Interview by Amanda Quinn Olivar, West Coast Editor
Rouzanna Berberian was born in Yerevan, Armenia. When her family immigrated to the United States in 1990, Rouzanna continued her education at Pasadena City College. She changed her major from engineering to fine arts as soon as she took her first art class with influential artist and educator Jim Morphesis. Later, she continued her studies which led her to teach art and inspire generations of students.
Primarily known for her circuit board paintings, Rouzanna also works with a variety of media that best suits her creative expression. She delved into photography when she was offered a teaching position in digital photography at South Pasadena High School. With mentorship and inspiration from fellow photographers, she photographed and exhibited with Pulitzer prize winning photographer Nick Ut.
Rouzanna received her Masters in Fine Arts from California State University, Los Angeles, and has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions in the Greater Los Angeles area and Armenia. Currently, she teaches Drawing/Painting and Photography at South Pasadena High School, and has been a board member with the Monrovia Association of Fine Arts for over a decade. Her work is in numerous public and private collections.
This exhibition is all about the color red... Tell me about the idea behind your piece. What was the process to transform that idea into reality, and how is "red" significant?
Red has always been one of my favorite colors. It is intense, passionate, and commands confidence. The color red in my “How Flexible are Your Circuits” painting in the Incarnadine show was inspired from the color coding on electronic components. These components are a part of the flexible circuit boards that are located inside most electronic devices, which store and transfer information. They are critical in facilitating communication in today’s society. The idea behind my painting is to expose these hidden circuits, anthropomorphize its geometric features, and show the world the faces of hidden icons.
Where does your interest in making art come from... Was there an aha moment? Tell me about your career path. How did it all start?
My family immigrated to the United States right before the collapse of the Soviet Union. At the age of nineteen, I was a radio engineering student and had a passion for math and physics. My interest in art began later in my life when I decided to paint my toddler’s favorite book character on his bedroom wall. I bought cheap paint and brushes, and started painting. Though I struggled with the process, I was eventually able to successfully replicate the characters. My friends and family encouraged me, so I decided to take art classes at my local community college.
I took my first painting class with Jim Morphesis, an accomplished artist and educator. Coming from an engineering background, I did not realize how impactful that class would be. I had an epiphany, that art has been a part of me, and I was ready to discover it. An engineering career was not even an option. Jim instilled that passion in me with positive comments and encouragement. I remember thinking “I want to be an artist, I want to teach art and inspire students”. For the next decade of my life, I dedicated myself to achieving that goal. After I received degrees in fine art and education, I still feel passionate about encouraging love of art and creativity in my students, while refining my skills in a variety of genres such as painting, ceramics, and photography.
Let’s talk about your subject matter and process. Does your body of work involve detailed planning and execution, or do spontaneity and experimentation play a role?
I used to paint spontaneously without a conscious thought by layering thick paints with a pallet knife, swooshing it across the canvas with broad strokes. I thoroughly loved and enjoyed the process of painting, but wasn’t too fond of the end product. As I continued experimenting, my paintings gradually became tighter and detailed.
My current body of work explores the relationship between culture and technology. I use imagery from communication devices to underscore our daily interaction with analog and digital circuitry. My process involves detailed planning and execution. I rummage through a variety of circuit boards and flexible circuits that I find inside electronic devices. I analyze them with a magnifying glass or take a picture with a camera in order to explore their intricate patterns. I do multiple sketches and I paint them as invented icons of the modern era.
Who are your favorite LA artists and influences right now?
My work is influenced by California Hard Edge painters such as John McLaughlin, Karl Benjamin, and Ellsworth Kelly. I also appreciate the works of Los Angeles artists Linda Areola and Alex Couwenberg, whose geometric abstraction and refined craftsmanship skills inspire me to up my game.
What is your favorite art accident?
Many years ago, in an art class, I was painting a large bull with so much passion and energy that I lost myself and stubbed the painting with my pallet knife, ripping two inches of the canvas. Suddenly the entire room went silent, because the students were shocked at the large painting that was damaged. I went back, stitched the canvas together, and poured alizarin crimson paint all over the cut. The paint dripped, creating a wounded scar effect. Despite the large cut, the bull’s gaze was defiant. Because of that accident, I learned how to remedy a work and continue creating, even if things do not go right. Currently, that painting hangs in my hallway and is one of my favorites, because it reminds me every day to never give up.
Photo of Rouzanna Berberian: Courtesy of the artist
August 25 - September 29, 2018