The Horse that Led My Dad to Painting
The little boy he was,
Captured in a moment of sheer bliss
In innocence that would soon fade into
sentiment and ecstasy,
igniting a flame from which the heart breaks.
It was an unspoken world,
Hushed in secrecy, fear of the Turks.
Being Armenian had its aftermath of suffering
Threatening beyond belief.
The little boy who smiled for the camera;
holding back the tears because he knew his
inner world didn’t match the outer
But he remembers the night
his father drew him a simple drawing;
A man on a horse,
A lead pencil drawing imprinted for all eternity
An animated image seeped into his heart,
bursting forth a rainbow of love and longing
that he and his father both shared.
In the twilight of a tragic fallen world
where vision seems obscure, not opaque.
Yet Looking, Found a special place
A magical place of inner beauty.
This would mark the beginning
of the artist.
By Vanessa Avakian, October 2, 2006
Revised April 19, 2013
This monoprint (in background) exemplifies how far the use of paper-litho as a printmaking method has progressed in transferring photo images to paper. Genocide Hangings 2, above, is from a large scale series of work that was included in a one-person show called: LEST WE FORGET held at the Providence College, Hunt-Cavanagh Gallery in 2005. This powerful image of inhumanity was taken from a 1915 historical photo of a public hanging. It was digitally stylized, enlarged, cut into nine sections, inked as plates and then printed on BFK paper in a seamless undertaking. The small text of approximately 50-towns and cities were printed later.
The above monoprint is from FAMILY BIOGRAPHY series exhibited at the Attleboro Arts Museum. Previously FAMILY BIO 30 (not in photo) received Best of Show Award. The images are a combination of family and historical photos. They are placed next to each other in an expansive horizontal format reminiscent of an ongoing epic of time beginning with genocidal horror more than 100 years ago. The aftermath of the 1915 Armenian Genocide continues to this day through a timeless passing down to the next generation from survivors to children through protective silences, secrets, anger, and terrifying nightmares.
This monotype/monoprint combination, CUPID ENTERS THE RUINS, was selected by Samuel Quigley, Director of the Lyman Allyn Art Museum for the 2017 National Exhibition of the New Haven Paint and Clay Club, New Haven, CT. This print is from a large group of experimental abstract prints using a variety of materials and tools. During this period figurative subjects were introduced into abstract settings as an integrative challenge —thus Cupid appears in this print— full of love, daring to enter a strange world of manifest ruins in hope of bringing some semblance of love for those devastated even if it's for a brief passing of time.
PORTRAIT OF INNOCENCE received Honorable Mention by Prof. Judith Brodsky, Rutgers University at the Duxbury Art Complex. This large scale provocative monoprint of innocence and mass murder is seamed together in a 9-part bleed monoprint printed on 42" h x 31" w BFK gray paper. The image depicts a naked toddler sitting cross-legged on a chair in a photo studio, unaware that in the background lies a heap of naked dead male Armenian male bodies flanked by Turkish soldiers based on a photo taken during Genocide of 1915.
This multilayered monoprint ACQUATIC UNIVERSE was awarded First Place by juror Christine Neil, Professor of Painting and Drawing, College of Art, Baltimore, MD. It is from an "experimental series" involving a complicated layering system of "ghosts", stencils, and aluminum foil printings that create an amazing sense of unfathomable depth and aquatic beauty. On an imaginative metaphoric level it expresses the allusive psychic world of the unconscious that lives deep within the very being of our souls.
TOOLS ARE US 2 is a layered monotype selected by the Judge of Selection and Awards Richard Klien, Director, of the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield CT. This vertically designed monotype depicts two rollers traveling together in apparent harmony leaving a parallel trail of conversational colors behind. Without warning an unsuspected change in route takes place, and as quickly, the intimacy between the two widens into an empty feeling of loss striking at the heart of the other.
Education: Yale U. BFA and MFA. Completed 38 semesters of monoprinting at the SMFA.
Awards: Received numerous awards and prizes for “printings on paper”. In 2016 received a lifetime honorary membership in the Monotype Guild of New England for many years of service.
Lectures and Outreach: Visiting critic, 2001, 2008 and 2009 in painting at Mass College of Art. In 2003 lectured at the University of the Arts on monoprinting and gave a demo on paper-litho transfer method, and also at Holy Cross College in 2005, and Wheaton College in 2017.
Publication: IF I BEGIN TO CRY is a 187-page catalog of Avakian's monoprints in full color with a critical essay by Todd Bartel on the Armenian Genocide Art and the paper-litho plate method of transferring images. Included also is a short play: THE PAST IS NOT THE PAST by playwright Elliot Baker, partially inspired by Avakian's life. His monoprints are in permanent collections of the New Haven Paint and Clay Club, the Boston and New York Public libraries, the Fogg Museum, and many private collections.
After many years of painting, in 1990 John made a major shift to printmaking, specifically monotypes and monoprints. His foray into this medium involved an intensive exploration of many traditional and non-traditional tools, papers, and materials expanding his skills and knowledge in this media. This combined with his design, drawing, and painting skills provided him with an expansive foundational preparation for solving many visual and technical matters in future projects. During this intense learning period Avakian's subject of interest changed to integrating representational elements within abstract settings as an integrative challenge. A radical change soon followed in serious subject matter that covered a wide range of serious subjects such as — sociopolitical, psychological, and existential lasting many years. In 1992, Avakian began investigating a novel but interesting method of transferring plate images to paper called paper-lithography. This fragile marginally used method of printing, although unpredictable, proved to be imperfectly perfect for plate making became central to his image evolving process.
Avakian became seriously interested in drawing and illustration while in high school. He admired the masterful story telling and painting technique of Norman Rockwell. During his latter years at the SMFA, he studied with the Belgian painter Jan Cox. When Avakian traveled to NY city to see Cox's Orpheus and Eurydice paintings at the Catherine Viviano Gallery Jan Cox happened to be there. He took a picture of Cox in front of his bewitching 8' h by 12' w painting. In grad school, Alber's color course had a powerful effect on him. Avakian's paintings were considered "idiosyncratic" and was judged to be "unteachable" by a noteable NY abstract painter. His enrollment in Existential Philosophy, reading Heidegger, Husserl, Sartre, and others opened his mind beyond what he could have imagined. Also Avakian's interest in Gestalt psychology and C. G. Jung had a transforming impact on him. After grad school, John read a biography on Arshile Gorky* BLACK ANGEL where he found a virtual kinship with a tragic soulful friend and mentor.
*See monoprint "Gorky & Me" under "Portraits" in slide show.