After viewing Gagik Aroutiunian's fascinating and highly symbolic sculptures currently at Galerie Francoise, it's not surprising to learn that the artist is a Soviet Armenian who has lived much of his life elsewhere -- Poland, Lithuania, Canada, the United States. His sculptures speak strongly of the experience of finding oneself an alien, and trying to deal with the strangeness of unfamiliar surroundings.
In a more universal application, they symbolize the existential nature of 20th century life, without the values and beliefs that gave structure to earlier ages.
Human-size or taller, his anthropomorphic figures are composed of found objects such as metal pipe and rocks. They look like awkward beings trying to re-form themselves out of the detritus left after the end of the world, vaguely remembering what people used to look like and adding bits and pieces of this and that to see what will work.
These works are certainly not beautiful in the traditional sense. They are ugly and more than that -- some look torn open, eviscerated, and all look disfigured. But they also possess the gallantry that comes of living in the full consciousness of one's flaws, whether physical or psychical, and of going on in the absence of hope. Scrutiny reveals that they also possess individual passages of beauty.
In short, they have a great many human qualities that make them quite moving.
Aroutiunian's sculptures are on view through Nov. 1 at Galerie Francoise et Ses Freres, Green Spring Station, Brooklandville. Call 337-2787.
"Pyramid Atlantic: A Decade of Papermaking 1981-91" at Sylvia Cordish celebrates the 10th anniversary of Pyramid Atlantic, a center for hand paper and printmaking, and also its dedicated director, Helen Frederick.
Started in Baltimore, moved to the Washington area in 1986, now located in Riverdale, Pyramid's activities include the making of handmade paper; letterpress, monotype and intaglio printing; photography and artists' books. It organizes exhibitions, workshops and lectures, and has a research library and gallery, rental studios, publishing programs, apprenticeships and 300 members -- a success story indeed.
The exhibit brings together works by about 50 artists, and while not all or even most are of unusual artistic interest they constitute a fitting tribute to the variety of work that has been made at Pyramid in terms of media and combinations of media. Among the more pleasing are works by Kevin MacDonald, Tom Nakashima, Mary Heiss, Gordon Fluke and Frederick herself.
The show continues through Oct. 31 at Sylvia Cordish Gallery, 519 N. Charles St. Call 539-6611.