The Hidden Genius of Norman Gulamerian
For more than 70 years, in a spacious studio surrounded by 6,000 art books, Norman Gulamerian [1927–2020] kept his life’s work very private. With his passing, these works finally reveal one of the most significant masters of figurative expressionism of the 20th century. Moreover, he is the only American painter who was also a published theorist on the psychology of visual perception and expression. His archive reveals that his close colleague Rudolf Arnheim — regarded as the pioneer in perceptual psychology — benefited greatly from his criticism for decades.
Beginning in the late 1940s, Gulamerian committed himself to an extraordinary life-long pursuit. His quest was to figure out how the composition, color scheme, and expression of a painting could most effectively appeal to a person’s psyche. He made this challenge even more difficult by choosing as his exclusive subject matter The Passion of Christ. This ambitious decision was made not out of religious devotion. Indeed, he was a true nonconformist, including his views on organized religion. In addition to being a leading expert on art materials and techniques, Gulamerian possessed an extensive knowledge of art history as well as visual and psychological theory — all employed in his life’s work. For nearly 80 years, the agonizing subject matter that is the centerpiece of the New Testament inspired him to express its emotion to great dramatic effect.
The swirling masses of figures that enliven each painting appear to be out-takes from a stage play, philosophically manifesting the foibles of man. The reasons for his steadfast focus were very personal to him. He was never swayed by any other theories, and he rarely discussed the meanings or symbolism inherent in his works. Ultimately, Gulamerian’s mastery lies in his ability to generate cyclonic volumes composed of animated lines, fleshy forms, and radiant color — all visually weighted to ignite visceral emotion. His extraordinary hidden achievements, finally being revealed, vault him to the forefront of American figurative expressionism.