Thanks Dad: Exploring Artistic Lineage - 6/16/14

Today’s blog post comes from Sharifa Lookman, an undergraduate student in Art History at Wesleyan University and summer intern at the New Mexico Museum of Art.

As another father’s day came and went this year I began thinking about heredity and the parts of myself that I possess thanks to my paternity: dark eyes, large teeth, and short stature. But these things are all superficial and scientifically determined through genetics. What about skills and passion? There is no punnet square that dictates the probability of having a child devoid of any artistic affinity over one likened to Michelangelo. Artistic skill is not a biologically founded phenomenon, and instead concerns the attainment of skill through one’s nurture. This is why there are frequently artistic families where both parents are artists and subsequently influenced their offspring to pursue art by sharing their passion and technical skill. Historically this is seen in the father-son relationships of John Constable and Lionel Constable as well as Paul Gauguin and Emile Gauguin. What I find most fascinating is exactly how artistic paternity affects the offspring: in some ways the child seeks to defy all paternal influences, and yet in others there is an attempt to mimic. One example rooted in the New Mexico art scene is seen in the artists Paul and Peter Sarkisian, father and son respectively. They are antithetical in medium, however the paternal influence is striking in style and subject matter, thus emphasizing the inherent influence that parents have over their offspring.
Paul Sarkisian’s style evolved immensely throughout his artistic career, from pure abstraction to more representational imagery. For the purposes of this discussion I am going to focus on his more figurative work that can best be described as surreal. One series of his involves large scale, photorealist paintings that depict monochromatic storefronts. One exemplary work from this series is Untitled (Santa Barbara). These murals are composed of hundreds of photos that were projected onto the panel in the form of a photomontage. These large-scale pieces are described as being photo-realist and so realistic in form that one could almost walk into it believing that it were real. However, the gray toned monochromatism shatters the illusion, as does the obsessive tendency towards realism. This mimesis borders on hyperrealism and surrealism because, from the straight lines and precise shading, the objects become flat, abstract, and peculiarly out of place. It becomes an illusionary trick of the eye. Sarkisian also embraced surrealism and illusionary collage, with the addition of color, in his figurative works. This can be seen in the work Untitled (Phil Hefferton). He is exploring the classical figurative style with an abstract collage aesthetic. This style diverges from his photorealist murals because they are not attempting to mimic reality. The goal, rather, is to create an imaginary world full of color with a disregard for gravity and proportion.
Paul Sarkisian
Untitled (Phil Hefferton), 1967-68
Acrylic on cotton canvas. 129 x 116
Paul Sarkisian
Untitled (Santa Barbara), 1970
Acrylic on canvas
110 x 191

Paul’s work was innovative for the time, however it also recalls historic nudes that are evocative of Western Classicism. His son, Peter, a product of an entirely different time, lacks these references and instead incorporates technology into his work. His work is both fine art and digital art and is somewhat unclassifiable. In contrast to the work of his father, his works, while not small, are not extensive in size. In the modest piece, Ink Blot, a miniature man is escaping from an inkwell. His pieces are part sculpture and part digital projection. It is difficult for the viewer to differentiate between the two mediums, however, and thus, like his father, he is creating an illusion. Like Untitled (Phil Hefferton), it is a fictive world. The illusionary aspect of Peter Sarkisian’s work is more likened to Untitled (Phil Hefferton) than Untitled (Santa Barbara), because it is not attempting to replicate reality. Peter’s work addresses more social issues than that of Paul. Paul’s work stems from the imagination with less of the political and social agenda used by Peter. In Peter’s Registered Driver, a projection of video footage of a man driving recklessly throughout the city in the window of a freestanding car door, Peter quotes the destructive nature of video games on youth.

Peter Sarkisian
Ink Blot, 2011
Power coated steal and aluminum, found ink bottle, tinted polymer resin, notepad, video projection, audio (mixed media)
26 x 16 x 13 inches

Peter Sarkisian
Registered Driver, 2010
Molded fiberglass, steel, clear polycarbonate, vellum, video projection, audio, 47 x 169 x 8 inches
Peter and Paul explore different styles and aesthetics: the elder Sarkisian is rooted in manipulations of historical artistic styles while Peter explores the new wave of technological art, and yet they land on very similar themes. Within artistic families there is definitely skill that is translated, not through a biological foundation, but by nurture and influence of a parent to a child. This paternal influence of passion and skill is something that you don’t just find in the arts, but in any discipline. Using art as a case study, it can be concluded that, try as we might, we can’t escape the influence of our fathers. And maybe, despite how much we scream, fight, and kick in opposition of our parents, they are a huge part of us, both physically and mentally. Our individuality make us unique, and yet who we are and what we do, regardless of whether or not we pursue their same career and passion, is influenced greatly by those who brought us into the world.


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