LA Gallery

Aram Saroyan: Writing with ColorsJun 28 – Aug 31, 2024

'Writing with Colors' installation view

Aram Saroyan has been creating for the majority of his 80 years. To date, he’s assumed the roles of novelist, memoirist, playwright, artist and educator though he’s best known for his landmark minimal poems. Minimal Poetry – like its Concrete Poetry relative – asserts that a poem’s potential to communicate can be as much visual as it is textual. Pages, a collection of Saroyan’s poetry published in 1969, for instance, has a spartan layout. Each spread abandons the expected chapter titles or page numbers to instead present its reader-viewer with a sea of white space, with the exception of a few typewritten lines in recto. Some poems are scaled to one line. Others begin and end with a single word, at times misspelled with a wink. The bold visuality in Pages flexed convention, paving the way for what followed: an exploratory practice of poetics that could be as mischievous as it was meditative.

'Writing with Colors', installation view

The 2007 publication of Saroyan’s Complete Minimal Poems, reprising most of his work from the 1960s, found success with a new audience that extended beyond the world of literature and into that of the visual arts – and invitations followed from international museums and galleries providing Saroyan with the opportunity to create off the page. Commissioned by the Hammer Museum to create a sub-title for its 2018 biennial Made in LA, the artist responded:

a, the, though, only

Saroyan’s latest show, Writing with Colors, spans six decades to include early sketches, recent drawings and paintings, and newly commissioned adaptations of historic minimal poems engraved into Cumbrian sandstone. A collection of intimately scaled sketches and watercolors made by the sixteen-year-old Saroyan embody a vital albeit wordless language and creative spirit that would soon permeate the variety of his written work. These pieces are experienced through the quiet delicacy of a folio with the exception of two watercolors, framed and installed on the wall as symbolic signposts to Saroyan’s most recent work sans text. One is a breezy color field of many hued swatches, and the other, a claustrophobic composition of layered and colliding brush strokes. Coming full circle, this show includes three ‘60s poems rendered in a slender lowercase serif meticulously engraved into the faces of substantial slabs of sandstone.

'Writing with Colors', installation view
Untitled 16 (2024) & Archive 01 (1959), Aram Saroyan

Chronologically bookended between the archive and the engravings is an ongoing series of drawings and paintings, the electric manifestations of the symptoms and possibilities of, indeed, Writing with Colors. Their wavy features are drawn in freehand and read as improvised cartographies. Untitled 5 reads like a natural evolution from Saroyan’s written poetry; the composition of four single lines in a cool green loosely occupy and frame each corner of the page. Untitled 7 is slightly busier, looking like the plotted trail of a Situatonist dérive. Variously colored lines intersect with others to create a network of trails that move at a more upbeat rhythm. What connects them all, is something inevitably a part of a minimalist’s pursuit: breathing room. These poems, like their text-centered predecessors, embrace pauses, negative space, and silence as tools that are just as vital as the content they surround.

Untitled 11 (2021), Aram Saroyan


  • Erik Benjamins


  • Rich Stapleton

Featured works

Saroyan’s work has been featured in museums and galleries in the US, Europe, India and the Middle East. In Los Angeles, his work has been featured in shows at LACMA, Commonwealth and Council, the As-Is Gallery, and the Hammer’s Biennial Made in LA: a, the, though, only, for which he wrote the subtitle.