Staff Writer ‘21
In the senior studio art concentration seminar the past few weeks, we’ve been reading theories on the challenges of a lifelong artistic pursuit and how to manage them. Last Wednesday, visual artist Kevork Mourad visited the art center to talk about his life work and demonstrate his typical monotype and black acrylic process. Mourad and clarinetist Kinan Azmeh were visiting to perform the hugely popular “Home Within,” a meditation on the destruction of cities and huge groups of people, especially referencing Syria. I had seen the show two years back when they were on campus. Kevork added more of his illustrated animations and Kinan was joined by a violinist and percussionist, which made the score more complex and expansive. There’s so much to say and reflect on with “Home Within,” but I’d like to focus here on Kevork’s cityscapes, and how exactly he achieves intangible magic on paper.
The live drawing part of “Home Within” is trance-like for me because of the way Kevork draws. You watch the delayed blur of his hand holding the ink bottle arch across the big screen, leaving a spiderweb-thin fine line behind. His pinky finger drags the ink away from the line to make a new shape, a black block of ink. You watch him go about repeating this little process, while the clarinet (and this time around, a violin too) carves out a slow serenade in the air. The only way to describe the performance is in poetry that hardly makes actual sense. But if you were to see the two artists in play together, you would see that each is using their own tool to respond to the other, conversing and crying together, in front of an enchanted audience.
In our discussions at the studio, he said that an artist should make art that seems “effortless” to the viewer: art that is so seamless and well-thought out that it fills the viewer with a sense of peace. There are so many other ways to make art provocative: it can be unsettling, it can defy rules, it can make you do all the mental work. This is not the kind of art Kevork showed us how to make.
I was watching how fast he draws and was listening to his approach of quantity over quality, which I’ve seen everywhere in class. To achieve his effortlessness, one clearly has to draw the same concept over and over until it works pretty much perfectly, and then show that to the world. Making art that seems effortless seems dangerously close to perfectionism, the grand enemy of creative sanity and joy. So I asked if he ever hesitated to throw out those numerous experimental drawings that lead up to the final product, if he ever got emotionally attached to them. Emotional attachment to the final product of an idea, from what I’ve experienced, functions in the same paralyzing way as perfectionism. He smiled and said that when he was young he thought everything he made was great, too (ha ha!). He’s learned since that you need to destroy your work to move forward. He said that destroying things makes you remember them better and those images actually become part of your vocabulary. So those long gone memories become tools for you to grow up and make more interesting things. This blunt perspective shocked me because I am always a keeper of things, from a family of people hesitant to throw things out (especially artwork). I can be so wistful and nostalgic that it weighs me down. From Kevork’s perspective, emotional attachment is perfectionism and it hinders all openness to experimentation. Destroying one’s own work is the way to cut out that egotistical voice that always tells you to be careful and play it safe.
Ironically, as I was writing about “Home Within” and Kevork’s demonstration, I cut my entire reflection on the demonstration section to paste on another page. I forgot that, copied a link from youtube and that piece was gone forever. I rewrote this entire thought sequence. I don’t know if his theory on destruction applies to writing because I can’t know if this version is better than the first, but I recalled most of it, so he must be right.