...there are only a few very great examples of pure still-life painters. More often is the case that painters make still-lives to serve as “potboilers” and make a little extra cash to subsidize their true artistic passions. There are very few painters who devote their whole life to still-life painting and to the exploration of its specific problems. Hovsep Pushman is a great example of just that. The simple and pure arrangements that he paints may cause you to miss the depth of narrative and profound use paint handling.
He manages to take simple objects and create mysterious narratives through their associations with the backdrop, very similar to Vermeer in “Woman Holding a Balance,” but also through more of a subliminal color association and texture created in the picture above. Perhaps the best thing is that he manages to do this without hitting you over the head with it. Sometimes paintings are so obvious that they take away the suggestive quality that makes narrative so effective.
Pushman’s artistic identity began to take shape after he opened his own studio in 1921. Robert-Fleury, upon seeing one of Pushman’s early studio still life’s, advised the artist, “That painting is you.”
Thereafter, Pushman’s career was devoted to one subject, oriental mysticism, and one form, the still life. His paintings typically featured oriental idols, pottery and glassware, all glowing duskily as if illuminated by candlelight. They were symbolic, spiritual paintings, and were sometimes accompanied by readings, which help explain their allegorical significance. Most important, they were exquisitely beautiful, executed with technical precision. (http://www.hovseppushman.net/bio.html)
Pushman's oriental still life painting is inherently linked to the work of the 18th century French still life painter Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin (1699-1779). Chardin's carefully composed still life kitchen scenes included polished utensils and well worn objects which were rendered through the light and depth of their patterns and subtle relationships, expressing an undeniable spiritual bond between man and matter. Within Pushman's work it must have been remarked by those who study the art of India, China and Persia, that it presents an ever-present combination of the beautiful with the cruel or terrifying. (http://www.contemporarymasters.us/ContemporaryMasters/Hovsep_Pushman.html)
In his oriental still life painting, Pushman managed to create an atmosphere of nocturnal and contemplative intimacy through his meticulously arranged objects and their backgrounds. Pushman's concern for the objects in his paintings was of symbolic and religious importance. His oriental male and female figures represent the legends of the ancient East and Far East. They epitomize the experience of life, which implies a longing for the eternal. These small figures included the Sacred horse, the long robed statuette of a woman, a six armed Deity, the Buddha god of peace, the warrior, and the nude female figure which is emerging from her veils that are the Mystery of Life. Other special objects in Pushman's compositions were a 2000 year old iridescent glass pitcher, a lacquered chest, a teakwood box, small carved figures of saints from 13th and 14th century France and ancient Persian plates. The backgrounds usually consisted of rare centuries-old tapestries and textiles.
All these elements were combined in faultless compositions, each a unique statement vitality and meaning. mysterious charm of color is blended and interwoven in intricate and significant schemes. It pervades every one of his works, thrilling us like the play of light in the rainbow, the glitter of a serpent's scales, or the flash and fire of many jewels. He is a master of splendor and romance, a man to whom color is almost a language, at least a means of expression no less definite than the notes of the musical scale. He plays upon our emotions with color in much the same way that a musician does with sound, soothing us with exquisite harmonies, enlivening us with dramatic contrast, or melting us almost to tears with tender passages of tone, shot through with the purple of tragedy.
...The oeuvre of oriental still life paintings and prints by Hovsep Pushman is a major contribution to the history of American art and represent an equally significant achievement in the history of the still life genre.
Unfortunately, many details of Pushman's life are unavailable and are closely guarded by the Pushman family. As a result, his oeuvre is relegated to a minor footnote in the most important and comprehensive book on the history of American still life painting: "American Still Life Painting" by William H. Gerdts and Russell Burke, Prager Publishers, 1971. There is, however, a forgotten document that the staff of The Illuminator rescued from obscurity, which describes Pushman's contribution to American art: "Hovsep Pushman, an American artist of Armenian birth, is an excellent craftsman and he finds in objects of the East models of form and color which he paints with rare fidelity. No American painter has equaled him in the skill and beauty with which he portrays these striking types." Immigrant Gifts to American Life, The Illuminator, Allen E. Eaten, New York, Russell Sage Foundation, 1932.
oil on canvas mounted to board