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.
A selection of monoprints from my FAMILY BIOGRAPHY series was exhibited at the Attleboro Arts Museum. The print above is titled FAMILY BIO 10. The images are from family and historical photos, and are placed next to each other in an expansive horizontal format reminiscent of an epic film-version of time beginning with genocidal horror more than 100 years ago. The aftermath continues to this day through a timeless passing of transgenerational trauma from father to child through silences and anger, and from a mother’s terrifying screams and nightmares against a wall of denial and political indifference.
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 blissful moment.
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 the USA, unaware that in the background lies a heap of naked dead male bodies flanked by Turkish soldiers. Sourced from a photo of the Genocidal horror of 1915.
This multilayered large 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 the heart of the other.
Education: BFA and MFA. Completed 38 semesters of monoprinting at the SMFA.
Awards: Received numerous awards and prizes for “printings on paper”. Awarded a lifetime honorary membership in the Monotype Guild of New England for many years of service in 2016.
Lectures and Outreach: Visiting critic in 2000, 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 of 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 monoprints in full color with a critical essay by Todd Bartel on Avakian's 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, inspired by the Avakian's life during many conversation.
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 in 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. The intent was to expand his skills and knowledge in this media. This combined with his design, drawing, and painting skills would be a great preparation to solve many visual and technical matters in future projects. During this intense learning period his focus of interest changed to include representational elements in abstract settings as an integrative challenge. A radical change soon followed in subject matter that would cover a wide range of serious subjects such as — sociopolitical, political, psychological, and existential lasting many years. In 1992, Avakian began investigating a novel way of transferring photographic images to paper called paper-lithography. This method of printing although unpredictable and fragile proved to be imperfectly perfect for him. This marginally used method of printmaking became central to his print making process.
While in high school, Avakian became interested in drawing and illustration. He admired the masterful story telling and painting technique of Norman Rockwell. During his latter years at the SMFA, I studied with the Belgian painter Jan Cox. I traveled to NY to see his Orpheus and Eurydice paintings at the Catherine Viviano Gallery. Surprisingly he was there. where Avakian took his picture in front of Cox's bewitching 8' h by 12' painting. In grad school, Alber's color course had a powerful effect him. His paintings were considered "idiosyncratic" and he was judged as "unteachable" by a NY abstract painter/professor. His enrollment in an Existential Philosophy course, reading Heidegger, Husserl, and others opened his mind beyond what he could have imagined. Additionally his on-going interest in Gestalt psychology and C. G. Jung also had a profound impact him. After grad school, he came across a biography on Arshile Gorky* titled BLACK ANGEL and was moved by his art and tragic life. Gorky became a soulful mentor, and a historical connection for Avakian.
*See Gorky & Me under Portraits in slide show