Giving back through his art
Yuri Gevorgian, also known as Yuroz, will share his cubist art and views on the world at a private reception in Stafford.
Date published: 7/9/2005
By MICHAEL ZITZ
He's mentioned in the same breath as Picasso, but the artist he has the most in common with might be Bono.
He's passionate about art, and even more passionate about human rights.
Yuri Gevorgian, a one-time refugee and homeless person who is known as Yuroz in the art world, will talk about both topics when he's in town tonight for a private show at the home of Tia and Robert Cadow in the Japazaws area of Stafford County.
He's considered the finest living cubist, his work often compared to Picasso's.
He's a man of rare charisma and drive who has become something of a rising star on the international political scene in promoting the cause of human rights for the United Nations.
Like U2 lead singer Bono, who campaigns for economic relief for poor nations, Gevorgian believes he has a responsibility to use his celebrity for positive political effect.
As news of the London terror attack spread Thursday morning, Gevorgian said he doesn't envy the job President Bush and other world leaders faced at the G-8 Summit in Scotland, completed yesterday.
"If I had the solution," Gevorgian said about terrorism, "I would probably be president."
"Unfortunately, there have always been religious fanatics," he said. "And I don't believe only the Muslim side is fanatical. The Christians went on crusades and wiped out countries centuries ago."
Gevorgian, 49, said world leaders are going to have to bring about a fundamental change in the way people think to achieve peace.
Acts of terror are "going to happen the rest of our lives until something brings people together so we stop emphasizing differences because you're Muslim or you're Christian and create a political environment that, instead of concentrating on killing, concentrates on building."
In his own way, Gevorgian is already creating that kind of positive effect through his artwork and his good works for various causes.
His own life has provided insight into the plight of the politically repressed and the economically depressed.
Gevorgian grew up in a lower-middle-class family in Armenia.
"We never suffered for food, from terrorist attacks, from war," he said. "I had a good childhood."
But the Soviet government had a way of making its critics disappear. And a friend of his father was in politics and would come to the Gevorgian house at night to discuss the situation.
His parents had survived communist elimination of "enemies of the state" in Armenia. They feared and hated Soviet control.
"They would get together to talk in the next room," he said, and he would overhear the political discussions when they thought he was asleep.
"It was like they were injecting me [with interest in] things happening in the world," he said. "The next thing you know, you're questioning. Why did this guy go to prison when he didn't do anything? He just disappears. You end up questioning the government."
Prior to the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, he escaped to the West, leaving behind his family and friends to make his dream of coming to America come true.
He said art thrives only in a free society.
For two years he was homeless on the streets of Los Angeles, but he scraped together money for art supplies and painted. And when he began to sell his work, he quickly moved up in the world.
Once he lifted himself up, he started giving back to causes including the homeless, human rights and the fight against leukemia.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour picked Gevorgian to create a series of commemorative stamps issued worldwide as part of its Campaign for Freedom. He had previously done a mural and stamps for the United Nations titled "Respect for Refugees."
He made no conscious decision to become a social and political activist.
"You don't choose the path," he said. "It sort of chooses you and you just go with it."
He said he has the opportunity to do what he loves to do: to sit in his Los Angeles studio and read books and talk about his favorite philosophers and paint.
His wealthy clients are passionate about his work.
And when one is in that kind of position, one cannot, in good conscience, simply make art and make money, he said. He said he sees himself as a monk who uses art to reach people and effect positive change.
"I believe art is an incredible, beautiful religion," he said. "When I paint, it's me and my vision of the world. You become some sort of a preacher."
Gevorgian said anyone in any sort of creative job "has a chance to reach someone somewhere and make a change. And when you have that chance, you are obligated to do it."
And, he said, all of us, as individuals, have a responsibility to act.
"You need to take an active role in everything," he said. "There are so many challenges, and it's OK, as long as we are acknowledging it and doing something about it, it will be fine.
"How do we raise the consciousness of the human race? How do we live with religious differences? It's all about surviving on this planet and prospering."
Aside from human rights, another issue he cares greatly about is the environment.
"I have kids," he said. "I want my kids to have a better environment to live in."
But he said the international community is wrong to point the finger of blame at the United States for the failure of the G-8 Summit to produce a binding agreement on global warming.
"I don't believe the United States is the key to the problem," he said. "The governments of China and India have somehow escaped everyone's attention."
The United States, he said, does more than any other country to work toward technological solutions to environmental problems.
"Because we can do so much, the rest of the world expects us to do more than anyone else," he said.
He said changes in environmental law can have massive impacts on any nation's economy.
"It's a matter of finding balance," he said, both economically and politically.
Gevorgian said G-8 summit meetings are "basically symbolic" and that it's going to take individual commitments from billions of people, along with scientific breakthroughs, to clean up the environment. He said both individuals and corporations must take steps to improve the environment, not because Big Brother is watching, but because it's the right thing to do.
Tonight's cozy, private show in Stafford is unusual for Gevorgian, who normally does events attended by 400 or 500 collectors.
He's doing it because the Cadows are longtime collectors and good friends. Their collection, which includes a Picasso, boasts six Gevorgian/Yuroz works.
Gevorgian said he's looking forward to the intimacy of tonight's gathering.
Normally "it's very tense and you spend 30 seconds with each person," he said.
"This is a wonderful opportunity for me to talk to a lot of people.
"To me, as a 'monk,' it charges me," he said. "You exchange some ideas, exchange positive energy."
He will be bringing 22 of his most recent works that have never been shown, including a piece done specially for tonight.
He said he wouldn't mind changing the way some people think about world affairs tonight. But he said he paints "not for global change," but in the hope "I can change two, three, four people."
Gevorgian said all his paintings have something to do with romance, tranquility, with giving the viewer, regardless of nationality, religious or ethnic background, a feeling of peace.
"I don't want you to think when you look at my paintings, I want you to feel, to get excited," he said.
The goal is to transfer that feeling to other things in life, he said, "to appreciate your art, your music, your loved one, the glass of wine you have, the woman you have."
"He's so full of life, full of love," said hostess Tia Cadow.
"He's very sensual," she said in explaining what fascinates her about Yuroz's work. "He's very into the relationship between a man and woman, and the love and the bond, and it's reflected in his paintings. You're drawn into the pieces."
Beth Gipt, who owns Legacy Fine Art, said of Yuroz's work: "It just wraps you up as a human being, like making love or giving a gift or dancing or singing or writing a song. He's passionate. He's brilliant."
Gipt compared tonight's gathering with Yuroz to "partying with Picasso."
On the "invitation piece," a man is holding a guitar and a woman is next to him with a canary and a pomegranate.
The fruit symbolizes fertility, Gevorgian said, and sexuality. In his work, the guitar is symbolic of creative energy, he said. And the canary, he said, stands for nature, for gentleness and fragility.
Put those symbols together, he said, and the viewer feels a creative energy, a peaceful energy, a healing energy "that changes your vision, the way you look at life."
The hope, he said, is that his art will cause people "to get excited about life and go out and do something positive."
To reach MICHAEL ZITZ: 540/374-5408 firstname.lastname@example.org