- Special Pages
By Isabel Ovalle
When art runs in the family, its call is difficult to ignore. For the Guiragossians, the call of art was twice as powerful, given that both, Lebanese Armenian painter Paul Guiragossian (1926-1993) and his wife, came from artistic families. They were the seeds of a creative clan whose members, decades after the death of the patriarch, are bolstering his legacy with their own work.
Paul Guiragossian produced approximately 5,000 oil paintings, which will soon be catalogued. Four of these pieces, painted in 1980, 1985 and 1987, are part of an exhibit, titled ‘The Family’, at Anima Gallery in The Pearl. The event is the first to bring Guiragossian’s work to Qatar and to feature the work of his two sons, Emmanuel and Jean Paul, and his daughter Manuella.
The life and work of the family have been shaped by migration, war and genocide, which forced the Guiragossians out of Armenia. Paul was always interested in themes that reflected the everyday life of the common man, as well as his own life and environment. Poverty is also a recurring theme in his work.
Paul Guiragossian, who was from the fifth generation of a family of artists, musicians, iconographers and painters, was the first artist to hold a solo exhibition in Beirut.
His son Emmanuel, born in 1954, was the first to follow in his father footsteps and took up studies at the Academie des Beaux-Arts de Paris in 1972. He continued his studies at other prestigious European institutions, and later began working with his father. He organised his shows and founded a publishing house, Emmagoss, which produced a book on his father’s work in 1983.
Emmanuel, who lives in Berlin and has a son studying art in London, reminisced about his childhood, when his grandmother told him stories about the Armenian genocide and the two World Wars. “This had a strong impact on my work, marked by tragedy from very early on,” he said.
Jean Paul revealed that at first none of them were open to the idea of having a joint exhibition. However, Ghada, the curator of Anima Gallery, approached them in Beirut and chose paintings for the show in such a way that they wouldn’t compete with each other.
“Our works compete with each other very strongly. It was very hard to choose the paintings, but Ghada selected pieces that not only would not compete against each other but would also help each other be seen better,” said Jean Paul.
“We grew up in a studio with our father; he taught us everything. If you have talent, you learn from whatever is around you,” he added.
Emmanuel, the firstborn child of Paul and his wife Juliette, recalled how his childhood revolved around his father’s studio. “We’re a family who worked together in a big house, and now we gather in Lebanon. Even though each of us lives in a different country, we always come back and meet my mother.”
The family also protects Paul Guiragossian paintings, organises exhibitions and does restoration work. “We grew up like this, as a family which didn’t know anything else,” he continued.
All the Guiragossians are into their own activities, but they still work together and, for the first time, considered holding an exhibition that included the whole clan.
“The idea of Anima Gallery was to bring us together and I thought it would be difficult, to the point that when Ghada came to our study, I was not very convinced, because everyone has their own style. But it worked since the paintings were chosen well,” said Emmanuel.
The 17 paintings in the exhibition all feature the human element with different points of view. For instance, Jean Paul reflects on women and the way they are treated, while his brother and sister have different approaches to a blank canvas.
The family, even though geographically separated, meets in Lebanon during holidays and stays connected through the internet. Their children, Paul Guiragossian’s grandchildren, are also taking to art.
The twentieth anniversary of the patriarch’s passing away will fall this year. Almost coinciding with the date, the Guiragossian Foundation was established last year to protect his works, do research and gather images and paintings from all over the world in order to compile a catalogue of all his works.
“It’s a big challenge, because every day a new painting emerges in somebody’s collection,” said Manuella.
Emmanuel published a book in 1981 of a selection of his father’s work, and is working on the second volume, which will cover the final ten years of his life, from 1983 to 1993.The Peninsula