NEW! Hot Off the BlockFilms DVD Presses: “ZORTHIAN: Art & Times,” a very special film about one of the great So Cali artists of our times: Colonel Jirayr Hamparzoom Zorthian. This is a short (15 ½ minute) labor of love in memory of this amazing artist, rancher, lover, husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather and connoisseur of joie de vivre: good food, good wine, nude nymphs…
I met Zorthian back in 2000 at Stage Blue, a bi-coastal 300th anniversary celebration of Yale University’s multiple contributions to American entertainment. Zorth and I stood out like brightly-hued tropical fish in a sea of navy blue, black and grey-suited alums. There he was in his handcrafted belt and extravagant beard, built like a hobbit but larger than life, and there I was in my marabou-trimmed hat and velvet miniskirt. Our eyes twinkled as soon as we saw each other, recognizing kindred wild-at-heart spirits who managed to survive venerable old Eli Yale on opposite sides of the Bushes.
Our spouses, my Max and his Dabney, also hit it off. So, it wasn’t long before we, along with our art curator Kim Mendoza, were visiting them on their ranch high up in the Altadena hills, admiring the Colonel’s whimsical, provocative art, and Dabney’s splendid boho hospitality. Being ethical hedonists, we found Zorthian’s erotic art especially impressive, eventually producing an exhibit of several of his masterpieces at the Speakeasy Gallery. We also attended a couple of the legendary Zorthian Primaveras. These great hilltop Rites of Spring would have been appreciated by the primeval followers of Dionysus, Eros and Aphrodite, with wild dancing to homespun music, sumptuous feasts of shiskabob, red wine, whole hogs roasted over pits, Armenian vegetables and Armenian nutmeg cake. And then there’s the delectable icing on top of the cake: the stunningly beautiful, all-nude Dance of the Nymphs of Zorbacchus.
Well, actually they’re not all nude. As Zorthian jovially pointed out, “they wear wreathes on their heads.” And a belly-button jewel here and there. But other than that, they’re as bare as nature made them. Yet even more than their nudity, these nymphs – over a dozen exquisite artist models – are renowned for their grace. Just imagine the Three Graces, multiplied by four, all with bodies that look as if they were sculpted by Pygmalion himself, dancing around the artist with abandon.
Intoxicated by beauty, wine and mountain air as we were, Kim and I were sober enough to videotape our adventures at the Zorthian Ranch. So we put all the best footage together to make this wonderful little film, weaving intimate Zorthian interviews with images of his art, including his erotic masterpieces, haunting photos from his early childhood during the Armenian genocide, his hilariously naughty experiences as a student at Yale in the 1930s, and an exciting Speakeasy Gallery erotic art opening on Eros Day. And then there’s the last Primaveras of the old man’s 92 years, featuring those marvelous, magical nymphs.
This film gives you an excellent front row seat at these rare nude nymph dances, transporting you to a heavenly pantheistic paradise where nudity is perfectly natural, spiritually uplifting and simply breathtaking. Dr. Susan Block Show fans will recognize some faces among the nymphs, such as Blonde Island star and Speakeasy regular Lisa Ann Davis, Zorthian Muse Jennifer Patton whose angelic image appears in many of his erotic paintings, and the strikingly expressive, proudly Armenian Sara Streeter. Alma Cielo (Yale ’95) is the lovely classical violinist who is pregnant at the first Primavera and carries her baby Bishop on a sling as she fiddles for the nymphs in the second.
We showed Zorthian: Art & Times on the “big screen” at the Zorthian & Yale Art Salon to a very enthusiastic crowd of friends and fans, bulldogs and bonobos, nymphs and satyrs. The Yale Club of Southern California called it “fantastic.” The audience laughed and cried, embracing the movie in the spirit of “Zorbacchus,” the artist’s bacchanalian alter ego.
The film opens with the nymphs, naked and vibrant in the mountain spring sunshine, dancing in a circle around the artist, as he states his simple bon vivant philosophy, “The purpose of life is living.” He attributed his great longevity to fine art, red wine and being surrounded by a bevy of nude young women at least once a year. Let this extraordinary artist’s wisdom inspire you, as he has long inspired me, and let his dazzling nymphs delight you (as they most certainly delight me!) in “ZORTHIAN: Art & Times.”
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