Marcos Grigorian


Grigorian Untitled Grey Art Gallery Nyu Art Collection 1500 - © The Estate of Marcos Grigorian
  • Marcos Grigorian
  • Untitled
  • 1963
  • Sand and enamel on canvas
  • 76,2 x 63,5 cm
  • Grey Art Gallery. New York University Art Collection. Gift of Abby Weed Grey, 1975 - © The Estate of Marcos Grigorian

Born in Russia to Armenian parents, Marcos Grigorian spent most of his life in Tehran. There, he was part of a generation of Iranian artists interested in reconciling the ancient Persian culture with the formal language of modernism, deploying the motifs and techniques of folk art and craft traditions in new ways. After studying art in Rome, Grigorian returned to Iran, where his international ties made him an important point of contact between the worlds of Iranian, European, and American art.

In the early 1960s, while living in the United States, Grigorian began creating what he referred to as “Earthworks,” preceding the American land art movement by several years. These were relief-like canvases that employed kah-gel (a mixture of straw, clay, and earth traditionally used in Iran to build indigenous village dwellings), and other natural materials such as wood and sand, sometimes mixed with paint. Though reminiscent of the modernist trope of the monochrome, Grigorian’s “Earthwork” canvases allude to the desert landscape of Iran in their elemental palettes and in the incorporation of organic matter. In this untitled work, he used sand and enamel paint to form raised striations across the surface, suggesting an aerial view of sand dunes. While Grigorian’s use of sand carries rich symbolic connotations, it also serves a formal purpose, allowing the artist to animate the canvas through surface texture rather than conventional painterly effects.

Rachel Wetzler

Biography of Marcos Grigorian

  • Born 1925 in Kropotkin, Russia
  • Died 2007 in Yerevan, Armenia
Marcos Grigorian and his Armenian family immigrated to Iran from Russia in 1930. He studied at the Kamāl-al-Molk Art School in Tehran from 1948 to 1950. After graduating he moved to Rome, where he received a degree from the Accademia di Belle Arti (Academy of Fine Arts). Upon his return to Tehran in 1954 he opened the modern art gallery Esthétique and initiated a collection of Iranian coffeehouse paintings—a folk genre. In 1956 he participated in the Venice Biennale for the first time, and two years later returned as an Iranian delegate and an International Jury member. In 1958 he organized the first Tehran Biennial. With his late 1950s mural series The Gates of Auschwitz Gregorian became one of the first artists to commemorate the Holocaust. Around the same time he initiated his acclaimed “Earthworks” series, in which he created textured surfaces by fixing materials like sand, earth, and ashes to canvas. He lived in the United States from 1962 to 1970, returning to Iran after the Iranian Revolution. In the 1970s he joined the Faculty of Fine Arts at Tehran University and founded the Independent Artists Group. Gregorian established the Arshile Gorky Gallery, New York in 1980 and the Near East Museum of Yerevan in 1993.