Minas Halaj’s paintings from ‘American Renaissance’ reflect the immigrant experience, each picture a hallowed space that express a cry for home, the memories of place, history and culture, the violence of its loss and the rupturing of the spirit.
Emigration plays a central story in mankind, indeed the movement of peoples to new lands has played a fundamental part in the progress, innovation and enrichment of cultures throughout the world. However those that made the break, had to leave their homeland, also left behind the roots of their very being.
In Ireland emigration has played a large part in our history, has created a vacuum that still has repercussions today. The Irish, like other people who have left their home shores in penury, have left their mark wherever they’ve landed and in Halaj’s paintings he looks to his own Armenian heritage and the conglomeration of cultures that make up his new home in Los Angeles.
In these pictures we have the explosion of culture, the commingling of the old and new worlds, of photos and letters from foreign countries, all mixed, ripped, fragmented, collaged into an American lexicon that draws from music, newspaper clippings and native American textiles. Each image a rich visual tableau that is sacred, iconographic in form, something to be looked upon with respect and wonder, an attempt to weave a new tapestry with threads from many cultures; Armenian, Italian, Mexican, Russian and French. A physical manifestation of a dream, a memory to be recorded and passed on to the next generation.
American Renaissance is a departure for Halaj, gone is the distant expressionism of his figurative work and in its place a series of pictures whose aesthetic is drawn from Robert Rauschenberg’s Combine paintings, the Nouveaux Réalistes and the collages of Raymond Saunders. Each picture drawing from a personal narrative, a longing, a deep seated cry that speaks for generations of immigrants that have made their way to America in the hope of a new life. Here’s what Peter Frank, Senior Curator at the Riverside Art Museum had to say about the series:
By incorporating such a subjective rainbow of things and thoughts, the artist has at once spilled the contents of his mind onto the canvas and demonstrated that the breadth and endless variety of American culture comes from its wealth of peoples. In its myriad segues between incongruous segments, every “American Renaissance” painting replays the democratic kaleidoscope of the American experience – and in its poise, every painting reasserts the stability of this culture.