Meem Gallery’s current exhibition showcases the work of a masterful artist whose work occupies a special place in the history of Arab culture.
The seventh instalment in a series of exhibitions exploring printmaking in the Arab world is dedicated to the work of Lebanese-Armenian artist, Assadour Bezdikian – known professionally by his first name alone.
Entitled Assadour: Etchings, the show presents 15 works spanning nearly five decades of the artist’s career, revealing not only his dedication and mastery over printmaking and engraving, but also a unique voice with universal appeal.
“Assadour is regarded as one of the master printmakers in the Arab world,” Shad Abdulkarim, Meem Gallery’s deputy manager tells The National.
“What sets him apart is we have very few Arab printmakers in this region. His body of work is primarily focused on printmaking and etchings. While he’s done paintings, what he’s most known for is his print work.”
The 15 works on display, spanning 1976 to 2017, each offer intricate windows into the mind of a meticulous and expansive storyteller.
Assadour was born in Beirut to an Armenian family in 1943. He grew up in the suburbs of Bourj Hammoud; a diverse, culturally rich environment where he was exposed to a number of artistic styles and attitudes.
At 18, Assadour studied engraving and painting at the Pietro Vannucci Academy in Perugia, Italy. While there he also visited Florence and San Gimignano and studied the works of Giotto di Bondone, Paolo Uccello and Cenni di Pepo, also known as Cimabue – Italian Renaissance masters whose distinct perspectives and styles left a mark on him.
In 1964, he received a three-year scholarship from the Lebanese Ministry of Culture to study at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He went on to win a number of awards and be inducted into esteemed French art organisations including the Salon de Mai de Paris, La Jeune Gravure Contemporaine and Les Peintres-Graveurs Francais.
Assadour’s early exposure to a number of different communities and art practices eventually found its way into his own work, which seamlessly blends varying ideas and styles into one plane.
Through thoughtful intricate layering, coupled with the use of universally recognisable symbols and pictorial elements, Assadour's work deconstructs reality and builds a distinct imaginary world that explores themes such as identity, loss, memory, loneliness and the human experience.
“Assadour looked into his own universe and sculpted his own world,” Abdulkarim says.
“The ideas behind some of his work look into his heritage coming from an Arab-Armenian background. Some of the struggles and plights of the Armenian people and the Arabs are included in the works.”
Assadour’s work is instantly recognisable. While his style has evolved over the years, seeing a wide range of his pieces in one space strikes viewers with the clarity of his voice.
His colour palette, his delicate yet bold use of lines, his skill and perspective have remained steady throughout.
There is the combination of abstract features infused with elements of cubism and even a surrealist sensibility. But it is a voice completely his own. Geometric, balanced compositions are full of space but also packed with detailed shading, graphic lines and delicate renditions of light and shadow.
Multitudes of stories jump out at the viewer. A house drawn in the distance, stylised figures walk and float over crescent shapes and look up at perfect circles, or gaze at the viewer with one unblinking eye.
Fragmented landscapes, maps and details of cracked earth are super imposed with floating letters, numbers, arrows and shapes – each within their own physical planes, but somehow existing simultaneously, through multiple perspectives.
“Assadour says he has an obsession with time and its passage,” Abdulkarim adds.
“Through his regular motifs like the crescent or the triangle, he's establishing this time frame in which he tackles certain subjects. Whether it's alienation from society or his own personal traumas, he is, in a sense, barricading from the audience, making it more difficult to read into, or adding layers to the complex making of his universe.”
It is an incredibly difficult task for an artist to combine so much so finely. And yet it seems effortless for Assadour.
“I would invite audiences to see Assadour's work because you're looking at an artist of Arab descent who comes from a marginalised background and the Armenian community,” Abdulkarim says.
“You have a prominent Arab artist whose works, I feel, are still not largely appreciated and who makes art that speaks to both international and regional audiences.”
Assadour: Etchings will be on show at Meem Gallery until September 9