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Josiah Boornazian Artist Biography and Statement for Brownsville Museum of Fine Art

Artist Bio:

Josiah Boornazian (1990–) is an award-winning saxophonist, composer, educator, electronic musician, scholar of music, and visual artist primarily active in Brownsville, Miami, New York City, and California. He is an American of Armenian and European ancestry born and raised in California’s Mojave Desert, where he developed an early interest in the arts, beginning his musical education at the age of eleven. After studying clarinet and saxophone with his stepfather Dr. Kenneth Bergevin, Josiah began performing professionally with local jazz ensembles in Ridgecrest, CA at the age of twelve. In 2004, Josiah moved to Bakersfield, CA for high school, where he continued to perform professionally and with the jazz ensembles at California State University, Bakersfield. He went on to earn his Bachelor of Music Degree in Jazz Studies from at California State University, Northridge in Los Angeles. After four years in Southern California, Josiah moved to New York City in 2011 where he earned his Master of Arts degree in Music at the City College of New York (CCNY) in 2013.

While living in New York, Josiah was inspired by regular visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art. He started painting in 2012 after reading the writings of 20th century abstract painters Josef Albers and Wassily Kandinsky and the composer Morton Feldman, who was a friend of Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and other mid-century modernist artists. At the time, in addition to painting, composing, and performing, Josiah worked at Carnegie Hall, worked for a small jazz record label, and taught music courses at CCNY. After teaching for a few years at CCNY, Josiah moved back to the west coast in 2015. He took a yearlong sabbatical in California and Washington state in order to paint, give jazz improvisation clinics and masterclasses, write an improvisation method book, compose new music, and prepare for his doctoral studies. Josiah then moved to Miami in 2016 and earned his Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the University of Miami Frost School of Music in 2019. In Miami, he continued painting, and Josiah began combining exhibitions of his paintings with his live jazz performances. His multimedia performances have also included readings of his original poetry and digital visual effects displays he constructed around his musical compositions. Shortly after earning his doctorate, Josiah relocated to Brownsville after receiving a job offer from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, where he is currently building a jazz studies program as an Assistant Professor of Jazz and Applied Saxophone. Josiah’s exhibition, entitled Improvised Structures will be open January 15 through February 25, 2020 at the Brownsville Museum of Fine Art.

Exhibition title: Improvised Structures

Artist Statement:

Life is structured improvisation. We all have routines, goals, habits, and patterns of energy. But within those structures, boundaries, and restrictions, we make it up as we go along. We use improvisation in everyday speech. We do not plan out our daily conversations word-for-word or phrase-for-phrase beforehand. Instead, we improvise: we creatively re-combine pre-existing words and linguistic structures to express new thoughts and emotions. We improvise our daily routines as well: we know we will drive to work or school, but we can creatively change our route in response to construction, traffic, and weather.

As an improvising musician and an improvisatory painter, I am keenly aware of the role improvisation plays in our lives. I am fascinated by the delicate balance and tension between nature and manmade constructions, between chaos and order, between the unplanned and the planned, between restrictions and freedom, and between improvisation and structure.

Life requires balance, and it’s dangerous to have too much structure just as it’s disorienting to have too much freedom. We need structure to communicate, to guide our lives, to teach ourselves discipline, and to survive life’s challenges and unpredictability. But we also stagnate, feel trapped and depressed, and aren’t fully human without the freedom that comes from spontaneity, creativity, and improvisation.

The most perfect structures always originally arose out of an improvisation that became reified. Likewise, even the most seemingly “random” improvisation is never truly random. Real-life surprises upset the structure we try to create and maintain in our world. “Random” art is probably impossible for humans to create. We are not as mathematically precise as computers when it comes to creating random distributions of any set of data or ideas, because we are naturally inclined to recognize and follow patterns in the world around us, real or imagined.

This means we must leave room in our structures to improvise in order to accommodate mistakes and unforeseen events. Likewise, despite our best efforts, we create patterns in our lives and our art no matter how random we might try to be. The patterns we create and perceive are influenced by everything we’ve seen and imagined in the past, since we are fundamentally sophisticated pattern recognition machines.

Improvised art necessarily will always have some degree of implicit or explicit structure. Paradoxical as it may seem, improvisation functions best when there is structure to guide spontaneity and serendipity.

Each of my paintings is a structured improvisation based on some theme, abstract concept, mood, or real-life inspiration, just as my music is built around improvisation within clear musical boundaries. I often paint with music playing while I work, and so physicality plays a large role in how I create. In other words, I improvise with my mind and body while painting, but I restrict myself so I can freely create and improvise within some boundaries that make sense for me.

You can’t fit all the universe into one canvas: each painting must be a focused exploration of how to improvise based on one theme. Some themes are abstract: like mirrored geometric patterns. Some improvisations attempt to capture naturaistic textures, like the way molten lava flows. Other improvisations could be explorations of certain color palettes, visual patterns, or physical techniques for creating textures, aided by the use of found objects as painting implements, as opposed paintbrushes. I am always flirting with the boundaries between chaos and order, between the unplanned and planned, between improvisation and structure. I invite you to explore these themes with me and to think about the beautiful and complex balancing act we must master in our lives between structure and improvisation.