Born in Jerusalem in 1926 to Armenian parents who survived the 1915 Armenian Genocide, the late Paul Guiragossian is renowned in the Middle East for expressive paintings and drawings which explored colour composition, form and abstraction. Guiragossian and his family migrated to Jaffa and eventually to Beirut by boat in the years leading up to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. His works reflected heavily on themes of Palestinian exile, collective struggles, kinship and representations of the mother. He began to make a name for himself in the 1950s whilst living and working in Beirut before travelling to Italy and France where his reputation spread in the West as well. In trying to develop his own artistic language, as collector of his work and the UAE’s Minister of State, H.E. M. Zaki Nusseibeh observes, ” He was distinct from the clichéd imagery of his generation, abstract or calligraphic, Guiragossian represented a new style of modern contemporary Arab art and he was not afraid to experiment with subject and style, both figurative and abstract meaning he much admired by his generation of like-minded artists.”
His focus on the recurring ‘Madonna-figure’ draws directly from his biography as the son of the single mother but extends as a wider reverence to the roles of women as virtuous caretakers at the cornerstone of every kind of society. In Madonna and Child (1957), thick pastels of orange, green, red and blue created a backdrop for the large central mother and child figures which recall sacred religious paintings or indeed a stained-glass window. The influence of religious iconography was a result being placed with Salesian priests of Don Bosco in Palestine between the age of eight and eleven where he was able to develop this interest. Le Centre Du Monde (1983) on the other hand, is his most recognisable for its lack of vibrancy, a more solemn painting in black and white hues that captures that even the most blessed motherhood, can also be one of sorrow and anguish.
Testimonies of Existence will be on view until 28 April 2018 and features paintings from the 1960s to the early 1990s with elements drawn from the foundation’s archive that document Guiragossian life and prolific career. The exhibition is curated by Maisa Al Qassimi with Mandy Merzaban as curatorial advisor, and in collaboration with the Paul Guiragossian Foundation and its president Manuella Guiragossian, daughter of the late artist.
Featured image: Famille 1962, Private collection of Mr. Said Abou Samra © Courtesy of Paul Guiragossian Foundation.