woman dancer in this location instead. Ladder coming out of a well—ascension. In Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Bluebeard, he writes about the main character’s Armenian mother being thrown on top of a pile of dead bodies, and there she notices that a dead woman had hidden her jewels in her mouth. She morally grappled with taking them, and then decided that she would only take what had fallen from the woman’s mouth—therefore avoiding theft. She used the found treasure to buy passage on a boat. The image of jewels in the mouth really stuck with me, and I knew I had to paint it. Left side of cross. Armenian landscape from a photo I took while traveling in Armenia. Eyes of victims. Armenian mountains, from photo I took while traveling. Water/rivers running into it. There were many reports of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers running red with blood and bodies during 1915-16. Nature forming center of cross. Well. The water at the center was inspired from an Armenian Illuminated Manuscript. Inspired by Armenian textile. Genocide memorial in Armenia—the flame never goes out.




Exhibition Installation





















Artist’s Statement


Spirit/Matter My braid images hold stories and memories, most of which I have not experienced myself, but are still closely connected to me. As physical objects, the braids I paint from observation are my own, from when I was about nine years of age. The costumes worn for Armenian women’s dance performances often portray the woman with two long dark braids. These hair extensions read as a symbol for the Armenian female. I learned traditional dances and have seen dance performances throughout my life—expressions of beauty that deeply connect an entire culture. Growing up, I always had two long dark braids, until I reluctantly agreed to have them cut off. I kept them. Today I paint them. I’ve heard and read accounts of the atrocities of the Armenian genocide—philosophers, artists, priests, and teachers were some of the first to go. My father was born in the Armenian Diaspora. He was born while his family was fleeing from their homeland. His father wanted to leave him in the snow, because of the difficulty of traveling on foot with an infant. My grandmother refused and she fed him chewed grass to keep him alive. My grandfather was a guerilla fighter. He was captured by Turkish soldiers and thrown into prison. Three years later he escaped. It is amazing that he survived, let alone was reunited with his family. There are tragic stories from both sides of my family. I feel compelled to give them a voice—in part for a people that have not healed, in part for myself, and in part for my family that still remembers. I feel the small degrees of separation between the events that occurred during the genocide and myself. I work to give voice to Armenian women—imagery of beauty marginalized and compromised by brutality. Connected-hair, so close to my being; disconnected, my hair. Talin Megherian 2011



Curriculum Vitae

Talin Megherian talinmegherian.com EDUCATION 1980-82 School of Visual Arts, New York, NY, Freshman Foundation, Painting European Honors Program, Rhode Island School of Design, Rome, Italy 1984-85 Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Painting 1985 SOLO EXHIBITIONS Thompson Gallery, Weston, MA, Kiss the Ground 2014 Gallery in the Square, Pittsburgh, PA 1991 SELECTED JURIED EXHIBITIONS 2007 Gallerie Icosahedron, Tribeca, NY, Armenian Student Association 58th Annual Artist’s Ball The Village Quill, Tribeca, NY, 1st Armenian Women’s Art Exhibition 1995 Artspace, New Haven, CT, Splendid Spirit 1989 Woods Gerry Gallery, Providence, RI, 12 x 12, Rhode Island School of Design Alumni The John Slade Ely House, New Haven, CT, New Haven Paint and Clay Club SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS 2014 Armenian Museum and Library of America, Watertown, MA, Kiss the Ground—A New Armenia Part 1 Callahan Center, St. Francis College, Brooklyn, NY, Fractured Landscape Woods Gerry Gallery, Providence, RI, RISD in Rome, European Honors Program 2013 Whistler House Museum, Lowell, MA, Pursuing Justice Through Art: A Multi Cultural Genocide Symposium and Exhibition 2012 The George Gallery, Laguna Beach, CA, Accomplished 2001 Manhattanville College Library, Manhattanville College, Purchase, NY, The Art of Illuminated Manuscript: Medieval to Modern 1999-01 Ernest Simons Building, Port Chester, NY, Annual Open Studios, Artists of Landmark Lofts 2000 Visions Gallery, Troy, NY, Saints and Martyrs: Holy Fools and Perfect Rejects 1996 PS 122 Gallery, New York, NY, Small Works Benefit Raffle, benefit to support Emerging Artists Programs Chappaqua Gallery, Chappaqua, NY, Recent Paintings, Drawings and Boxed Constructions 1995 Artspace, New Haven, CT, Gifts For The 21st Century, Invitational Group Exhibition 120

1995 Gallery In The Square, Pittsburgh, PA, Water, Earth, Clay, Two Person Exhibition 1993-94 Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Johnstown; Wood Street Galleries, Pittsburgh; Foundation For Today’s Art/Nexus, Philadelphia; Sordoni Art Gallery, Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre; State Museum of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts 1991-92 Crafts, Visual Arts and Art Criticism Fellowship Recipients 1994 Transmission Gallery, Glasgow, Scotland, Exquisite Drawing: Lines of Correspondence AWARDS Gloria Fitzgibbons Award, The Greater Pittsburgh Commission for Women, 1992 Pittsburgh, PA, Purchase Award, Juried Competition Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Fellowship in Visual Arts 1991 PUBLICATIONS Artscope Magazine, Quincy, MA, “Kiss The Ground Finding The ‘New’ Armenia,” 2015 Jan/Feb, Vol. 9, No. 6 Laguna Beach Independent, Laguna Beach, CA, “Galleries Gain Two 2012 Newcomers” 2012 Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot, Laguna Beach, CA, “A Woman’s World of Art” Armenian Reporter, New York, NY, ”New York’s First Exhibition of Armenian 2007 Women Artists Opens at a Tribeca Gallery” Armenian Art Cultural Magazine, Yerevan, Armenia, “Armenian Women’s Art Exhibition in New York City,” Vol. 3-4 Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Pittsburgh, PA, “Water Earth Clay Seeks Spirituality” 1995 Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pittsburgh, PA, “Symbolism at the Heart of Artist1995 Couple’s Works” Pennsylvania Council On The Arts 1991-1992 Crafts, Visual Arts & Fellowship 1993 Recipients, Exhibition Catalog, Madelon Sheedy & Mary Hollister, Curators Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 9, (Chosen Artist “To Watch”), “People to 1992 Watch 1992,” Donald Miller, Art Critic COLLECTIONS Armenian Museum of America, Watertown, MA