a source on Armenian Art

Ayvaz Avoyan

Intense colour, monumentality and a strong rootedness in realism have typified Armenian painting for nearly two centuries. Contemporary Armenian artists are fast breaking this mould and throwing a direct challenge to the traditional sources that are still fuelling their art. Ayvaz Avoyan is one of the more interesting “battlers” in this regard. His studio in Ejmiatsin – a converted kindergarten – is strewn with images that are at once familiar yet puzzling. The multitude of heads and figures retain the archaic monumentality of medieval art but they seem to be in a funk – caught forever on the point of transformation.
Counterpoints and contradictions are a constant presence in the best works of Ayvaz Avoyan and generate an escalated feeling of anxiety and suspense. There are no obvious instinctive reflexes when one sees his grotesque-imbued paintings. No fear or disgust, just an impending sense of misapprehension. Something escapes the eye, the first gaze… The viewer is impelled to look further in search of multiple images hidden beneath the surface construction.
To achieve this level of nearly literary depth, Avoyan has travelled a long road through the crossroads of analytical cubism and fauvism, the biomorphic forests of Arshile Gorky and the existentialist angst of William De Kooning. These movements heavily influenced the artist’s earlier period with Gorky being a rather overwhelming presence (symbolic, metaphoric forms strews across abstract landscapes). But in recent years, Avoyan has succeeded in amalgamating these cornerstones of modernist art into a deeply personal mode of neo-expressionist painting.

Avoyan was born in the northern Armenian region of Shirak in 1956. This province has produced many of Armenia’s best painters, including Minas Avetisyan with whom Avoyan shares the same taste for dramatic, expressionistic colour scheme and an inclination for abstraction. After a brief stint in Yerevan and Holland, Avoyan moved to Ejmiatsin where the artist found new creative impulses that shaped his distinctive voice as a painter.
Many of Avoyan’s portraits distantly echo the 18th century Armenian icons that can be found in Ejmiatsin’s churches. But the artist has bravely replaced the calm spirituality of these archaic saints with a disquieting foreboding. He avoids the prosaic classicism and decorativeness that typifies so much of Armenian contemporary painting inspired by traditional art. By following Gorky’s doctrine in using colour as line, Avoyan creates dynamic membranes of clashing colour schemes that vibrate and transmutate the more one looks at them. The palette is extraordinarily rich and varied, dominated by deep reds and yellows through which shine strokes of emerald green and sienna blue. There are hardly any half-tones here; instead the flat patches of colour are given volume and depth with generous application of pure black and white. One is immediately struck by the harsh intensity of this method and the blinding effect of electric currents running through Avoyan’s paintings makes their optical metamorphosis into a physically exhausting spectacle. There is a sensible depth in the canvases, built not on perspective but careful layering of contrasting surfaces. Hence, even the most abstract of his works acquire a distinct concreteness through lengthy observation. The shapes move into focus and form unexpected associations and visions, which appear like ghostly shadows dissolved in a thick fog of blazing colours. Avoyan does not attempt to transform reality or present thematic signposts in this vast sensory field (most of his work is untitled). Yet one can sense an echo of ancient Armenian iconography here - the reassuring stability of which is under constant threat of disappearance and erasure in Avoyan’s otherwise poetic world.
This relentless probe and questioning of psychological and spiritual meta-narratives is what gives Avoyan’s paintings their profound and distressing power, which lingers on, long after you’ve turned away from their scorching gaze.

Vigen Galstyan - 2008