by Paul Chaderjian
AIM Magazine 1998
"If you are alert to the Creative,
you will meet with good fortune now.”
--from “I Ching - Book of Changes”
It’s a sunny spring afternoon in Los Angeles. Melrose Avenue is bustling with traffic. On the sidewalks, young people mill around posing for the invisible camera; they are the walking ads for C.K., Dockers and Levi’s. A group of conservatively dressed Gen X’ers, in white shirts and ties, slurp smoothies and eat vegetarian sandwiches at a juice bar; a roaring Harley whizzes by calling attention to itself. It’s all for show, here- all for the ego. It’s not only about being looked at and looking, but it’s also about being a somebody in a sea of bodies.
Melrose has always attracted the hippest and coolest of visitors and residents; after all, millions watch the FOX drama named after this place. But unlike those who are trying to keep up with a beat set by Wall Street and Madison Avenue, a young Armenian, a Buddhist, is marching to the beat of his own drums and to the tune of the dudug, an instrument he practices as religiously as he does his sacraments, rituals, and martial arts.
Gregory Beylerian is an accomplished designer with an impressive resume which includes work for Disney’s consumer products division, for the King and Miranda design firm in Milan and designer and artist Guytano Pecci in New York. Over the past seven years, however, Beylerian has been on a journey which has taken him off the beaten track used by those who make a living from their talents in corporate America.
It was after a trip abroad and a visit to one of the holiest places for Buddhists, Sarna, when Beylerian decided to give up all worldly distraction and focus on his art. His goal is to have his first one-man show called “Soul Shop” by age 30, and he has been creating a countless number of paintings of faces, drawings of faces and sculptures of faces, all for his one-man show.
Beylerian credits his interest in design to his father. The younger Beylerian studied industrial design and philosophy at the Rochester School of Design in New York and earned his master’s degree in design at Domus Academy in Milan, Italy.
“The New York school of thinking was very technical, very technical design schools,” he says. “You learned how to do things, drafting, building, model-making. Very American engineering minded. Italy was a complete contrast. It was very heartfelt. More of the essence of design.”
While in Milan, Beylerian worked for King and Miranda, a firm he calls “crazy and wild. They did wild things with Olivetti interfaces, Alfa Romeo dashboards and interiors for high-end furniture companies in Tokyo.”
Upon his return home, Beylerian landed a job with Guytano Pecci, one of his idols. “Pecci merged the art world with the design world, because he did unique things,” says Beylerian. “He created everything from entire building structures that were conceptually tough and wild to furniture to lighting. Everything was made by hand, and we built these things in the studio. He really hit the mark, bridging the worlds of art and design together.”
“Future Mouse” was Beylerian’s next project. He moved to Burbank, California, and worked for Disney for over two years designing for the conglomerate’s consumer product division. “What I would do is integrate the characters into products,” he says. “It could've been fashion, could be jewelry, toys, housewares, graphics. All kinds of things. Future Mouse was taking the techno-rave generation and integrating Mickey into that, and creating a whole new graphic approach to him.”
It was in 1996 when Beylerian went abroad to attend the wedding of a relative and used the opportunity to travel through India and Nepal. With two friends, he trekked through the Himalayas, and it was upon his return that he decided to bring his truest dreams to fruition. “From that point till now, which has been a year,” he says, “I've been working on my art, 24-hours a day. I've left everything, all forms of exterior work, all distractions, and I've given myself to this project.”
“Soul Shop is a multi-media experience,” says Beylerian. “When people walk into the gallery space, they'll be overwhelmed by a very unique experience. The way I'm going to do that is by building all the surfaces with imagery. They'll be drawings, paintings and photographs. There are sculptures, there's sound, there's even a vehicle.” The car Beylerian uses in the show is his late grandmother’s blue Volvo which now has hundreds of stuffed animals glued to its exterior and handpainted faces all over the interior. “What happens for the viewer, we'll see,” he says. “But the intention and the love I'm putting into it, my hope is that it will make people reflect on their experiences through it.”
Demonstrating his love of life through art is Beylerian’s goal. “I've always been an optimist,” he says. “Not to say that I haven't had my ups and downs, because I definitely have. But what I try to do, and what I'm trying to do through the art work is see how I can overcome those things, and how I can turn the poison into medicine. How to make a negative experience become beneficial.”
Beylerian believes the greatest good that someone can do and the greatest happiness can come when a person serves others. “I also strongly believe where there is no vision, society perishes,” he says. “It's something I read once on a building; I think it's in Torrance. It's chiseled into the stone: where there is no vision, society perishes. I really admire that and agree with it.” For Beylerian the role of artists are very important in society. “Artists are the ones who have paved consciousness by being the visionaries,” he says, “by giving society a look into the future. It's always been that way since the beginning of time.”
Beylerian is very disciplined in how he spends his time and the rituals he follows. Even though he doesn’t use clocks and watches, he follows his internal clock and a strict schedule of when he creates his art, when he practices martial art and when he meditates. “I'm trying to do is make every aspect of my life be as sacred as it can be,” he says. “When I walk into a place, I try to build sacred space in there. It could be certain rituals like burning incense or ringing of bells. It can be vocalizing mantras.” One really important task for Beylerian is removing ill thoughts from his mind “like worrying thoughts. Like how am I going to get my next paycheck. Or what am I going to do about this. All these thoughts really impede or hamper the creative process.”
Beylerian’s religion is a big part of his creative process; his altar and shrine are the centerpiece of his living room. “It goes back to age 17 when I was a freshman in college,” he says. “Up until that point, I'd been very interested in Eastern philosophy, but did not have much knowledge or understand. But I had a strong inclination in my heart. I can recall speaking about Buddhist principles, Chinese-Hindu things. But Lao Tsui was what really clicked it for me.”
It was during his freshman year in college when Beylerian had to choose an athletic activity as part of his undergraduate curriculum and discovered martial arts. “I found an incredible man who taught Northern Chou Lin Kung Fu. He had been taught by a master who had come from China in 1958. This was such a very unusual thing, because no one was teaching traditional Kung Fu. It had been kept a secret through the millennium for four thousand years. It was a very rare connection, and I found this person, of all places in Rochester, New York.”
The Kung Fu master interviewed Beylerian to see if he what his intentions were. “Because he didn't teach this practice, this knowledge, to anyone to had the interest to do harm to people,” says Beylerian. “It had to be someone who was going to use it for themselves to heal or as a service. He changed my life, I have to say.” Beylerian not only practices Kung Fu several times a week, he also teaches it.
“We’re all trying to discover ourselves,” says Beylerian. “We’re all doing our best in a situation which comes our way.” He believes people need to share their difficulties and obstacle in order to resolve them. “Often times a Buddhist will say congratulations. The perspective is that it’s a sense of fortune, because the universe in a weird way is giving you this opportunity to realize something, to grow.”