Merrill Kazanjian was born in 1978 and is a comtemporary, New York based artist and a pioneer in the medium of "Tradigital Art". He was first trained in traditional oil painting, while attending Manhattanville College (1996-2001)and at the Art Students League of New York. But, over the last nine years, Kazanjian experimented heavily and his methods evolved, over time. He began to think of art as the act of conveying a persons life experiences through "image making" and felt that if he would limit his expression, if he continued to see himself as just a "painter". As a "Tradigital" artist (an artist who merges the best qualities of traditional art materials, with digital possibilities), it is common for Kazanjian to mix, oil paint, digital photography, digital collage (Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro etc.), color pencils, media cut outs and oil pastels in a single work of art.
The Tradigital approach enables Kazanjian to merge many of his influences in to a single "character". Kazanjian loves the "fascinating figures" in Hieronymus Bosch's work and the exaggerated likenesses of John Currin. Kazanjian also loves Dutch, Baroque and Spanish Painting and heavily relies on the process of glazing oil paint to finish many of his works. Kazanjian's compositions are heavily inspired by the aesthetics of Red Grooms and Romare Bearden and his interchangeable "characters" can be most associated with them.
Merrill's Characters: Kazanjian has created hundreds of “characters” since early 2008. Each character has one pose and are interchangeable in his compositions. He saves each character as a PNG file and juxtaposes his characters over digital photographs, to create his compositions. Some of Kazanjian's characters have been used only once and some have been used dozens of times. Some characters are actual people (friends of his or well known celebrities) and some are created as abstract reproductions of people that he has interacted with in life situations. Here is an example of Merrill creating and juxtaposing some of his characters:
The Evolution of the Tradigital Method: From 2001 to 2005, Kazanjian thought of himself as a "painter". He became a scholar of traditional painting methods and read endlessly on the topic. He admits now that the act of painting brought out his obsessive side, and his output was extremely limited in that timeframe. He was determined to create work that was "technical perfection" and the act of art making was a miserable process. Within the same time frame, "Mr. K" started his teaching career at St. Aloysius School in Harlem, NY. The school housed an extremely prominent art collection with hundreds of works of Harlem Renaissance artists. Kazanjian had a limited edition print by Jacob Lawrence, right above his desk and a Romare Bearden Lithograph about twenty feet away. To that point, Kazanjian had only exposed himself to paintings history, but the narratives and processes of Bearden began to fascinate Kazanjian. Beginning in 2005 Kazanjian began to try to concoct a method that would mimic the effects of oil paint, with supplies that were, "lower in maintenance". He ordered opaque paint markers, oil pastels and illustration markers and instructed his students to color their drawings with the magic markers, and then do another layer with pastel or opaque paint marker (or paint if the period was extended). After witnessing the success that his students had, he decided to push the technique even further, while working in his studio. By 2008, Kazanjian learned that brushing in the painting medium liquin, atop the layer of color pencil gives an artist the ability to treat the layer of color pencil, as paint. Also in 2008, he learned that scanning his images on to a computer will allow him to edit his “characters” and add crazy effects such as juxtaposing cut out images (the digital equivalent to Bearden) on top of the other layers of his creations. This breakthrough happened when Kazanjian taught himself how to use computer programs such as Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro 9. The trick was using paper that was thick enough to withstand painting medium without wrinkling and thin enough to go through an inkjet printer. By 2009, Kazanjian rediscovered the medium that he was most familiar with; oil paint. He discovered that oil paint is compatible with color pencil and that it is possible to paint oil paint over color pencil. He does this, at times as a glaze layer and at other times, as opaque layers.
About the Narrative in Kazanjian's Work: Kazanjian strives for his work to be honest and reflective. His work draws upon his experiences over the course of his life and is a bi-product of my experiences, in the same way that digestion is a direct result of eating. At the present, he feels an extreme need to create. Kazanjian tries to create at least one "character" per week and the character usually reflects the mindset that Kazanjian is in (sometimes he uses direct references and sometimes he insinuates). His characters serve somewhat as a visual diary for him. So, when he juxtaposes his images, he is assembling the reflections of his past.