Artist Profile: Talar Aghbashian

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In a new commission of six paintings, the Lebanese-Armenian painter Talar Aghbashian has re-interpreted the classical mythology that informs Dido and Aeneas. Where other artists in the exhibition focus on experiences of Heartbreak that are rooted in place, Aghbashian’s paintings are notably atemporal. Their representations of loss and ruin are not fixed by time, but are timeless because of their allegorical quality.

Aghbashian’s work is characteristically gestural. Each of the acrylic paintings directly references the composition of landscapes, however Aghbashian does not necessarily populate the scenes with natural imagery. Instead, she accumulates different symbols that transcend time. For example, a large structure holds the focal point of Ancient as the Hills - it is painted in enough detail to suggest a totem, a tree or a sphinx-like statue, but not enough detail to identify it firmly as any. The titles of the series are also telling; nouns which should indicate fixed objects instead take on mythic proportions, as in Golden branch in a Dark Tree.

Through these symbols, Aghbashian investigates the devastation of the land that comes from war. The physicality of the paint’s application charges the works, adding depth to a mass of blues and grey. This limited colour palette refocuses attention on the densely layered surface of the paintings. The movement that she works into her style of painting is present again in the treatment of her subjects that are ‘Disappearing’ and ‘Veering’ out of view.  

The creation of her paintings involves a lengthy research process in which an array of source images are gathered, and then recast as part of an imaginary landscape. For this commission, Aghbashian’s reference photos took in a range of inspiration from classical statues to contemporary wrestling footage. An image such as an early modern sketch by Dutch artist Abraham Bloemaert sits alongside a terracotta statue from Pompeii as the inspiration for Veering away South. This eclecticism is possible because of Aghbashian’s ability to render her subjects abstractly, and then assimilate them in a new composition.

Talar Aghbashian (b. 1981, Beirut) lives and works in London. She graduated with a BA from the Lebanese University in 2003 and studied at Central Saint Martins in London graduating with an MA in 2008. She went on to study at Birkbeck, University of London between 2009 and 2010 to study Arts Curation. Aghbashian worked as a curator at the Natural History Museum and the V&A Museum London between 2009 and 2010. Her recent solo exhibitions include Carbon 12, Dubai (2015) and Marfa’ Projects, Beirut (2018). She has been part of group exhibitions at Mall Galleries, London (2012), Turps Gallery, London (2016) and Walker Art Gallery as part of the Liverpool Biennial (2016). In 2016 Aghbashian was a recipient of the John Moores Painting Prize.

Talar Aghbashian,  Ancient as the Hills , (2019), image courtesy of the artist and RUYA MAPS

Talar Aghbashian, Ancient as the Hills, (2019), image courtesy of the artist and RUYA MAPS

Each of the acrylic paintings directly references the composition of landscapes, however Aghbashian does not necessarily populate the scenes with natural imagery
Image source for  Ancient as the Hills , Human-headed winged Sphinx panel, Phoenician, Fort Shalmaneser, 900-700BC. Image credit: British Museum Images.

Image source for Ancient as the Hills, Human-headed winged Sphinx panel, Phoenician, Fort Shalmaneser, 900-700BC. Image credit: British Museum Images.