Memories of Jacques Karamanoukian

Number 2 of a series: From the Zeitgeist Website

Memories of Jacques/  Jacques Karamanoukian remembered 

From MAUGRE (aka Maurice Greenia, Jr.) written in 2002 and 2003

Introduction:  Ah, I can hardly believe that it’s eight or nine years later now.  The Zeitgeist space for art and theatre is  gone now.  I don’t think this was on the Zeitgeist website, maybe it was.  This is especially for those of you who knew Jacques and hadn’t seen this yet.

Part one

I’ve been showing my art-work in Detroit galleries since 1980.  I’d heard stories about this guy, Jacques, up in Ann Arbor.  He was running some adventurous galleries (including Le Minotaure Gallery).

By the late 1980’s, Jacques and I were both getting involved with the Heidelberg Project-an enclave of abandoned houses and fields–which were painted and decorated.

Tyree Guyton, his wife Karen and his grandfather Sam Mackey made quite a team.  They were responsible for the project.  It was Tyree’s vision but they got to help out and contribute.

Jacques really connected with “Grandpa” and his work.  He knew he’d found something special.  He’d started painting very late in life yet his work was strong and unique.

So, in the orbit of the Heidelberg project, we first crossed paths, exchanged words.

Yet we didn’t really connect until 1992, when I moved to Detroit’s “Cultural Center” area.

He saw my artwork and felt an immediate connection with what I was doing (that I was “on to something.”)

I started going up to Ann Arbor and hanging out at his art space “Galerie Jacques.”

Thus started a friendship which stayed strong and grew: staying steady for (an all too short) ten years.

I’d often take the train up there just to hang out, talk, draw and just “shoot the bull.”

I got to see his work.  He was a very good artist (as well as a self-taught historian-archivist-dealer-collector etc.).  He did some large paintings yet had a special affection for drawing over ads/postcards or drawing on napkins.

He supported himself by teaching high school French classes.  Since the 1960’s, he was showing art in Ann Arbor–going back and forth from France to Michigan.

I performed many times up at Galerie Jacques with my poetry and puppets and such.  I also showed my work there quite often.

In 1996, I showed my work in France and Jacques showed me around Paris.

Then, just after the turn of the century, he became ill and left us (less than a month ago as I write this).

This work will be more impressionistic than strictly biographical or chronological.

These are pieces in an unsolvable puzzle.

Jacques at home, on Wesley Street in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Part two

My visual artwork comes directly out of surrealism with a lot of other influences thrown in (art brut/outsider art, abstract expressionism, regular expressionism, dada, Picasso etc. etc.)

Jacques always responded to my work .  For ten years he’d encourage me but he’d also challenge me, push me.

He’d often give his honest opinion (very good, this one works or it needs more etc.)

The painting I titled “For Jacques” (on the eve of my latest exhibit/in the wake of his death) I thought it was finished.  I misplaced it for a few days.

When I found it again it was as if I could hear him “Maugre!  It’s a nice start/ but I think it needs something more.”  So I went back into it with more detail work, some candle smoke, volcanic ash, wax drippings, glitter etc. (on the day of the opening).

He’d support and encourage experimentation.  We’d do collaborations, try new materials and methods etc.  I always did stuff like that but he got me to take it a bit further than I would have.

This is harder to explain: when you’ve spent 25 years as a “serious artist” there can be a sort of personal language that develops.  It’s as if you’ve

created another world and can see into it through your art (sometimes at least).

Jacques always seemed to encourage and/or UNDERSTAND my need to go to the “wild places,” to be obsessive, to push the envelope, to try a little harder, to take more risks etc.

I’m in a different place within my own visual world than I’d be now if I’d never known him.

A whole sort of scene grew up around Jacques.  It seemed to really flower in these last years (though I’m sure it was always interesting).

Artists would hang out and draw together and look at each other’s work and sketchbooks.  We’d see work by the European artists whose work he showed.  We’d look at art books and talk about art history and great artists past.  There was a real “cross-pollination” going on.  It was unique.

We’re trying to get something similar going here at the Zeitgeist in Detroit.  It’s an art-space and theatre space.  We’re trying, but I’m not sure we’ll make it.

Jacques was involved with Zeitgeist in ways (especially after he closed Galerie Jacques).  He’d show his European artist friends with us and kept a wall of selections from his collection.  We’ll try to keep it going in the same spirit he had at his space.

The man informed and enlarged a great many individual (often eccentric) artistic sensibilities at a great many levels, in a great many ways.

The work he created himself, as an artist, was also inspiring.  Jacques lives!  His energy continues.

Part three    (2003 now)

We loved to talk about art.  There were discussions about the Detroit-Ann Arbor art scene and “goings on.”  He’d talk about Europe and the artists he knew over there.

We always kept going back to art history.  He had a huge collection of art books and really knew his stuff.

Certain figures came up again and again.  We’d look at books and talk of their work quite a bit: Dubuffet, Picasso, Arshile Gorky, Andre Masson  etc. (and various movements and groups with which they were aligned or crossed paths with).

We’d talk about more obscure figures too.  We’d talk of artists whose work we loved.  Sometimes we’d talk of those whose work we disliked.   It’s good to get it in the open, put it on the table, to try to better understand.

We’d talk about music.  Jacques was a huge fan of “be-bop” (Bird, Monk, Max, Dizzy) and most jazz.  He also loved Cuban music.   He had open ears.

Jacques knew literature well too-especially the works from France: Alfred Jarry, Lautreamont, the Surrealists, Rimbaud, Baudelaire and many more.

We shared a deep and complex knowledge of and love for a certain vista of CULTURE.  When human beings dig deep into themselves and really CREATE, then good things can come forth (surprises and wonders).  We search for these.  We wished that they’d turn up more often, that they didn’t often seemed to be reduced, endangered or threatened.

Jacques Karamanoukian's Drawing on a Paper Napkin

Part four

In 1996 I flew to Paris I caught up with Jacques.  I was showing my work in Begles near Bordeaux as part of an annual “Gardeners of Memory” show.

Maybe someday I’ll try to tell the whole story of my adventures in France.

For now, I remember Jacques showing me around Paris.  We met up with Jaber several times.  Once we went to a private “art space” and played pantomime games.  Jaber would wind me up (with an invisible key in my back).  Jacques became a bull and Jaber a bull-fighter.  It was sheer exuberant nonsense (like living in a Marx Brothers movie).

Jaber took a group of us out for cous cous and tried to show us every place in Paris that had some of his work.

We went to a few cafes, museums and galleries.

We took the fast train down to Bordeaux.  I drew rows of tiny drawings (to represent everything flying by out the windows).

At the opening, it went quite well.  My French was almost non-existent yet I got some translations and communicated through drawing.

I got to meet more of Jacques’ friends including Gerard Sendrey and Claudine Goux.

Back in Paris, we explored the city together.  We’d run into people he knew.  I’d explore it by myself as well.

I remember seeing his place there in Clamart.  I met some of his family and his neighbors.  His brother Leon was quite ill.

There was a little store nearby where we got bread and olives when I first arrived.  He picked a fresh fig off of a tree outside the house for me (delicious!)

He was my sponsor and first guide to Europe, to France.  The days were packed with life, with art and adventure.

Part five

Once, we went to a concert of Armenian music (I believe it was in Ann Arbor).  There he talked to me all about the troubles, the Armenian genocide of 1916.

We’d talk about it off and on for the rest of his life.  We’d talk of that and of all the troubles in the world: racism, greed, violence, cruelty, indifference, stupidity, hate and the entire awful and endless parade.  There are things very wrong with this world.

We’d go through a good part of “the list” and get to more heated areas of conversation:  World trouble, American trouble, artist trouble (and an enormous spider-web of woes) seem to be at the heart of everything.

I start a series of “Trouble Books” and get back to protests and writing more manifestos/statements.

Jacques landed in Ann Arbor in the 1960’s when things seemed more hopeful.  There used to be a more complex sense of possibility.

As much as Jacques loved magic and imagination in art, in life he was quite the realist.  He’d try to find the truth and see the hardest facts, to bring it into the light.

Part six

Jacques was a great talker and story-teller.  He’d listen too.

I think his work as a teacher helped develop a certain side to his interactions with other people.

He could rub people the wrong way and get them upset.  Yet that was often because he insisted on being himself and on being honest.

He was a real reader and a great “book person.”  He had a mysterious side to him, hard to get to really know.  He loved art and loved life.

I remember his last year when he was sick.      We’d visit him at Wesley Street (or elsewhere).      Sometimes he looked better and sometimes worse.

Many of our conversations then were tape recorded.  We’d bring up some food and have a little repast.

His neighbor’s cat was often there and Jacques would talk to it and play with it a bit.

We’d talk about life, art, music, politics, world events (including then recent September 11 attacks), history and more.

Sometimes just one or two of us would visit.  Other times there’d be five or six of us.      There’d usually be some music playing in the background.

He’d talk about his plans and hopes, the things he wanted to do if things turned out o.k.      Yet in all our farewells (especially that last one) there was a silent worry about losing him.    Everyone makes the “brave face” and continues.

He’d been well enough to go out and play a little tennis but back in France he got worse again.

There were a few phone calls and a few letters sent back and forth.  His final letter to me was especially powerful and moving.

Yes Jacques died, but for some of us “Jacques lives” in his way.  His fight was our fight.  His dreams were close to ours and inspired ours.  We “take the torch” and carry on as best we can.

11 Responses to “Memories of Jacques Karamanoukian”

  1. Some of the Artists who Showed at the Zeitgeist « Adventures and Resources Says:

    […] […]

  2. Bill Hagan Says:

    We were best friends of Jacques from about 1971 until 1986. We have several of his pieces and also purchased several French artists. We were at three of his locations often and knew him very well. We sent in some more elaborate comments to another site and haven’t heard back.

  3. artremedy20 Says:

    I left a comment on the other post too. If you have some stories of Jacques from those times, I’d be glad to hear them. I only know a few people who knew him then.

  4. Mary Ellen Croci Says:

    I have just read the entrances my friend Maugre’ and would love to recant some of my own. I first met Jaques in 1980 and at that time he lived and had an art gallery in his home on Wesley Street in A2.
    “Galerie Jaques” was always showing the artworks ( Art Brut ) created by artists in France. I had met him through other local artists: Sally St. Ryan / Katherine Korache-a Canadian/Jeanne Poulet/all creating similar works within’ the modes he exhibited.
    Assadour and Roudex were personal favorites of mine. Assadour had published several books of small/large press.The jazz was always flowing and Jaques was very open in showing his French artists-telling stories of their lives and passions.
    By later in that year he’d asked me to show in several exhibitions.
    Of which he loved his female artists from the states : “Femmes Femmes Femmes” was one of them as I remember his asking: “Detroit is so rich in the arts and I’d love to meet the artists there..”
    ( and to show the art they are creating. ) From that time forward we
    would talk about this or that artists works..bringing up The Michigan Gallery which many were showing in. The years went by-and eventually ( 1980-1989 ) I moved from locale to locale -Detroit and other areas;while I was set on completion of my BFA from CCS/CAD. All the while showing Jaques my works on paper and of mixed medias. What “glistens” in my mind was that Jaques always paid for my works that sold; always on time-which helped me through my studies as student-asking questions; and just knowing as to realize that: …” the arts had become my mainstay and rock that after all IT was my life” ( written on a postcard in 1981 and sent to me.) HE knew of my cathartic visions and outlays ( that the art was as still is.) We had mutual friends having dinner with and talking art/jazz and the wonderful experiences of process.
    By 1982 Jaques would come to my abode-as I had several roomates there; asking: “Can you come out and play ART?” And there I would go with art supplies and paints as we’d spend the evening painting and trading mediums of arts processes sometimes until after one in the morning…
    Then from 1986-1987 I lived in NYC on a Matilda Wilson scholarship. A.I.C.A. colleges of art enabled a studio as i was one of 26 artists from around the country to become an intern at: Holly Solomon gallery on 74th street-and Jaques and I continued to write.
    Around the fall of 1986 he sent me a copy of a George Grosz book with pictures and processes inside… and Jaques always asking about the Detroit Artists. Of which my own inspirations are yet so proud …time flew by. As i continued to mention artists I’d known doing art in Detroit. I moved many times since 1987-1994..eventually losing touch ( with Jaques ) yet still doing the art.
    By 1996-to “build up my ouvre” after selling much of my art created on paper to a corporate arts dealer then finding out that Jaques had died in 1999.
    To note: ..there is never a day due to Jaques which I do not think of him..or the Journey “On the Ship of my own artistic dreams”.
    Because he was there for me-“I Am”.Thankfully so.

  5. artremedy20 Says:

    Thanks for the comments, Mary Ellen, great. Actually he died in 2002, I knew him from around 1992 to 2002.

  6. Barbara Tissier Says:

    Dear Maurice, I am a French author working on the biography of the artist Jaber (al Mahjoub). I read some of your memories of Jacques Karamanoukian where you quoted “Jaber”. If you agree to share some memories with me, please write me on my email.
    Best regards,

  7. artremedy20 Says:

    Will do. I met Jaber in Paris, 1996.

  8. Barbara Tissier Says:

    Waiting for your email! Thank you!

  9. laurent LEFEBVRE Says:

    Hello Maurice,
    the first time I heard about Jacques Karamanoukian was at the st pierre gallery in paris. The person who knew him well told me about him: he was very tall and very human, he was very close to Jaber, these two together were able to go into improvisations.
    When Jacques was hospitalized Jaber was going to see him every day. after his death, he was very affected by the death of Jacques.
    Do you have photos of your trip to France in 1996? Will you write this complete story?

  10. Brandon Campbell Says:

    Well written and thoughtful article. Thank you for the trip down memory lane.

    Went to lunch with a friend this afternoon and we started talking about teachers who had left a mark on us. Jacques was the first to come to mind as I was in his French class all through high school in the late 80’s. We played tennis together on the weekends sometimes and I got to know him outside the classroom. He always treated me with dignity and more of a peer than a pupil. One of the good ones!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: