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'Sometimes I get the colors right' Artist and musician Ethan Azarian presents 'Postcards from Austin, Texas.'

Ethan Azarian
Michael Lee
Ethan Azarian in his home studio

This June, artist Ethan Azarian is presenting his first solo show in more than half a decade. “[It’s been] seven years. Part of that’s pandemic, but also I like to take five to six years in between solo shows,” he says. “And in that time, I can build up a big body of work. Five years is a nice amount of time to really get a whole bunch of paintings painted and be selective as to what I’m what I’m going to show.”

Like a lot of folks around the world, Azarian found himself with more creative time during the last couple of years, which helped him build up a large body of work for the new show. “When the pandemic hit, I found myself with extra time… so I took that time to really hunker down and do some signature paintings,” he says. “And that just means paintings that I’ve sold over the years and that people like [and] tend to gravitate to.

“I thought, ‘I’ll call it a retrospective,’” he says. “I thought, ‘I’ll call it Azarian Retrospective' just because it sounded cool. And I kind of know what that means – just kind of like paintings that… one has done over their career. It’s sort of like a retrospective of all the paintings that I’ve done multiple times over the years. Like Herd of Cows – I’ve done… probably a hundred versions of that. Or Cow Sitings, which is a cityscape with cows standing on buildings. I’ve done many versions of that. Or Winter Village, which is inspired by having grown up in Vermont with the cold winters. So I’ve done many versions of Winter Village. Or Story of a House is another one, with all these houses sort of in strange positions and a progression that sort of ends with a house upside down sometimes, or lying on its side.”

Azarian says that as he’s revisited these works over the years, they’ve changed and evolved. “Because I’ve gotten better at painting. My technique has changed over the years, and I’ve definitely put in my 10000 hours of painting,” he says, adding with a laugh, “so it’s actually probably working against me now. I’m way over 10000 hours, probably!”

Despite those thousands of hours spent painting and after decades working as both an artist and musician in Austin, Azarian still isn’t sure how he views himself in the creative world. “I don’t think of myself as an artist in the contemporary sense or even the traditional sense,” he says. “Part of that’s because I never had any formal training, so I just was left to my own imagination, the paints, [and] whatever time I had. And I just feel like I was getting better slowly and that kind of kept my interest. And then when I started to sell paintings – there’s nothing like selling a painting [to] give you inspiration. When someone buys a painting or they really like a certain painting, I’ll revisit that painting. And I’m always tweaking the formula, so I’m tweaking the composition, I’m tweaking the colors. I like doing the same painting over an over. It’s kind of like Monet just did all those water lily paintings. Another one would be Van Gogh and the sunflowers.”

Azarian’s new show – officially titled A Postcard from Austin, Texas: Azarian Retrospective 2022 – will run from June 4 through June 18 at Cloud Tree Studios & Gallery. That’s a change of pace for an artist who spent years showing his work mostly at annual in-house galleries, for which he’d clear out his entire house to make more space to show his own works and art from friends and colleagues. “When I used to do the house show, I would live with the house show for a month before the show even started,” he says. “I’d be putting things in the cupboard… or on the wall, much to [my wife’s] chagrin. And the last thing I would do is take the refrigerator out of the kitchen [to make more room for art]! I’m really excited to have a show at Cloud Tree, because it’s an actual gallery. But it’s not a gallery in the sense where it’s exclusive or kind of intimidating. It’s very homey.

“The art is an escape for me. It’s really my therapy,” Azarian says. “Setting aside five hours a day and going out and painting for five hours a day no matter what and seeing what happens, that’s kind of where I feel like I’m an artist. Sometimes I get the colors right, sometimes I get the composition right, and I go, ‘Oh, that looks really nice.’ Or other people say, ‘That looks really nice.’ But I don’t really think of myself as a… contemporary artist. Like I’m not on the cutting edge or anything. And I don’t consider myself a folk artist, either. I’m kind of… I’m not an outsider. What’s past an outsider? I’m on the fringe! But not really, because a fringe [artist] would be like kind of scary or like ‘I’m on the edge!’ I don’t know. It’s definitely changed over the years, but it’s still using composition and bright colors and just sort of trying to satisfy my own curiosity and imagination.”

'A Postcard from Austin, Texas: Azarian Retrospective 2022' will be on display at Cloud Tree Studios & Gallery June 4 - 18 with a opening reception on June 4 and an artist talk on June 18. Ethan will also present a preview of the show and a musical performance on June 3.

Mike is the production director at KUT, where he’s been working since his days as an English major at the University of Texas. He produces Arts Eclectic, Get Involved, and the Sonic ID project, and also produces videos and cartoons for When pressed to do so, he’ll write short paragraphs about himself in the third person, but usually prefers not to.
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