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Ruben Baghdasaryan | Blue Bonds

March 12 - April 20, 2024

New York, 2024 – Atamian Hovsepian Curatorial Practice is pleased to present Blue Bonds, a stunning series of oil on canvas portraits by Los Angeles-based artist Ruben Baghdasaryan. Small in size—they all range from 11 by 14 inches down to 9 by 12 inches—these portraits of young Angelenos and New Yorkers hint at a rich and sometimes mysterious inner life. This tension between surface appearance and underlying psychology recurs throughout.

The mosaic of portraits presented here alternates between face portraiture and semi-nude pictures of body parts, some overtly homoerotic. Some smile mischievously at the viewer, while others remain distant and wary, cloaked in fashionable mystery.  Who are these models? They are mainly friends, chosen family members whom Baghdasaryan knows intimately, while others are acquaintances, people in passing. Born in Armenia, Baghdasaryan already occupies an enviable spot as one of the leading sketch artists in the fashion industry on both coasts.

The blue portraits at hand remind one of great twentieth century artists such as Picasso, Modigliani, and Matisse, who also favored the color blue for certain periods in their respective careers. To compare a young artist to Picasso involves no small amount of writerly hubris, but Baghdasaryan displays the same facility with both line and expression, as well as the ability to use geometry to advantage, as did the great masters of modern art. Baghdasarayan’s particular hue of blue contains large amounts of green and hints of white that suggest  alienation and lend his portraits their slightly otherworldly edge. These include:  Home Is a Person, What Does He Have On You?, The Dancer, and Thank You For the Conversations.

 

The title chosen for the current exhibition is easily deconstructed. Apart from the aforementioned blue periods attributed to other artists, blue also refers to feeling blue or depressed. And the portraits were in fact all painted in 2023, a year in which Baghdasaryan traversed a difficult period of illness. Blue is also a coded reference in certain cultures to being queer, as in “blue boy” or the Russian slang word “goluboy.” If there is such a thing as a “queer aesthetic” than Baghhdasaryan has it in spades—the subjects are remarkably intense, and somehow different. As if to make sure that the viewer understands this explicitly, Baghsasaryan writes “Friend of Dorothy” across the face of the eponymous filmic heroine, referring back to the coded expression for gay men taken from the name of the lead character in The Wizard of Oz.

 

The second word in the title, “bonds” apart from mere friendship, refers to the ties that develop between artist and subject, whether this involves live portraiture or work done from a digital or printed image. If we are to take a cue from the body of work being presented at Atamian Hovsepian Curatorial Practice, Baghdasaryan is famously popular. Bonds of course are not just formed between people at a surface level, but also at the somatic and subatomic level: ionic bonds, the bonds no doubt also found in energy fields that people also possess. 

 

Many of Baghdasaryan’s subjects are depicted smiling: Time Sensitive, Chloe After Dinner, Who Were Born in May, June, or July. They  are fashionable, young people ready to conquer the world. As such they possess an undeniable movie star quality that links Baghdasaryan to two other gay fashionista painters of note--Warhol and Hockney. Interestingly, however, Baghdasaryan doesn’t portray any of his subjects whole. Some display only visages: You Can Have It All, But Not at the Same Times. Others reveal parts of legs and crotch as in After Stretch, yet others reclining boys at rest or asleep: Falling Back Into My Patterns. In several paintings, the men and women presented wear glasses so that you cannot see their eyes—the so-called mirrors to the soul—adding a glamorous flair of the unexpected or mysterious. And in a few of his more whimsical titles Baghdasaryan hints that there is more to the people portrayed than meets the eye, as in the entrancing The Boy That’s Got Something to Hide.  Which boy doesn’t? Baghdasaryan paints in a long American tradition of queer artistic representations going back to Paul Cadmus, Jared French (PaJaMa) and George Tooker. Barely 29 years old and already a rising star in the world of fashion, Baghdasaryan is poised to become a player on the global art scene.

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