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ART : East-West Perspective : Middle Eastern roots help shape the differing attitudes and works of two Armenian artists. Their sculptures and paintings are on display in Glendale.

October 23, 1992|NANCY KAPITANOFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for The Times.

We know from the title of the exhibit at Glendale's Brand Library Art Galleries--"Armenian Artists Living in Southern California"--that sculptor Ani Kupelian and painter Seta Injeyan are of Armenian descent, and that they live nearby. In Glendale alone, there are 45,000 Armenians, representing about one-quarter of the city's population.

But these women share more than their Armenian heritage and area of residence. Both artists were born and grew up in the Middle East--Kupelian in Lebanon, Injeyan in Syria--which has had as much or more to do with shaping their differing attitudes and art than their ancestry.

Kupelian, 44, has been living in Los Angeles since 1976, a year and a half after the civil war started in Lebanon. She has become an American citizen.

She builds large, public monuments--to the Western and Eastern cultures that have influenced her life, to women, to war, to walls, and to taking them down.

"Walls are very important," Kupelian said. "The Berlin Wall, the Great Wall in China, walls between people, thoughts, ideas, men and women--they separate.

"We can take them down. My work--all the constructions, welding--is work usually done by men until now. This is another wall I took down, but not with difficulty, because it's feasible. If I can do it, any woman can."

"Anahid," her commemoration of the goddess of fertility, depicts a fractured female image.

"Every symbol and idea in it has a dual meaning," she said. "If I make a monument to a woman, it doesn't mean she is the best thing in the world. My work is multidimensional, and different parts in it have multiple readings."

The fiberglass, aluminum and wood "Color" presents four vertical banners. Green represents the Islamic countries; blue symbolizes the Jewish flag. White is associated with people of Christian belief and red with China or the sun in the Japanese flag.

"Most religions have the same sources," she said. "I don't know why people are fighting over religion and doing all this separation. People are all the same."

"Soldier," Kupelian's monument to war, juts into the air with rifle-like representations. The black, abstract figure stands on a pedestal painted the colors of "Color." Here, white encompasses the green, blue and red. A square railing surrounding the whole piece highlights the sculpture and, Kupelian said, gives people something to lean against while they reflect upon the work.

Monuments "don't have to be for power or for a hero," Kupelian said. Her work, "Monument," memorializes her mattress. "When you lose your mattress, it's terrible," she said.

"Every monument of power is a monument of death. While every tombstone, every sarcophagus is a powerful reminder of the existence of man upon the Earth."

Seta Injeyan, who came to Los Angeles in 1971 and who also became an American citizen, is focused on a dialogue between the inner self and the physical world. For her, the freeway establishes a link between "the hints and urges of the inner self and tangible reality," Injeyan said.

"When I was in Syria, I was in love with the States. I wanted the opportunity to develop myself as a human being, and I could not do that in Syria. America says, 'Here is the road, and it's a freeway. Take it; it's your responsibility.' It offers you the opportunities."

Last year, Injeyan, 46, completed a series of paintings that incorporated her visions of Mt. Ararat--a mountain in Armenia that is a universal symbol of renewal--into Los Angeles freeway landscapes. Exit signs from her freeways lead viewers to "Ararat Avenue in North Hollywood," and to a "Road Not Taken 3/4 Mile." Injeyan has never seen the actual mountain.

"I work from my unconscious," she said. "Ararat came unconsciously on my canvas. It is the only time I've had an experience of getting in touch with my Armenian roots in my art."

From those paintings evolved the "Dynamo Road Series." Injeyan has inserted her color photographs of car-filled freeways under construction--some of them enhanced with a painted vision of Mount Ararat--into her vibrant, expressionistic canvases.

It is the painted canvas that represents the inner self, that infuses the road with its energy. But it is the road that takes the viewer into the spiritual dimension, she said.

"The physical road and the inner road have a polarity," she said. "There is a parallel in the interaction of the photograph and the painted canvas. Time and space lose their conventional meaning. That's why Ararat is in the middle of American landscapes," she said. "It makes sense. It's possible."

Where and When

Exhibit: "Armenian Artists Living in Southern California."

Location: Brand Library Art Galleries, 1601 W. Mountain St., Glendale.

Hours: 12:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 12:30 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, through Nov. 3.

Call: (818) 548-2050.

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