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"A Riddle Guesser" by Nick Musaelian; photo courtesy of Plus Gallery

Best Bets: Nick Musaelian’s Absurdist Portraits

Boulder-based painter Nick Musaelian will debut his recent works at Abend Gallery on February 13.

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If Nick Musaelian wants to paint a lizard humping a badger on a corkscrew, he won’t hesitate to do just that. The Armenian-born, Boulder-based software engineer midnights as a painter—a passion that he wryly likens to an ailment. “It’s kind of a curse,” he says. “Art is like a cold. Some people catch it, some don’t.”

His first Colorado exhibition, From Ass to Skunk, will showcase the breadth of his curious woodcuts, oil, and egg tempera paintings. The survey of artworks will be displayed from February 13 through March 13 at Abend Gallery, which has offered the space to Musaelian’s representatives at Denver’s Plus Gallery in the interim of its closure.

Musaelian graduated with a master of fine arts from the New York Academy of Art in 2009, and has been gradually building a repertoire since moving to Colorado. His pieces are set in a continual (yet variable) landscape and are easily identified by the distinctive oceans and cliffs that make up the backgrounds. His portrait art—seemingly realistic at first glance—may upend your expectations when you realize the subject has green hands or is accompanied by a host of stuffed gorillas. Often interpreted as humorous because of their unlikely pairings, Musaelian makes no mistake that his works are not intended for comedy.

“I think I have a sense of absurd,” he says. “People often think that, what I do, there’s a joke and a humor to it. They don’t realize it’s really earnest. The goal is not to be funny. I’m not a comedian.”

While Musaelian purports to be decidedly unintellectual in his approach to painting, allusions to Alice in Wonderland, Samson and Delilah, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Lady with Ermine” might tell a different tale. “I put things in paintings that I want to,” he says. “They have to coexist, they don’t have to belong to each other. And then they have to coexist in the head of the viewer. And how, I don’t know.”

He thinks an exhibition as far ranging as From Ass to Skunk will create potential for interplay between his many works. He didn’t choose to help hang the exhibition when asked, saying, “I paint the paintings, but [the curators] will tell their own story in the way they hang them.”

Opening details: Musaelian will be in attendance for the opening night reception on February 13 from 6 to 9 p.m. Abend Gallery will also exhibit a selection of narrative paintings by their stable artists in the gallery’s auxiliary space. 2260 E. Colfax Ave., 303-355-0950

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