by John Yau
Collaborations between artists are a rara avis, and collaborations between an artist who makes constructions and collages out of a wide range of found materials and one who paints, draws, and makes prints are even more rare. One might say it is a case of apples and oranges or, to bring it closer to home, scissors, found images, and oil paint. Historically, these materials don't go together except, I would argue, in the case of Varujan Boghosian and Paul Resika. I don't know exactly how long these two artists and longtime friends have been collaborating, but it feels like they have been working together for years, for they are as comfortable with each other's strong personality as Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein or Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were during their heyday. At the same time, it should be pointed out that both artists are over seventy, and that they have been working on their own for many decades. For one thinks that collaborations are more likely to be undertaken by artists when they are young. Thus, their age makes these collaborations all the more remarkable, for what comes across is a freshness and insouciance that, were it not for their age, we might call youthful, but, in their case, it would be more apt to say wise.
Despite the different mediums, Boghosian and Resika share certain subjects, ships and the female figure, for example. They are interested in landscape and still-life. But while subject matter and context are places where they are able to meet in their collaborations, I think the deeper and more compelling meeting point is their unshakable belief that love is both mythic and domestic, that it is timeless even as it unfolds in time. For such a belief in love, if it is to be at all convincing, must acknowledge that time rules and shapes its existence, that however long it might be, it is all too brief. In Boghosian's own collages, the bride is a recurring image. She dances, someone neither she nor the viewer can see is embracing her, or her face has been hidden by an eerie veil-like flash of light. Simultaneously self-contained, strong, and vulnerable, she exists in a world that is remote and erotic. It is a place that she defines by her very presence. Similarly, a self-contained, isolated woman is also a recurring subject in Resika's paintings and works on paper. She is seated by the water's edge, with a protective tree on one side and a sailboat and skiff on the other. Together, the tree, its downward turning branches, and the boats form a protective enclosure in which the woman is seated. In another work, she is lying in the grass, beneath a tree. Their images are both conjugal and erotic. But do not think this is all, for one sees in their collaborations a gentle strain of melancholy. And it is this sense of time, and its tragic implications, which adds an emotional complexity to the work, roots it in the world.
On a vibrant orange and red ground, which Resika painted, Boghosian has affixed two images, one of peaches and the other of an insect hovering in the air above. The peaches are not symbols, but things, which is echoed by both their material existence (they are found images) and the insect. For while these peaches might never decay, the insect reminds us that on another level they have already decayed (they are found images, after all, things torn out of their previous context), and that it is the duet of Boghosian and Resika that have brought them back to life. For in cutting out the peaches and insect and attaching it to Resika's richly colored surface, Boghosian makes a work that acknowledges both time's effect (the cutout images evoke loss) and time's passage (the insect is approaching the fruit).
At the same time, by cutting out or tearing an image from its original context, Boghosian recognizes the central roles that destruction and time play in his work. He must literally destroy something in order to create something new. But, as in their collaborations, the destruction must be generative; it must create the new out of what is there, as well as redefine the world in which it is placed. Thus, in some works Boghosian adds to what is there, and in others it is Resika who adds to what is there. The collaboration is a two way street, a matter of give and take.
The torn edges one sees in many of the collaged elements reinforces the melancholy, endowing the work with a sense of irreparable loss and recognition of lost worlds. In his collage, “In The Lagoon,” the torn edges reveal a layer that has been previously hidden by another; this juxtaposition helps define time as a matter of accretion and covering over. History and time are seen as layers of wallpaper, and all that that implies. Here, Boghosian defines himself as an archaeologist.
In his collage, “Harem,” a large brightly colored image of a bird peers into a black-and-white interior. The discrepancy between the bird's large head and the diminutive individuals transports the work into dream-like realm, at once mysterious and sad. Are the bird, and its ability to fly, the collective dream of the harem's inhabitants' Or is the harem, its collection of tiny beings, the bird’s dream? This shifting context is also important to those collages in which Boghosian superimposes the negative shape of a bird over a Renaissance portrait, causing the face to become a bird perched on a branch. The viewer can detect that the bird's body was originally a face, but the transformation conveys an air of wistfulness. What is it that the bird, and, by extension, we are yearning for? And in the collages where an eye floats above a scene, who is looking back at us from across time?
More often than not, Resika's use of highly saturated colors offsets Boghosian's melancholy without denying or covering it over. These men know that joy and sadness arc inextricable. And yet, Resika doesn't always use saturated color. In his views of Venice, the predominant colors are grays, browns and a green that evokes both the canals and aged bronze. His compositions convey the feeling of being in a labyrinth and having only cropped views of what is directly in front of you. One of Resika's strengths is that he makes the viewer conscious of where he or she is standing when looking at his work; the compositions imply the presence of a witness.
The purple Resika uses in the collaboration, “Titanic,” evokes both the cold and dark. Placed at the top of the vertically oriented sheet, Boghosian's collage element is a ship made up of tiny rectangles, which suggests a structural vulnerability. Both in its material fragility and geometric repetition, the paper echoes its tragic, real-life counterpart. Contrary to what the viewer might expect, the collaboration does not show a boat sinking, but a boat sailing blithely toward its destruction. Even when they are not the obvious subjects of their collages, the recognition that destruction and decay are an inherent part of life permeates their work. We see this in their respective still-lives of a pile of fish (the day's catch) or a fish lying forlornly on a green surface. The fish (in gnosticism it is a symbol for the soul) reminds us that dissolution and transformation awaits us all.
What trace do we leave behind? What small thing can we give to the world? It is a question we seldom want to confront, even as it shadows our daily life. This is another place that Boghosian and Resika meet. To be an artist and to ask that question is a humbling experience. It is also a question each of us must address.
In bringing together images and color, cut-out worlds and optical richness, Boghosian and Resika rescue all sorts of detritus. Their rescue mission includes brides, doomed ships, arcadian domesticity, Renaissance portraits, and birds.
As particular as each artist is in his own work, and they are very particular and even iconoclastic, what makes these collaborations successful is that they were made by a third person, who is part Resika and part Boghosian, and has a mind all his own.
Varujan Boghosian and Paul Resika: Works on Paper
February 16, 2006 - March 25, 2006