Paul Mardikian: Totems and Icons

Through Feb. 29

Corrigan Gallery

62 Queen St.

(843) 722 9868

It’s rare for discussion to segue from contemporary art to underwater archeology, but subjects coalesce when it comes to Paul Mardikian.

Mardikian is senior conservator of the Hunley submarine and an accomplished painter. He presents a solo exhibit at the Corrigan Gallery through the end of the month in which biological mutations of ink and gold and acrylic reflect his deep-seated scientific tendencies. Featuring paintings that use metal, wood, and ink — the raw elements of creativity — to translate their message, this small but intense show seems to speak in an ancient tongue.

Called Totems and Icons, the exhibit reveals an artist preoccupied with history’s fingerprint. Paintings are abstract, baring themselves to interpretation. But they also possess the impression of an aged, mysterious art form.

Mardikian’s study of shipwrecks for 20 years has led to a fascination with relics and the stories hidden within. His work demonstrates the magic of discovery as they investigate color, material, and texture.

“Shipwrecks often represent abstract and encrypted time capsules that can become inspirational,” Mardikian says. “After hundreds of years of corrosion, metals, like iron and copper, take on incredibly rich shades.”

Rich shades are evident in Mardikian’s “Can You Tell Heaven from Hell.” The artist used acrylic, polymer, ink, and gold to create a painting with deep, engulfing textures. Most of it is darkened with blood reds and midnight blues, but a blurb of yellow glows in the center. The yellow is warm and inviting, like a cluster of stars. The rest is as staid and impenetrable as space.

Is yellow the warm heart of heaven or merely the deceitful lure of hell?

“There is something unreasonable with abstract art, a sort of uncontrollable urge to embrace it,” Mardikian says. “It’s love at first sight or it’s rejection.

“These paintings express pure emotion and love. But I always say if you don’t like an abstract painting, nothing someone tells you will change your mind.”

“Moonlight Dancing” captures that same spirit of solidarity. Mardikian combines ink and polymer and wax on wood, and contrasts darkness and light with strips of white against invasive browns and blacks.

These moonlit slivers hold back just enough darkness to reveal an even darker perimeter. The artist relishes the ecstasy and terror caused by a late-night walk in the woods, and with the same rebelliousness of an abstract painting, ventures alone to unknown places.

Mardikian’s exploration of shipwrecks has given him intimate knowledge of long-lost artifacts, but “the stress is huge working as a conservator on priceless remains,” Mardikian says. “There is no way back if you make a mistake. Creating art, on the other hand, is about being free and unreasonable.”

Unreasonable does not mean careless; it means taking risks. Risk allows colors to meld. It allows for instinct more than research. It allows a painting’s characteristics to gain expression through wild, primal tones: artifacts regenerated by a contemporary artist whose chief ambitions seem to be reuniting peoples, places, and ideas through a universal visual language.

Touching Mardikian’s work (you are encouraged to do so) enriches the viewing experience. Touching it makes it tangible. The experience grows intimate. A fingerprint is left, a trace of one’s self. History is made. And leaving a trace, for Mardikian, is what his art is all about.

“It’s like finding a 4,000-year-old piece of pottery with a fingerprint on it,” Mardikian says. “Nothing can beat that feeling.”

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