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In the studio

2016 Tulsa Artist Fellow Gary Kachadourian

Gary Kachadourian, Tulsa Artist Fellow from Baltimore, MD, in his drawing studio at AHHA

Melissa Lukenbaugh

For the next six months, in each issue of The Tulsa Voice, we’ll introduce you to one of the twelve visual artists brought here through George Kaiser Family Foundation’s Tulsa Artist Fellowship. The yearlong program offers its participants an unrestricted stipend of $20,000, housing, a studio space, and the option to renew for a second and third year. Meant to invigorate, grow, and bring attention to our local art scene, the fellowship is focused on bringing in artists from outside of Tulsa, though local artists are considered (this year, the fellowship’s first, three Oklahomans are fellows). Next year, fellows will include both visual artists and writers. 

Gary Kachadourian is recording our natural habitats—man-made and not. 

He sits on a platform made to look like a rock and draws in his fourth floor AHHA drawing studio, overlooking the trains rolling through town. Or, he works from a webbed lawn chair, a drawing in his lap. Other days might find him in the next room, carving or building blocks, platforms, and other large items for his installations. 

In the project studio hangs a curious ink drawing—a small mass of thick black squiggles. I ask him what it is and he tells me it’s a Popeye’s fried chicken leg. I then see curled bits of fried batter in the lines.

“Yeah, I drew that and was like, ‘I know this is going to fail, but it’ll be fun.’”

The drawing studio is a perfect example of his installation work: every surface—the platform, floor, and walls—is covered in large, layered pencil and ink drawings of weeds, leaves, trees, grass, and rocks. Other installations might be of an urban or suburban streetscape. 

Gesturing to the ink drawings of weeds and grass, Kachadourian says, “These [panels] are drawn in medieval space. Nothing gets smaller as it goes back into the distance. If everything went back, you couldn’t repeat the same image.”

Drawn in a stream-of-conscious manner, the images are highly detailed and three-dimensionally strong—individual clover leaves, weed stems, blades of grass. He calls the method “field reporting.” Very literally, he is often in a field doing it. 

He sells these drawings in simple paper books that allow the buyer to Xerox each panel, or drawing, and install them. 

“One of the issues of making art is where to show it,” he says. “These books are like sending out the exhibition.”

He also makes books of his small, to-scale pencil drawings of city scenes, most of which he drew on a bus in his hometown of Baltimore. These generally follow themes of urban living and commuting, with images like apartment dumpsters and abandoned couches, vacant lots, concrete jersey barriers, and parking meters.

For these drawings, Kachadourian is more methodical, taking an architectural approach that prioritizes mathematical accuracy. 

Kachadourian scans his scale drawings and manipulates and layers them in Photoshop to make new images, which he also uses for installations. When offered a show at a gallery with a 23’ ceiling, he was elated. 

“I got to have an entire forest. Most ceilings are twelve feet. I was totally excited. It was made up of three drawings—one tree, one bush, and a section of forest floor. Those were layered.”

These drawings are also for sale—meant to be cut out of their books and put together into 3-D models. The scale varies; some scenarios are 1/32, others are 1/12, 1/24, 1/48, and 1/64. “It’s an efficient way to distribute sculpture,” he said.

Most of his books are nominally priced at $3-5. “People take your art more seriously if they buy it.”

“I’ve always had a job to support my art, but now because of the fellowship, art is my main gig.”

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