Hailing from a famous artistic lineage, the young Paul Guiragossian is carving his very own niche on a familiar stage
Despite his impressive artistic heritage, Paul Guiragossian admits that it was viewing paintings by some of the old masters, rather than the influence of his family, that prompted him to consider art as a career.
The artist, who paints under the name Paul Gossian, explains that until then, drawing was something he did “just for fun”. “I never saw myself as a future painter,” he confesses. “It wasn’t until I reached the age of 16 and visited an art museum for the first time that I decided to become a serious artist.”
Seeing the work of all-time greats, such as Rubens, Goya, Tintoretto, Velazquez and Tiepolo up close, was enough to convince Gossian that he wanted to take his art to another level.
Today, the influence of the masters remains as strong as ever, providing both inspiration and subject matter for the Lebanese-Armenian artist. His portraits of Manet and Van Gogh, alongside other works of imaginative figures, monuments and iconic landmarks, depicted with bold, sweeping strokes in vivid colours, are fast becoming talking points, initially at the Beirut Art fair and, most recently, at a first-time solo exhibition in Beirut.
Untitled, 2016, 180 x 140 cm
Born in 1990 into one of Lebanon’s best-known painting dynasties, Gossian studied Fine Arts at Camberwell College of Arts, London, graduating in 2014. He previously lived in Germany, having left Lebanon in 2006.
His decision to sign his art Paul Gossian, to distinguish himself from his namesake and grandfather, the famous Paul Guiragossian, is, surely, significant. I’m interested as to whether Gossian views his heritage as a blessing or a curse as he attempts to carve out his identity on the art scene.
Bonjour Monsieur Manet , 2016, 180 x 140 cm
Gossian is both pragmatic and upbeat in his response, describing the experience of growing up in a family of artists as “very helpful”. “I was able to learn things quicker and sooner,” he notes. “But once I decided to become an artist, my second decision was to sign with a different name, and usually on the back of the canvas, so that people wouldn’t recognise me.”
Identity is inevitably a key motif in Gossian’s work, alongside conflict. Fights and struggles permeate his paintings, with his art seen by some critics as a channel for his angst. Gossian acknowledges that theirs might be a fair statement, given that his work represents his view of the state of the world, from a global perspective and, also, his “own world”.
His painting ‘The Duel’ is a prime example. Yet Gossian’s rich and varied roots, both familial and geographical, give him little cause for concern. “Being Lebanese, Armenian and having German citizenship does make things a bit confusing,” he acknowledges. “But I’m happy this way. This is also the reason I’m constantly travelling and changing my address. I don’t necessarily need to identify with one thing. Rather, these aspects combine to influence how I think more broadly.”
Embarking on a journey, be it an artistic one or otherwise, is another theme often explored by Gossian in his pieces, including ‘Abandoned Train’, which featured in the artist’s recent solo exhibition, titled ‘Unconscious Transition’, at Mark Hachem Gallery in Beirut.
In another signature trait, the artwork’s subject is seemingly suspended in time, making it difficult to give it context. The effect is fascinating and intentional. “The actual reference is from a little postcard of an old Lebanese train,” Gossian explains. “I wanted to depict this in my way and turn an old subject into a contemporary one.”
His insight is welcome, since Gossian is the first to admit that he doesn’t usually explain what he’s portraying in his work, preferring, instead, to “enjoy seeing other people explain their interpretations and observing their reactions”.
Baalbak, 2016, 160 x 200 cm
Yet he constantly pushes himself, thinking about how he can paint new subjects. “The experimentation of how things should be painted is crucial,” he says. “Then, finally, come the themes and the stories behind each piece. Whether it’s history related, painted from my memory or just a contemporary subject.”
Gossian is currently visiting museums and galleries while travelling, which, he says is enriching his mind and helping him to accumulate new ideas. The sojourn has also provided a welcome opportunity to recharge his batteries after several months spent preparing for his recent show.
He remains coy about future projects, saying it’s “too early” to discuss upcoming initiatives. “But I hope, for sure, to put together more solo shows and am looking forward to the next steps,” he adds.