SPHS teacher Rouzanna Berberian showcases paintings in TRACE gallery

Story by Solana Singer
Staff Writer

Photo by Contributor

The Center for Armenian Arts, a new gallery space on the corner of California Ave. and Orange St. in Glendale, held its inaugural exhibition on Sunday, Jan. 28. The afternoon showcase featured artwork from SPHS photography teacher Rouzanna Berberian, who gave a 45-minute talk explaining her inspirations. 

“[The showcase] meant a lot because it’s very special to show my cultural background in paintings and [display] it in this new space,” Berberian said.

Berberian was invited to showcase her work by longtime friend and gallery owner Stepan Partamian. 

“Every piece I create, I put my heart and soul in it, so I have a connection to all the pieces,” Berberian said. “I feel like…that piece called Trace, which is the centerpiece of this show, has a special meaning to me because that’s the first time I infused Armenian rugs with circuitry.”

Berberian showcased around 40 pieces in the gallery, including a collection of 30 small square paintings focused on exploring the interplay between positive and negative space. Her displayed catalog followed a specific style that meshed traditional patterns in the Armenian rugs of her culture with the technological cleanliness of modern circuitry.

“Armenian rugs…have these abstract shapes and I wanted to convey that these shapes were created by women…thousands of years ago,” Berberian said. “I wanted to elevate them [to] a contemporary fine arts level.”

Berberian’s bold, contrasting color palettes stood out in the gallery. In her talk, Berberian described comments she received about “Armenian colors” in her work. In turn, these comments have generated guiding questions for her work over the years.

“I thought, okay, why [do I use] these colors? Is it because I’m Armenian? Are these colors in me? Are these shapes in me? I kept going with those colors…trying to explore if [they are] in my DNA, or [if they are] in my surroundings that [have] affected me,” Berberian said.

Berberian also draws inspiration from her travels. She highlighted a specific set of paintings which had narrow, tall canvases. After returning to Armenia last summer, she realized the shapes she had chosen had been subconsciously inspired by the narrow windows of Armenian churches.

Berberian was originally interested in a career in aerospace engineering after high school. However, in college, she became inspired to pursue painting after her first art class with artist Jim Morphesis.

The two oldest pieces in the gallery originated from Berberbian’s California State University, Los Angeles, graduate show in 2015. The rest, however, were all created recently. While teaching full-time at South Pasadena High School, she had produced 30 paintings since the end of September 2023, spending much of her winter break in the studio.

Her future concepts center around artistic commentary on war. Drones, which played a crucial role in the 2020 Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, continue to greatly influence modern warfare today in Ukraine and the Gaza strip. Berberian plans to reproduce the precise circuitry present in drones in her next Armenian-patterned paintings, as well as explore borders and their importance in both traditional carpets and territorial conflicts.

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