Garabedian embraced grand themes in his idiosyncratic and compelling body of work. Inspired by Armenian manuscripts, Biblical stories, and the epic poetry of ancient Greece, his iconoclastic approach to figuration breathes vibrant, pulsating life into these old tales. His works are populated with warriors and gods, bathing beauties and epic journeys. Abstractions lie unsettlingly at the edge of recognition, seeming to take on the unknowable logic of Olympus.
A hallmark of Garabedian’s style is his Mannerist approach to the body. Twisted and elongated figures lounge, bend, and stretch across his compositions. That nearly all of his figures from this period are nude reinforces a feeling of otherworldliness. He treats the body as something malleable, something that can be distorted or even truncated. For example, the painting Man in the Brick Wall features a fleeing figure, a brick bust, and a torso with legs but no upper half.
Most of the works are on paper, a material the artist embraced for its flexibility and fluidity. As his concepts developed Garabedian affixed additional sheets to the original page in order to achieve his desired composition. This expansive narrative approach may be seen in works such as You Should have Looked at Me and Outside the Gates, and led to marked vertical and horizontal formatting which is evidenced too in the rare multi-canvas mural-scale painting Willie Snake. According to Garabedian, “I find the paper more liberating, it’s not as formal a concept. I like to think of it as more of a physical experience.”
See Betty Cuningham Gallery's presentation of Charles Garabedian: Outside the Gates here.
Charles Garabedian came to painting at age 32, and was almost 40 before he had his first solo exhibition. His career as an artist followed his service as a Staff Sergeant and gunner during World War II, during which he flew 30 missions in Europe. He subsequently worked for the tire company B.F. Goodrich, assembling cars for Chrysler, and as a clerk for the railroad. Garabedian studied literature and history at USC, and, encouraged by his friend Ed Moses, he took art classes with Howard Warshaw, which led him to UCLA. Upon graduating with an MA in 1961, he stayed on to teach at the university and would teach at several established art institutions throughout the 1960s, '70s, and '80s.
In 1962, Garabedian began showing with the Ceeje Gallery in Los Angeles. He had his first solo museum exhibition in 1966 at the La Jolla Museum of Art, and his first retrospective at California State University Northridge in 1974. In 1978, Marcia Tucker included Garabedian's work in the exhibition "Bad" Painting at the New Museum in New York, which she had founded just a year prior. Numerous solo and group gallery and museum shows followed, and culminated in a survey exhibition curated by Julie Joyce at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in 2011, which drew widespread critical acclaim.
L.A. Louver has represented Charles Garabedian since 1979. Betty Cuningham began working with Garabedian in 1982, and Betty Cuningham Gallery has represented the artist since 2004.