Sydney comedian Sam Kissajukian introduces himself to a crowded Perth bar as an artistic montage swims across an onstage screen. Progress shots of paintings are interspersed with footage of COVID mask creations and large-scale self portraits.
‘What is a hat?’ Kissajukian asks the audience – a rhetorical question that leads naturally to a series of observations about berets and signifiers, because if a pandemic causes a lockdown, and a comedian can’t perform, he may as well become an artist, right?
Tapping into his subconscious with an uncut originality that borders on cheerful nihilism, Kissajukian transforms stand-up comedy into a long-form artist statement. The sheer creativity of his chronologically-documented mental states may be referred to as a byproduct of mania by some (including the artist himself), but genius could be a better descriptor.
Using unconventional materials and methods, Kissajukian takes art to intriguing new levels, using technology, light, shadow, feathers, break-up-rage and kitchen utensils. Whether it’s painting his fellow comedians as a replacement for roasting them, creating mindflowers or going through a Klein-esque blue period, the synergy between Kissajukian’s art and comedy is artistically and intellectually intoxicating.
Each of the pieces Kissajukian discusses in 300 Paintings is accompanied by photographs displayed as projections, large enough for those at the back to see clearly. Expressing through images what words can’t convey, these paintings encompass a range of styles and themes, including playful pseudo-cubism and depictions of an ex-girlfriend as various incarnations of Medusa. Artworks revealing break-ups, dreams, desires and animals-made-out-of-fish are accompanied by some of the rawest, funniest, most original one-liners you are likely to hear at a rooftop bar.
Although almost everyone engages with art (in one form or another) on a daily basis, cultural attitudes towards artistic practice are segregated into brow-height boxes. The creation of visual art is often mistakenly perceived by some as being outside the realm of the average human – a view that paradoxically exists alongside the mindlessly constant (and therefore devalued) passive consumption of media.
For the vast majority, art is either displayed in fancy galleries, or found free of charge on a screen. Kissajukian challenges perceived notions of artistic elitism and creator/consumer dichotomies, daring the audience to follow suit. And they do, psychologically emboldened by the courage, confidence and accessibility of Kissajukian’s comedy, and vibrating with inspiration incited by his 300 fascinating lockdown paintings.
Reclassifying pandemic humour as a genre unto itself, 300 Paintings is an outstanding example of what stand-up comedy is capable of. Topics touched upon include emotional intelligence, mental illness and hedge fund pennies, but at the core of Kissajukian’s multifaceted act is an infectious creative spark. Artists and non-artists alike will feel the urge to go home and immerse themselves in uninhibited creative indulgence.
300 Paintings by Sam Kissajukian
Various venues, FRINGE WORLD Festival, WA
300 Paintings will be performed until 19 February 2023.