Jean Kazandjian's Sequences and the Benefits of Relative Renown

Arts & Culture


When the stars align for an artist’s career, the invisible forces of tastemaking conspire to elevate that artist’s status to mythical proportions. While the artist might savor the fame and financial fallout in the short term, a quick rise has a way of setting their style in stone as they become enslaved to the expectations of their adoring fans. For painter Jean Kazandjian, who has spent his career dancing on the periphery of stardom in the art world, maintaining a humble level of relative renown has been a part of his ability to evolve and grow. And with his retrospective “Sequences” exhibit at Chasen Galleries, Kazandjian presents works that demonstrate the broad range of an imagination unshackled from the stagnating constraints of celebrity. 

Kazandjian came up in the art scene of 1960s Paris, exhibiting his work frequently alongside that of Salvador Dali, Hans Bellmer and Giorgio de Chirico. Together, they helped form a new movement in art called nouvelle figuration as a response to abstract impressionism. But, eventually, Kazandjian felt the need to distance himself from the highly competitive art scene. “Many artists come to Paris with the notion of conquest,” he says, “and I wanted to get away from that.” So, as many of his peers rose in prominence and disappeared into obscurity, Kazandjian continued to evolve.

His constant evolution is the reason why, at 82 years old, the work in his “Sequences” exhibit still seems so fresh. The collection includes pieces painted between 1991 and 2018 at his LA studio, where Kazandjian feels most of his great works have been created. It includes decidedly modern-looking work that makes use of two layers. The base layer presents the viewer with a primary object on which to fixate, while a semi-transparent screenprint on the outer edge of the frame introduces an alternate plane of visual information. As the viewer walks by the pieces, the nature of the image changes with their perspective, something Kazandjian felt was an important part of his desire to express the ever-changing nature of life in the fourth dimension. “Human beings, architecture or objects in nature can change because of our attitude and perspective,” says Kazandjian.

The motif of change pervades his more traditional, single-layer paintings as well. Many feature repetitions of images with each iteration altered slightly in color or in form, capturing a sense of reality that is in transition. One piece titled “Landscape” features a surreal representation of what looks like a vast prairie, but unlike most landscape paintings, this one is oriented vertically. A segment of the scene appears faded, and its corresponding essence floats in the sky like a ghostly negative, again capturing a sense of fragmented reality. It all amounts to a collection of work that in many ways mirrors Kazandjian’s constant pursuit of imaginative freedom.  

Kazandjian will be in attendance at Chasen Galleries tomorrow from 1-3 pm, the second of two gallery appearances for his “Sequences” exhibition. The meet-and-greet is open to the public and offers an opportunity to gain insight into the “sequences” that have characterized the constant growth of a master artist’s imagination. 

Pictured: Jean Kazandjian’s ‘Bowing Little Girl,’ painted on giclée with a screenprint in front, highlights the layered reality of his work. Photo courtesy of Chasen Galleries

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