Arts preview: Parisian artist Sare explains what her polarizing characters think of us

By Columbus Alive
From the July 4, 2013 edition

Though skilled at painting, Paris-based Sare (aka Evgenia Sarkissian) has spent her life especially involved with another art form — theater set design. In fact, she muses, her paintings characters descended from her immersion in stage life.

Her work’s misshapen people all live in the same world. They tell an ongoing story; each painting is like a new scene of a disjointed play.

“In my family,” Sare said, “we call them Zyuziki. This word does not mean anything specific, but its sound connotes to us something sweet, gentle and a bit strange.”

Those are great adjectives for her characters, too, although they are more than a bit strange. They’re bumpy in all the traditionally wrong places. They stand together in weird ways. They wear gross things, decorate in odd ways. But none of that matters to the Zyuziki.

“What seems ugly to us,they proudly reveal, and thatdoes not make themridiculous in theeyes of otherZyuziki,” Sare said.For us, yes, it may look like that, but to me itjust means thatweare not ableto see ourselves.Who created thecriteria of beauty? What does theappearance meanHow important is itI suspect thatwe have different answers tothese questions,and theiranswers Ido not know.But, perhapsto their credit,askus those questionsand make us think.”

For that they are wise, and the Zyuziki often bear knowing smirks directly at their human onlookers.

“They know much more than we do, I think,” Sare said. “They are watching us, attentively and friendly. They all know each other, and I have a very good reason to believe that they chatter about us in detail and they gossip. Zyuziki know all about us and do not condemn us for anything, do not scoff. Although, that knowledge of us humans makes them a bit sad. And, you will agree, that’s understandable.”

Caren Petersen, owner of German Village’s Muse Gallery, which represents Sare, said it’s all or nothing in the way visitors react to the Zyuziki’s knowing, grotesque faces — they love them or they hate them. The latter always surprises Petersen because she loves Sare’s people; their shapes, faces and situations always make her laugh.

“They’re not about some weird world she has in her imagination,” Petersen said. “I look at them as representations of people we see every day. She’s picking up on certain details maybe somebody else didn’t see or think about. She’s not making fun of them. She sees that life is bizarre and viewed differently by everyone and it’s important that it’s done so. This is just a different way to look at life. I like the way she looks at life.”

As Sare grows and changes so does the Zyuziki. New work, which Muse Gallery will exhibit through July, shows the Zyuziki dressing themselves and their worlds in more elegant clothing and tapestries. For all their wisdom about humanity’s grey spots, they seem to have darkness of their own to combat and this is their way of doing so.

“If you come to the show and my favorite Zyuziki make you smile,” she said, “they will be very happy. And, of course, I’ll be with them.”