Figure painter Michael Ananian at List

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Yesterday, March 8, Michael Ananian opened his exhibit at the List with a lecture in LPAC discussing his work and influences. “Two Voices,” his show, will be exhibiting through April 7.

Ananian works in a number of mediums to paint and draw the figure with a special focus on narratives. A great fan of the tradition of late Gothic figurative art, much of his work can be “read” with symbolism, allegory, and complex visual storytelling. The List exhibit includes a running narrative of pieces that tell the story of a couple who meet one another.

Each piece of the series is a diptych, depicting both the man and the woman, separated by a ribbon which serves not only as a divider but as a “barometer,” as Ananias puts it, of the figure’s internal state. An especially nice illustration of this is “Arriving,” the last in the series, where the two characters are about to meet and the ribbon leaps and loops in an anxious, excited style.

Ananian’s figures are intriguing in their use of nonclassical proportions, deviating from the traditional realist method of a proportional map where the head is roughly one seventh of the body. Ananias’ figures follow something similar to a Gothic model, where the body is roughly five and a half heads in length. Despite this twist in this ‘rule’ of proportion, his images read realistically and often with intensified emotional detail possibly as a result of this change.

In other narrative series of Ananian, his work will contain recurring characters, such as one series focussing on twins, one of whom represents Industry and the other Idleness. Through his narratives, Ananias portrays the contrasting worlds of each, making subtle suggestions regarding the unfortunate condition of Idleness and questioning the moral integrity of Industry.

Of particular interest to those curious about Ananian’s process are the side by side arrangements of both casein and charcoal interpretations of the same subject, such as “Too Much Fun.” A constant in all of Ananian’s pieces, whether intensely carved through charcoal or briskly colored in casein, is the beautiful use of light to create full, three dimensional images, and often casting complex shadows that pattern against surfaces in the image. This can be observed in all its richly colored glory in pieces like “Roses Ever Blooming” one of Ananian’s two still lifes in the List.

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