Evolution of work
I began painting in college in the late sixties. I was a philosophy major with a developing interest in art. My future bride, Gay Burrarge, was an art student, and my mother, Helen, was an artist so I was familiar with studios. Later I gave the Art Institute of Chicago a brief try. (I exited during lunch on my first day). I spent a year at the Oriental Institute in Middle Eastern Studies but eventually gravitated back to painting. My last flirtation with art education came at the Evanston Art Center. I studied with Paul Wieghardt for a short period. He liked to inquire why I used such small brushes: "Are you going to paint a portrait of the Queen?"
My work through the seventies fluctuated between abstraction and figuration, often combining both elements. Early figuration was simple and bold. Abstraction was all about detail. Initial influences were post impressionists such as Van Gogh, Cezanne, Matisse and Dufy as well as more contemporary artists like Tobey and Hundertwasser.
In 1968 Gay and I were married. We traveled to Europe and spent several months in Tangier. Later that year my father, Joseph Haroutunian, a theologian, died unexpectedly. This was a pivotal year that confirmed my decision to become an artist.
In 1971 we moved from Chicago, via Boston, to Maine. In 1976 a fire destroyed our house, my studio and almost all of my early work. Gay, our 2 year old daughter Maya, and I were lucky to escape alive. An heroic lobster fisherman, Linden Perry, managed to drag several charred paintings from the inferno.
The last several years of the decade were devoted to work that focused on Cadillac Mountain, located in Maine on Mt. Desert Island. An exhibition of this work traveled to a number of venues from Florida to New Brunswick.
In 1980 I must have become nostalgic for my urban roots as I began painting cityscapes, excited by elements of photorealism. I started in Maine with Ellsworth and Bangor and continued with any town or city that offered interesting reflections in storefront windows. My favorite was New York where I would visit my brother, Peter. Unfortunately I did not visit my sister Sophie and her husband Bob Gordon during this period, hence no paintings of my hometown, Chicago. I did make use of Lowell, Lawrence, Worcester, Boston, Santo Domingo, Montreal and other cities. One of these reflection paintings belongs to my dentist, Jim Sparaga in Machias, Maine. I overheard him tell a client (while he was drilling on me) that the artist had painted it in the Caribbean. It actually was based on a reflection with a potted palm in a real estate office window in New Bedford. But I couldn't say anything.
In the early eighties, under the influence of the neo expressionists and needing a change from the reflections, my squares began to develop. These paintings came into existence accidentally when I was trying to erase an element and could not do so. I simply started adding layers. Images developed as the layers increased. The big challenge was to recognize when to stop painting. These works have always reminded me of one of my favorite colorists, Pierre Bonnard.
By 1985 I had had my fill of the squares. The decision making process was too cumbersome. I wanted something simpler and more direct. I started making marks and seeing what would develop. This process has evolved slowly and continues into my current work. I was committed to paintings that had no preconceived subject matter. There was purity to that. But there was still a battle with figuration. Images would emerge during the painting process, requiring a decision as to whether to preserve these or let them become buried in an allover. I wrestled with this issue for many years. I used to make the slow voyage on the Bluenose, a cruise ship which ferried passengers between Bar Harbor Maine and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. The trip helped me clear my mind and I would contemplate this figuration vs. allover battle. Unfortunately, the Bluenose has been replaced by a high speed ferry which transports tourists quickly, but does not serve my creative purposes.
In 1989 I had an abrupt and temporary break from this type of painting. In the fall we took a trip to Russia. Maya was acting onstage there and Gay, Mischa (daughter #2), Budge (Gay's mother) and I joined an accompanying tour. I found myself loving, among other things, areas of crumbling architecture. Shortly after our return I went to work as a model maker for a friend, Doug Trumbull, on a special effects movie/ride he was making for Universal Tours: "Back to the Future, the Ride." My job, for which I had no training and no clue, was to create a massive environment of sculpted cinder pyres for a 12 foot high Tyrannosaurus Rex. My exposure to unusual (and toxic) foams and plastics coupled with the walls of Russia gave birth to the relief paintings.
The reliefs lasted about a year after which I returned to my previous work but now the allovers became "one" color as opposed to the previous multicolored ones. In the mid-nineties a Rothko at MoMA started me thinking about the effect I had noticed and liked when I placed one of my colored fields next to another. It was about five years before I started making use of this concept. It first expressed itself as a form on a field, similar to work in the mid eighties.
In 2000 I did my first painting with geometric offsets. These began with small bars at the edges of fields. They soon grew into a variety of formats. Some are simple: a colored field is juxtaposed to another field the same size of a different color. The majority of them are more complex. The layered ones happen spontaneously with little planning. The ones with vertical bars are based on layered ones that are flipped on their sides. As in my early work, the figure is asserting itself, but now in the form of a bar instead of the bimorphs of the eighties and nineties.
My watercolors are a way of taking notes from the landscape. In the late seventies and early eighties I showed at Cape Split Place. This gallery was run by Norma and John Marin Jr. in the artist's former summer home. Those of us who were fortunate enough to show there will always treasure it. I also spent considerable time photographing Marin's work which left a lasting influence on my painting.
Many of my watercolors were painted at Schoodic Point, a branch of Acadia National Park. This wonderful place has been inspiring artists (including Marin and Marsden Hartley) for generations.