Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Munich-based artist David Ambarzumjan has been devoting attention to Brushstrokes in Time, his series of altermodern paintings combining a whimsical sense of fantasy with the topical subject-matter of climate change and the impact of human presence on Earth. Altermodern art, as defined by contemporary critic and curator Nicolas Bourriaud, explores time as if it were itself a landscape; the genre is an exploration of the human condition as relative to time and space, and serves as a critique of consumerism and anthropocentrism. Newly forming and still evolving, the genre was first ignited by Gen-X and Millennial artists during a time when concern for the planet was an issue largely considered with flippancy. By contemporary standards, altermodern work is gaining popularity for the growing concerns and unifying interest in the state of the global community and for younger generations to come; but along with the self-serious nature of the genre’s content, Ambarzumjan balances his work humour and optimism. As quoted in My Modern Met, Ambarzumjan notes that despite the sometimes-dystopian visions and bittersweet environmental impact imagery in his work, “my main goal is to emphasize the admiration I have for this planet we live on.”
Using the giant brushstroke as a window or portal into another dimension of time, Ambarzumjan fuses the grand scale of past, present, and future in a single canvas, inviting the viewer to reflect on the human progress. The double meaning of the painting titled Impact alludes to both the physical impact of the comet or asteroid that caused the extinction event 66 million years ago, and of the ecological impact of all beings on this Earth. The painting features late-cretaceous dinosaurs roaming a lush valley under a towering mountain, juxtaposed with a scene of molten lava, scorched earth, and a red sky overlayed in the central brushstroke.
Transitioning to a scene of both pre and post industrialization, the painting Human Nature illustrates the staggering revision of landscape in a space of mass industrial development. A sparse riverscape interlaid with sprawling green pastures is contrasted here by the vision within the central brushstroke. The downtown core of New York sits by the waterfront; the steely grey palette and modular geometry of the high-rises recede into a flatter and expansive terrain of city, showcasing the often-forgotten magnitude of urban development, and the consequences for natural landscape.
Animals often take a starring role in Ambarzumjan’s paintings, in a sometimes bleak but poignant demonstration of a non-human-centric view. The painting Sharks in Montmartre takes a sojourn from the artist’s manipulation of time in landscapes to present a vision of a post-apocalyptic future in which great white sharks freely swim in the now underwater art district of Paris. The painting is at once disturbing for its portrayal of climate change and its looming threat to humanity, while simultaneously it offers a glimpse at the reintroduction of wild animals in the absence of humans. A humorous addition in this painting is the sense of interplay between the dog and the shark: the leashed dog walks deliberately in the direction of the massive great white shark, perhaps curious and instinctually sensing the shark’s future presence.
The combination of levity and thoughtfulness for the state of the world resonates with fans of Ambarzumjan’s work, and he is now using his wide Instagram fan-base as a platform to spread awareness for his humanitarian efforts. In an impressive act of entrepreneurialism, Ambarzumjan has been successfully using Instagram to post photos of works from his miniature series and allowing buyers to post bids in the comment section. The miniatures are featured on Ambarzumjan’s main account, with nearly half a million followers. The posts direct buyers to a separate account devoted specifically to the auctions. Starting at 50 Euro, anyone interested in acquiring an original piece of art can bid on a 20x20 cm oil painting, each one a natural landscape painted inside a brushstroke on a cosmic black field speckled with stars.
In January 2020, Ambarzumjan began using the popularity of the auctions to support humanitarian causes, beginning with the painting Grow, in support of the Australian bush-fires relief fund. All proceeds from the sale went to the cause, with 50% donated to @wireswildliferescue and 50% going to @redcrossau. The painting Spark was sold in June 2020, with proceeds going to support a variety of Black Lives Matter initiatives. Most recently, Ambarzumjan has been focusing on the Armenian Fund, and drawing attention to the atrocities being inflicted on the people of Armenia. The artist believes this cause warrants more attention, stating on Facebook, “Armenians are fighting to survive, fighting for the right to exist… It’s a shame that there is barely any media coverage.” With plans to devote the next few miniatures to Armenia’s natural landscapes, 100% of proceeds from those sales will be donated to humanitarian aid funds in Armenia. With the online art actions and efforts to spread awareness, Ambarzumjan has already made a difference for this worthy cause and will continue to do so as he uses his art to help unify a divided world.