From Chaos to Calm: Sag Harbor artist reflects on life changing moments


Rima Mardoyan’s artwork is not only a visual sensation, but tactile and olfactory as well. When walking into a gallery filled with her paintings, the viewer is first struck by the swirling array of colors that fill the large canvases. A viewer’s next reaction might be to reach out and run a hand over the ultra smooth surface of the piece. Because Mardoyan’s paintings are created through the use of many layers of colorful melted beeswax, they have a unique texture that is not only smoother than silk, but also laced with the scent of a high quality candle as well.

Mardoyan admits that she once saw a woman actually lick one of her paintings in a show.

“I didn’t say anything,” says Mardoyan, “because she was the curator.”

Now through November 30 in the Woodhouse Gallery at Guild Hall several of her beeswax paintings are currently featured in a solo show entitled “Rima Mardoyan: A Survey of Encaustic Works.” Mardoyan, a resident of Sag Harbor, received the solo show as a result of her first place finish in Guild Hall’s 2005 member’s show. 

Though her medium is soothing, many of the impulses that have given rise to Mardoyan’s work is not. The paintings on view represent a personal and historic journey for Mardoyan who notes that the work is layered — not only with beeswax, but with meaning as well — reflecting both the despair and the renewal she has felt since September 11, 2001.

In an attempt to process the events of that day in her artwork in a way that was neither literal nor narrative, Mardoyan hit upon the idea of using weather phenomena as a theme — the seemingly random natural events that often wreak havoc and ruin lives without conscious are for her, a stand-in for the incomprehensible destruction visited on Americans that day. 

“I was translating shock into art,” explains Mardoyan. “But I wasn’t going to paint burning houses. I didn’t want to be so specific in my work. Instead, I thought the events of 9/11 could be compared to weather patterns — storms, disasters, fires and tsunamis.”

“I found it was a good analogy,” says Mardoyan. “Then we had Katrina, you can see what weather can do.”

Mardoyan’s weather paintings, called the “Turbulence” series, are full of great energy depicting gathering clouds and rushing water. Like weather, notes Mardoyan, when it came to 9/11, though Americans felt like victims in the face of the storm, below the surface there was much more to the story.

“In a way we are not responsible for weather. It just happens. But in a way we are — we create global warming,” says Mardoyan. “After 9/11, my question was, ‘Why did they come from so far away?’ There was something we as the western world was doing to rub them the wrong way. With that terrorist attack they were saying something.” 

From images of natural disaster, Mardoyan moved into the realm of man-made disasters in her work — genocide. Mardoyan, who is of Armenian decent, knows a good deal about genocide, including the one visited upon her ancestors by the Turks. 

“Living in Germany, I had Jewish friends whose parents were survivors of W.W.II. Being Armenian, genocide is part of my family’s personal history,” says Mardoyan. “There’s also been Darfur, Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia. I read a lot of books and went into a lot of history on it.”

Mardoyan’s “Genocide” series include paintings of Darfur which have the beautiful bright red and yellow colors of Africa in them, yet they are also shrouded in the black clouds of the tragic story of the country. 

“They are images of women in these villages where there is nothing left. But they are still in their pretty colors,” she says. “I painted that to remind people that this is happening right now. To remember and be aware of it.”

Mardoyan’s paintings are thematic in the way that politics and life itself is thematic. Though the thought process behind her work hints at world politics, Mardoyan avoids specifics. A lover of history and poetry, she looks at the past in metaphorical terms — through the stories that have defined civilization since humans first put pen to papyrus and are destined to repeat. 

But in the years since the attacks of 9/11, she has moved through confusion, anger and sorrow and now, seven years out, finds herself in a more contemplative state. Mardoyan now finds herself in a more ethereal realm and is offering work in a new series entitled “Traveling Fish.” This series was inspired by a poem by the 13th century Romanian poet, Rumi, who wrote of humans as beings who occupy the space between the fish and the moon.

“It kind of turned me on,” she says. “I suddenly realized we are not just on planet Earth. We can also can go deep below and beyond when we go into space. I thought about the traveling fish, swimming with the sharks. This traveling fish reaching for the clouds.”

“It’s more personal and on the other side,” she adds. “We all have to travel our own journey. Look deep within to reach our own potential.”

As evidenced by her own artistic directions in recent years, that journey, notes Mardoyan, doesn’t always take the fast track.

“There’s never any shortcuts,” she says. “We all know a fast baked cake from a mix tastes different than if you beat the butter and sugar yourselves.” 

“You have to do the work.” 

Guild Hall is located at 158 Main Street, East Hampton. “Rima Mardoyan: A Survey of Encaustic Works” remains on view through November 30, 2008. For more information, call 324-0806.

Above: Rima Mardoyan at Guild Hall with her work.