High was the Sky, 2006, mixed media, décollage,
198 x 198 cm

Mauerpark, 2006, Mischtechnik, Décollage,
150 x 202 cm

Miles Davis gewidmet, 2008, mixed media, décollage,
181 x 348 cm
Sam Grigorian: Calculated happenstance

The collage originates from the beginning of the 20th Century. It is now impossible to imagine ‘two-dimensional art’ without this form of artistic expression up there among the paintings, drawings and prints. It is easy to draw a comparison between this layer-by-layer construction and the time-honoured principles of painting. Paper is to collage

what paint is to paintings. Working in reverse is the course also possible. Scratching away, reducing, eliminating the material once it has been assembled. Every Western child has at one time or another had a go at doing this. First colour in a sheet of paper with wax crayon, add another layer of colour on top – black for example – to hide the ground colour, and then scratch away parts of the black layer with a very sharp tool; you will be amazed at the effect. When this technique is applied to an assembled collage the ‘décollage’ is born.

No collage, no décollage. After all, material can only be removed (‘unglued’) once it has been assembled and glued in place. Armenian born Sam Grigorian (b. Yerevan, 1957) is a master of the addition and (partial) subtraction of paperstrips. He initially found artistic expression through abstract expressionism. The turning point came during a visit to Documenta in 1992. In that same year he settled in Berlin, where he still lives and works. During the latter years of the 1990s and the beginning of the 21st Century, Grigorian produced two-dimensional objects in ‘mixed media’, in which wood, paper, paint and for example book covers played a contributing role. More recently, he has applied himself more and more to décollage, with paper playing the dominant role.

Works such as High was the Sky and Mauerpark (both from 2008) have – not only because of the chosen titles – a scenic-geographical undertone. The patchwork of the former has a lot in common with an aerial photograph of an intricate pattern of land parcels and beneath the colourful stripes of Mauerpark a diagrammatic rendering of a park appears to be concealing itself. Another piece like Miles Davis gewidmet (2008) is more abstract and is possibly an allusion, in a style and title, to a famous predecessor: Piet Mondrian, whose Victory Boogie Woogie materialized with the help of adhesive tape.

Grigorian affixes and tears away. He foods back edges, overlaps and lays bare. He knows what awaits him below the surface. Perhaps not exactly, but when he conjures up the parts that have lain dormant, it is – as he puts it – calculated happenstance. Whether it is collage or décollage, Grigorian gets to grips with the matter.

Frank van der Ploeg, art historian