Arslan is a painter and sculptor who understands that through our experiences, we as individuals develop a unique set of tools to process information and the resulting production of thought and or object. In his work, Arslan weaves together a panoptic overture unafraid to touch and express things often mystified by fear induced refusal.
Early on in Spring, I visited Arslan, who professionally has left off his 15 lettered last name for the past 25 years, at his studio in the Upper West Side. Tucked away in a grand prewar luxury concierge building that was once a haven for musicians and artists, his bare-bones space seems out of place and looks unchanged for the past 20 years. He and a few others are holdouts in a New York City landscape that is drastically changing on a daily basis.
Born in Dagestan, the only Stan west of the Caspian Sea, Arslan discovered his love for drawing and painting as a child. From childhood, our experiences layout a diagram of perception which we revisit again and again throughout our stages of development into adulthood. Rather than these tools creating separation or duality within and perceptively, they are simply what creates our individual signature upon the human experience. Some signatures are everlasting while others fade.
From a landscape of his childhood home in the Caucasus Mountains, between the Caspian and Black Seas, to a portrait of a woman staring off into the distance of her thought, Arslan's compositional aims succeed at composing grace in memoriam with obvious brushstrokes in a sense etherealising a moment, capturing a shift or disruption in perception. These are large canvases that create a richness with a sense of density; intimacy albeit often in the midst of chaos or the span 'til restoration begins.
If you were to meet Arslan you would see a man in love with many things, the joys but also the sorrows of life. What it is to be human is the true subject of Arslan's work. Young, old, alive, dead. In his work is demonstrated the courage to face the unimaginable, however, without gratuitous forces preying upon blatant visual cues. Arslan told me that 'the experience of being human, of witnessing and reacting to life has always been the true subject of my work.' From this impersonal perspective, the artist's ability to portray perhaps sobering moments with deft and beauty demonstrates a translative voice of reason, where tender emotions and reactions are in the artist's charge to show their chosen quality of their subject.
When I first met Arslan during our studio visit, one piece of his childhood that he shared strikes me as an experience that perhaps has shaped his perceptions and tools for life. During Stalin's rule, when his father was 9 years old his father was taken in the night. Arslan believed this experience remained with his father, ('To see this man who you, as a child believed could do anything, taken away in the night'). This is most likely a portion of Arslan's conditioning, an ability or acceptance of imagery that most would keep hidden in a trove of memory cues that evoke sadness, despair, longing.
Arslan finds images from newspapers in print and digital form. With a harmonious palette of soft color, a painting depicting the Charlie Hebdo attack removes the pain and grief, the muted and the subtle becomes the sublime. There are only walls, a door frame to a shortish hallway leading to an office with a chair and bureau, no bloodied bullet-riddled bodies fixed in last gasp. The immediate chaos is removed and the scene is portrayed in silent aftermath—the quietude of devotional mourning; a thoughtful approach in a sensationalized contemporary era when the artist is continuously tempted to reciprocate 'like for like' in what we must admit are violent and offensive times.
Whether his paintings or sculptural works of children, Arslan's depictions of our various stages, phases, and conclusion of being human let the opinions to the truth of experience, rather than his interpretations which reveal truth in the beauty of Life—human, color, shape, and their relationships. Aligned with the symmetry of its surroundings, the curb of a raised sidewalk and a building behind it, a lifeless body lays on the ground, a product of rampant drug trade and dealing violence in Mexico, with one foot hanging off of the curb. At first glance a sleeping boy, nothing could be further from the truth. A scene as depicted simultaneously presents tranquility and sorrow of life and death and constant beauty.
In his sculptural work, you will see the artist explore interpretation. Children being content but also pensive, already burdened with concern for their future—a truth that must be told. What is it to be a child in the world today? For the currently 2 million Syrian children it means a childhood spent in refugee camps. I say this in an obvious attempt to validate where truth validates the artist's intentions, which I believe must clash with ideas of truth and beauty most influenced by the Western World. Especially in these contentious times, when dominant ideologies are unraveling.
Some years earlier, Critique d'art à La Gazette de l'Hôtel Drouot, Marc Hérissé said of Arslan's work that, '(i)t is in your personal imagination that one must find the key to these sumptuous colors(...).' Arslan's more recent work still retains that rich palette and I would add that this same openness Hérissé speaks of should be lent to the subject matter in Arslan's body of work. For the sake of beauty.
Ignited in flames a body holds the space of an open centre. Rather than a captured frame of harrowing tragedy unfolding, a scene of self-immolation gently divulges the ultimate act of sacrifice. The fact remains, this is a morbid loss of the body, but again what also remains is a painted soliloquy to beauty everlasting as if to capture transcendence or transition.
Just as Velazquez, an influence for Arslan, painted 'The water-seller of Seville' with as much beauty as he did 'Pope Innocent X' Arslan brings an extraordinary stratum of care and compassion to an otherwise overlooked sentiment of finality, at least on this plane. Arslan said that if before his work focused on how he goes through life, it has become about 'how life goes through me.' I would say that it is not presumptuous of Arslan to capture the many facets that make us human, including the experiences.