G is for Charles Garabedian

John FitzGibbon
from California A-Z and Return
The Butler Institute of American Art
Youngstown, Ohio. 1990

Western art is one of the crimes against the Indians. It continues to be committed with impunity. Lots and lots of people like Western art despite- or rather because of- the fact that it depends on cliched illustrator techniques, often tricked out with expressionistic paint handling or other “modern” devices. There is a good market in it.

In this large work on paper, Garabedian reaches for the archetype that’s been worthily expressed (though somewhat dilute) by John G. Neihardt in his Black Elk Speaks. Garabedian tries to see what was seen by a shaman as he “advanced upon the south,” as he “approached the East.” How do you advance upon the south anyway? What spiritual forces converged on you as you dashed to count coup? Garabedian has a pretty avenue to the transcendental illumination granted the Plains Indians- and quite alien to us who are alienated.
He is toward the top of American painters.

One spring after a trade, Garabedian owed me a small painting. I visited him in October and there were a lot of little ones lying against the baseboard of two walls of his studio. “Pick one of these,” Chas said. I looked for awhile and chose a painting I didn’t like. “Sorry, that belongs to my dealer.” After a while I found another one I didn’t much care for. “No, I can’t. That one belongs to Gwennie.” I delayed but as I was leaving I said, I think that it is between these three, Charles, and then I pointed at the painting I liked: This is the one. “Sorry, no, its not finished.”

Early in the next year I was back in Los Angeles. One morning I went over to Garabedian’s. The little paintings were still propped along the wall. I examined the work I wanted, which has an O’Keeffe like cross in the center and at one corner some manuscript leaves, a sort of archive. He hadn’t touched it. Chas and I gossiped for awhile; we watched an athletic contest of some sort broadcast from the East Coast. Around 11:30 we drank a beer and at 12:15 Garabedian stood up. “C’mon, I’ll take you to lunch. Oh, you can bring that painting with you. It’s finished.”

He locked up and we went to the car. ” You should thank me Chas,” I said. ” I finished it for you.”

— John FitzGibbon

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