The Art of Sevan Melikyan
by Andrew Marton
The art of Sevan Melikyan is one of reduction, of a clean yet sensually realized abstraction distilled from a panoply of aesthetic influences. One need only look at the numerous ports of call or stamps in Melikyan's literal and spiritual passport, to understand the multi-layered nature of his art.
His past hovers somewhere in all his present work. From the storied traditions of rug and textile weaving of his native Turkey, Melikyan derived a sense of the geometric power born of the assiduous braiding of assertive verticals and horizontals.
The tiled mosaics that abound in Istanbul's museums and religious edifices demonstrated to the young Melikyan a sense of how the rigid placement of stone, with only minute variation, could yield a shimmering work bristling with possibility.
Paris, and more specifically that city's wealth of works by Leger, Modigliani, Matisse and Picasso would act as a crucial siren to Melikyan's early artistic muse. A teen-age Melikyan would literally commune for many evening hours in front of his favorite works by this coterie of post-impressionists and expressionist masters. Their works would spur Melikyan to cultivate an early realist style in a number of miniature pieces (often based on his photographs) always given away as gifts to friends.
If the works of Picasso and Matisse planted the initial seeds in Melikyan's style of the power of astringent abstraction, it would be the works of Joseph Albers, Sean Scully, and Ellsworth Kelly - all painters Melikyan discovered for the first time when he moved to Texas - that would steer him towards the artistic domain he currently inhabits. These modern, abstract-expressionists gave Melikyan the license, if not the outright legitimate permission, to throw himself completely into what is now his trademark style of a personalized abstraction which trembles with minimalist seduction.
Enter the computer and one has a crucial ingredient in Melikyan's artistic laboratory. Already a gifted computer graphics artist, Melikyan began to manipulate on screen the basic visual elements found in such favored works as Leger's Three Musicians or Henri Rousseau's The Dream. The result of Melikyan's re-casting of both grand works was abstractions that both existed on their own and suggesting the themes that peeped out of the classic originals. Melikyan then took the crucial next step of converting to canvas what he had first incubated on screen.
"When I brought the two together, the computer and the original work by Leger, it really was an act of love, a very positive and happy act to give birth to a new picture and this process of minimizing," Melikyan now says of one of his earliest pieces. The highly finished quality of Melikyan's paintings is all the more remarkable considering that he has never had any formal training as a painter. Instead, he seized upon the highly expressive color palette, bordered by a matrix of almost sculpted lines, of such artists as Kelly, Albers, Indiana, in order to carve out his own path of visual expression.
In the world of a Melikyan painting, characters radiate a gamut of personality from bland to captivating, all through Melikyan's choice of color tonality drawn from an enormous spectrum. The resulting cavalcade of protagonists has both all the obvious qualities of a flesh and blood character, along with all its indeterminate mystery.
"The process of reduction allows me to focus on what I find essential in my subjects," says Melikyan, "revealing mysteries in color, composition and sometimes even content. I want to establish a direct communication with the viewer, hoping to generate the kind of amazement that only simplicity can." Melikyan says.
Sevan Melikyan was born to Armenian parents in Istanbul in 1965. He moved to Paris at the age of 9 and stayed in France until age 26, earning a degree in marketing from the University of Dauphine. He spent six years in New York City, directing a program devoted to the promotion and presentation of artists of Armenian descent. From 1997 to 2009, he lived in Fort Worth, Texas where Melikyan was the marketing director for the Van Cliburn Foundation. He now makes his home in High Falls, New York, a small village nested in the beautiful Hudson Valley.