Meet the young Armenian artists of Lebanon
September 13, 2019
To bring something into existence is to create—and “creativity takes courage.”
World-renowned French painter Henri Matisse was not wrong when he said these words. Youth are often not given the chance (or the encouragement) in the world of scribbling and sketching. The situation is not too different in the capital of Lebanon, where the Armenian youth of Beirut are often required to get into the more “serious” fields of study.
On Sept. 5, the Hamazkayin Lucy Tutunjian Art Gallery held the opening of their first “Collective Exhibition of Young Artists,” a long-overdue and most welcomed event.
We at h-pem make it one of our top priorities to ensure that Armenian artists from all around the globe get the exposure they deserve on our platforms. That is why we went ahead and asked the Beirut exhibition participants three simple questions. Through their answers, we present you the 10 young artists who got the opportunity to display and sell their art at the gallery.
Ten artists, three questions
A 10-year study by Stanford University conducted not too long ago revealed some interesting statistics. It concluded that high-schoolers in the U.S. who are involved in highly effective non-school arts-based community programs in under-resourced communities were more likely to win academic, school attendance, or community service awards; more likely to participate in math or science fairs; and more likely to score higher on their SAT college admission test scores when compared with a national sample of students. (Read more about the study here)
The Hamazkayin Lucy Tutunjian Art Gallery gave these artists just that: community arts-based encouragement. Here are the questions I posed to the artists…
1. When and how did you start drawing/painting/creating?
2. What incentivized and motivated you to continue?
3. What inspires your art?
Below are their answers along with the one piece from each artist, which spoke to me the most.
"Landscape IV" Mixed media on canvas, 60x120 cm
1. Around 10 years ago, it was my mother's idea for me and my siblings to participate in after-school activities. I picked up drawing lessons at the Hamazkayin Art School. After receiving a certificate in 2009, I wasn't satisfied and didn’t want to stop there. I applied to the Lebanese University’s Fine Arts undergraduate program. After many years of university, I received my Master's Degree in Fine Arts in 2017.
2. My motivation comes from my family and friends. But my inner peace comes from painting and sculpting. The feeling is unique and unlike anything I have experienced.
3. Like most people, artists should be inspired by the environment in which they live. An artist named Anselm Kiefer who had witnessed the madness of WWII got me thinking about this. I too witnessed the destruction of some of the most historic places in Syria and Iraq, even though I am Lebanese. Some of what was destroyed also represented my culture.
"Let's Meet in Bourj Hammoud" Gouache, 70x50 cm
1. Ever since I was a child, I used to draw and paint whenever I had the chance. At Yeghishe Manoukian College, we had arts and crafts classes where we were encouraged to be creative. At that time and during the Lebanese Civil War, when I was three or four years old, my mother used to assign weekly hours for drawing, painting, and crafts at home. My parents would collect stacks of paper and crayons so that we would have ample time to entertain ourselves inside the shelters. After the war, I used to carry some drawing papers with me when I went to my grandmother's house. It became my hobby!
2. I owe a lot to my school, Yeghishe Manoukian College, and especially my art teacher, who motivated and encouraged me to express myself freely. My family also encouraged me by providing the physical and emotional space for visualization, gaining experience, creation, and the motivation to always try, irrespective of the result. For almost 10 years, I couldn't paint or draw due to the hectic life that education and new responsibilities endowed on me. I resisted the hobby, although it never stopped being my passion. Nearly three years ago, career problems and unexpected life changes created a huge void that needed to be filled and transformed into something else. That difficult stage was the step that incentivized me to return to my roots and try the hobby again. It’s not just a hobby anymore, but a part of my daily routine, my passion, and canvas of expression.
3. Art, and painting in particular, is a domain where I find myself free to express anything. For me, there is nothing ugly or harsh and everything can be energized and brought to life with some colors and composition. Color is my first attraction. Urban and rural areas capture my attention, because I see life there—enclosed inside houses and nature. In this regard, my homeland is an inspiration to me, because its history is not "a past" anymore, but a lively dream that we as Armenians strive to enhance and attain. I love to draw and paint the cities that capture my attention. I love the laundry hanging, the mess around the houses and the balconies, the electric wires, and the chaos around them. Bourj Hammoud is a big three-dimensional canvas for me, where I like to see colorful, happy, and strong buildings speak with each other in harmony. Trees have also been my passion, since their branches remind me of our nerve cells.
"Nature Morte II" Oil on canvas, 70x100 cm
1. When I was a little girl in primary school, my teacher noticed my paintings and suggested that I attend art school. I went to the Saryan Art Academy of Aleppo for five years and participated in their annual expositions. I then continued my art at home. There, I learned all kinds of skills, since my father was a carpenter. While visiting his workshop, I watched him sculpt roses and engrave features on wood, which fascinated me.
2. As the years went on, I became preoccupied with university, then marriage, having kids, working. But painting was always my best friend. It became the best friend of my inner world—my relief. In 2015, I heard about Hamazkayin’s Toros Roslin Art Academy and decided to return as a student again. This was a turning point for me.
3. The beauty of nature inspires me a lot; art for me must be the expression of that beauty in all its aspects. We have many issues in our own daily lives to worry about: daily obligations, our rushed lifestyles, and the stress that follows. Art is the best way to break these cycles and to return to our pure, humble, beautiful nature—our inner serenity. It had meditative effects, for sure.
"Unconditional Love" Acrylic on canvas, 70x50 cm
1. My talent was discovered when I was just 5 years old—a kindergarten student. Throughout my school years, my talents were advanced with the help of the school’s art teacher. Later, I followed some artistic training in art school. With some extra research and personal effort, I searched for my unique place in the arts and fortunately, I found and cultivated it. Now, before seeing my signature, the person is able to recognize my paintings through my own unique style. My works represent human feelings, attachment, filial love, the stages of life, and the horror of the Armenian Genocide, through peaceful and sometimes vibrant colors, which reflect the inner world of the depicted figures.
2. My motivation comes from my parents, family members, and friends; my school, my teachers and principals; my lovely Aztag family; and finally my faith in my own work. All of these have incentivized and motivated me to continue my journey in a world, which is different from the world in which we live; a world that only recognizes beauty and peace—the world of art!
3. The subjects of my paintings, as mentioned earlier, derive from history, from stories of injustice, from everyday relations between human beings. As Mathiole once said, “Art speaks where words are unable to explain.” My mission is not only to represent human relations and emotions, but also to make my paintings speak about what everyone should receive from the world of justice.
"Homeland & Diaspora" Acrylic on canvas, 120x80 cm
1. I started drawing and painting in 2007. I looked for a way to express myself and couldn't find a better way to do so. I began taking classes at Hamazkayin's Art School when I was 9 and have continued to do so right up until this year, when I graduated. This collective exhibition was my first official exhibition.
2. The progress I made motivated me to keep going. So did the people who saw my talent. When I used to draw around the house as a kid, my family encouraged me. Frankly, I didn't enjoy the first year of art school; it took time for me to get used to different genres. It wasn't long before I really started to enjoy art school--after adopting my own techniques. Sometime in the future, I'd like to have my own art gallery where I could exhibit and sell art.
3. Many historical and legendary artists and books but mainly Van Gogh.
"Grey" Mixed media, 90x90 cm
1. I started drawing at a very young age, at around four years old. When I was five, I began attending Hamazkayin's Toros Roslin Art Academy. Later, I was trained by Krikor Arpadjian in his "Atelier d'art" center. Finally, at 15, I began to hone my craft under the guidance of Jeanette Yapoujian.
2. My grandmother always motivated me to continue drawing by telling me the story of my great grandfather who was a painter himself. He was the one who changed our family name to Kalemkerian. "Kalemkar" is the Turkish word for "a painter whose drawings bring comfort and relief." My father also inherited this talent, which in turn inspired me further. Moreover, I always aspired to become like my beloved teacher, Krikor…although we have different taste in art!
3. My inspiration comes from my favorite artist, Modigliani. In addition, I try to listen to my subconscious, which enables me to be more in touch with myself. In the end, I try to present life's dark moments by using beautiful colors.
"Death, Anticipated in Immortality" Mixed media, 95x150 cm
1. From my early childhood, drawing and painting have been the best ways to observe my surroundings, capture the emotional energy of the moment, and express it on paper and canvas. They're very direct methods of communicating archetypal concepts and emotions of human existence. It helps to mention that my father and older brother were visual artists as well.
2. As I was introduced to new social circles at university and in the workplace, I realized that ultimately, my innermost intimate relationship with myself existed solely during my creative sessions. I could fully experience the harmonious nature of God and the universe through the study of forms and colors. We were also highly encouraged at my school (H. and M. Arslanian Djemaran) with mandatory art classes and extra-curricular art sessions. I also decided to sign up and attend private art classes at my school’s art teacher Krikor Arpadjian’s workshop “Atelier d’art” for many years.
3. I believe that the ultimate source of inspiration for my art lies within the diverse life experiences I have had so far. The multidimensionality of human existence offers so much to anyone willing to observe, listen, and internalize. Nature always unconditionally provides abundant inspiration as well. My openness to diverse cultures and religions and my travels have also influenced my art, for sure.
"The Melodious Goldfinch" Watercolor, 70x50 cm
1. During my childhood, I would paint flowers on walls and on furniture. I would also paint trees, birds, and anything nature related. I loved entertaining myself with colors and my own imagination.
2. What incentivized me was that I was discovering myself. I was being my own teacher and being self-taught made me feel good. In 2009, five of my drawings got into the “Bzdig-Mzdig”—Aztag’s children’s issue. I attended Hamazkayin’s Toros Roslin Art Academy from 2013 to 2019, where I studied fine art and sculpting. During this period I participated in many collective student exhibitions.
3. I pick up my inspiration from my positive point of view: spiritually, visually, and creatively. Natural acts, such as colors changing from the sky; the details of living and non-living things; life, death, and the afterlife—these are the things that inspire me. Not only just seeing these things, but also feeling them. I love capturing moments like a camera, but I use my eyes for that. The camera takes pictures, but my eye makes pictures. With my art, I create moments.
"The Battle of Abstractus" Mixed media on canvas, 40x40 cm
1. I had always been interested in doodling, sketching, drawing, and painting—from the time I spilled juice when I was three to the time I decorated school desks when I was bored in class. I started out with my recent paintings after I graduated from university with a bachelor's degree in graphic design. After taking a break from painting to focus on my master's in Florence, I am now back at it!
2. The interest in trying different media, materials, and styles is one of the main sources of my motivation so far. Also, the will to understand colors, shapes, textures, and their fusion—in how they can be put into practice.
3. My inspiration comes from different sources: philosophy, poetry, music, and other fields that inspire me to create. It is about what bursts out of your inner-universe: emotions, feelings, thoughts, conscious or unconscious expressions, and spontaneous experimental impressions. I like street art, experimental art, abstract art, surreal art, action art, among other art forms. As a visual artist, my favorite artists and designers include Jackson Pollock, Ron English, Stefan Sagmeister, Wassili Kandinsky…
(Check out Aram's h-pem submission here!)
"The Woman & The World" oil on canvas, 70x50 cm
1. My first supporter was my mother, from the time I was child. She had provided me with an imaginary universe, through access to what seemed like an unlimited number of books and drawing resources—every child’s wish! I have to mention my grandmother’s impact. She used to sit next to me and encourage me to draw and to color. My mother and granmother’s embroideries also lit an artistic spark in the family. I'll never forget the day when art really became the beauty of my life: when I started taking lessons in the Ayp to Zed Art Academy, with the most supportive siblings Ms. Maral and Mr. Jirar Panossian. I continued my art education with them, until graduating in 2017. To this day, I continue to take advice and classes from them, in order to discover more. I should also mention that I have played piano since the age of six, which has really helped with my creativity. Throughout my journey, I have participated in many exhibitions and my art has appeared in different calendars, including my own school’s (Yeghishe Manoukian College). I have also worked as an assistant teacher in the art academy where I learned so much.
2. Love and passion are the two most important things on your journey. I loved drawing and painting since I was child, probably without noticing or being aware of it. My persistence is thanks to my parent’s encouragement and support and I am forever thankful for the support and care they provided me in order to continue this beautiful journey. Having a supportive audience has also helped me to create more.
3. Most of my art is inspired by nature. I love all that is wild, all that is created naturally. I enjoy drawing nature, portraits, and anything related to the ocean and the sea. Other than nature, I am also inspired by the Armenian culture. Similarly, my mother and grandmother’s handmade embroideries always inspire.
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