How did you come to be an artist?
The path I have trodden to becoming an artist is in fact that of my life, which has been difficult and full of challenges, especially during my childhood and teenage years. I was born in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Yerevan, where early last century for a few years the adolescent Arshile Gorky lived with his mother, before moving to the USA. I have never seen my father. When my mom had just conceived me, Stalin sent my dad and grandfather into exile in Siberia, as revolutionists and enemies of the people. I was raised in the Gond neighborhood, which was full of poor people, outlaws, gamblers, tax evaders, even criminals and thieves. In other words, the people living in Gond were forsaken and miserable, but even in their misery they loved and helped each other. Their relationships were humane and based on unwritten human laws. In this community and under my mother’s watchful eyes I did not communicate with the children playing in the streets. They regarded me as the son of an exile, the son of a betrayer. My friends were animals, especially dogs that were more humane and trustworthy than people. Even as a child I used coal to draw pictures of animals and my grandfather on stones and walls. My mother sent me to the art school near our neighborhood, where I had good teachers. However, they found my pictures to be pessimistic. I could only remain true to my being and could not pay tribute to communism. All around me was misery and my life was sad. I used to paint half destroyed cottages, people and animals living in dirty and forlorn streets. The soviet rulers did not forgive me. I was forced to work as a construction worker. I was forsaken by the world, lived alone and poor. My friends remained the animals - dogs, cows, donkeys, birds, cats, etc, that I have been painting up till now.
What stages did you go through?
If we are talking about creative stages, then I have since I was a child been painting very realistic works, especially in the case of pencil drawings. However, I soon had my post-impressionist stage, and today I have already entered the borders of fauvinism.Up to the time of Armenia’s independence, I did not paint. My health was ruined through hard work and I always felt tired. Sometimes I used to paint my grandfather from memory. He has always been with me, and until now has been my source of inspiration. I have landscapes, still life, portraits, series of nudes, but in all those paintings, closest to me is the series of “The artist and the model”, in which I am alone with my Muses, namely the models.
Do you have any strong artistic influences?
Van Gogh has been and still is my artist-hero. I have lived and suffered like him, but I have not been able to paint to express myself as strongly as he did in his works. All my life I have tried and continue to strive to reach the clarity and burning emotion that he expresses. Maybe I am burning too much inside, but it is not that easy to express it. It is not easy to reach the richness of colors that Van Gogh has, neither the strength of his brush strokes or his immediacy. It would be more correct to say his spotless, human madness.
What is your technique?
I have not developed a special painting technique; I did not have the means to buy the necessities I wanted to. At first, I painted with anything that I could find (coal, colored stones, chalk), on everything (paper from the rubbish bins, cardboard, pieces of wood, and all those flat surfaces on which it is possible to paint). Concerning paints, I have used all that I could lay my hands on, even car paint. I have used printing ink, sometimes I prepared paints using herbs and flowers, which were used to prepare paints in the carpet industry. Now I have everything, thank God, I am using the best quality paints, canvases, brushes and scrapers and knives.
What is your favorite subject?
I am painting Man with a capital M; Man and his surroundings. During Soviet times, I painted only my grandfather’s portrait - there was no one else as far as I was concerned. Now I am painting miserable men, homeless people, beggars, forsaken musicians and craftsmen. I also paint animals which are more humane and faithful than the civilized men of our times, the men who are greedy, insatiable and miserly. Modern civilization is distorting people. See, what is going on in the world! People are killing each other - people, who do not know each other, who do not have any sort of problem with each other. It is just their leaders who have conflicts and are forcing people to kill innocent people. I am painting, more from memory, innocent, kind, noble people who used to live harmoniously together in nature and like nature, and are earning their bread with their righteous sweat. Even when I am painting prostitutes or criminals, I am looking for the humane in them.
Can you tell us about your next projects?
I have always lived without plans. I was happy whenever I had the opportunity to create art works. I am in a big hurry and painting a lot now, because they have taken out one of my kidneys and the other is also in danger. I am not afraid of death; I am afraid of not being able to create art. During Soviet times, I did not paint for many years while working on construction sites, and there is a lot of desire accumulated inside me, a desire to paint and color. Out of this desire to paint have come many series of paintings. Like Cezanne, I can paint the same mountain ten times, or like Picasso I can paint the same woman a hundred times.
How do you see yourself in the future?
I have not planned my future, and have no intention of planning it. Moreover, I am not worried if my art will endure the test of time. Some say to me that I am not a “modernist” and that my works will be forgotten in the future. I do not agree with them. Art does not have old and new; it has bad and good. I know that I am painting with all my existence, with a whole hearted devotion, and I am sincere with my art. I am not following innovations - that is not my job. I have not paid tribute to the Soviets, and am not paying tribute to the demands of eras and markets. That is why I do not have special plans for the future. Recently, I have had the desire to paint on large canvases, to create monumental works. I wish to remain far from the noise of the times, to withdraw within my shell and create art work in my studio. I am not disturbing anyone, and I do not like it when others disturb me. I am not asking for anything else from life, from people. This has been my dream and it is being realized today. I am a happy man. Even the illness and the fact of being near death is not disturbing my happiness, because I am able to draw and paint whatever I’d like to, and not what others dictate. The important thing is that I am not accountable to anyone; not responsible to give explanations. I am a free man. My aim was to be free, and my plan was, is and will be to create art work.