Revealing William Saroyan as an Artist

23 Oct 2018

William Saroyan was a talented visual artist; he had to write, had to paint, had to put his hand to paper and commit his ideas. Painting became an alternate outlet for his creative energies. During his lifetime, he created thousands of drawings and paintings. Saroyan started his first artistic experiments back in the 1930s. These graphic works are close to constructivist and cubist compositions. Later he created abstract graphic drawings and paintings, which give us a clearer image of his aesthetics and art philosophy.

Saroyan was focusing on the process of writing in his artworks. Saroyan's abstract artworks are formed with many soft, curved lines, which are filled with restless energy and express fluid movement. The curved, sensuous nature of these lines resembles primitive writing. They are partly influenced by Japanese graphic art, but unlike Pablo Picasso and Tsuguharu Foujita, who created figurative drawings with just a single, well-thought-out line, Saroyan created abstract artworks with same soft, precise lines. His lines are similar to his handwriting; he let his unconscious impulses direct his brush. As a writer, Saroyan knew creative connections between men and paper and pen, and in some way, his abstractions are his writings done in an impulsive manner. Saroyan wrote about his love for paper many times, especially for the paper which showed the marks of human use, he thought these papers contained immense energy and information. It is the reason Saroyan so often painted on typing paper, wrapping paper, or old newspapers. The surrealist method of automatic writing must also have some connection with the calligraphic impulse.

Any idea or feeling is being informed to a human body by spirit, then body moves in some gesture, transferring the energy of both body and spirit into the arm, into the hand, then, into the pen or brush and finally into the mark. And this whole process is not just for communicating through standard forms of language but creates harmony between a mark and its meaning. Writing and language served as major conceptual foundations for William Saroyan's abstract artworks; his lines are inspired by handwriting. In his lines, one can find many letters from the Armenian alphabet. These are the letters Saroyan never used for writing, and they contain only visual information for him.

By Anna Evoyan,

Art historian and Project Assistant at The William Saroyan House-Museum