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
Education: BFA and MFA. Completed 38 semesters of monoprinting at the SMFA.
Awards: Numerous prizes recevied for “printings on paper”. Awarded Traveling Scholarship from the SMFA in 1969 for travel to Paris and England. In 1970 Avakian was awarded a scholarship for research in creative art from the Blanche E. Colman Foundation. In 2016 he received a lifetime honorary membership from the Monotype Guild of New England for many years of service.
Lectures: 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 a demo on paper-litho transfer, 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 exile from painting, in 1990 Avakian made a life saving shift to printmaking, specifically monotypes and monoprints. His foray into this medium necessitated an intensive exploration of many traditional and non-traditional tools, such as papers, and materials that expanded his skills and knowledge in this medium. This combined with his already acquired painting skills and compositional acumen resulted in a high degree of confidence in his ability for solving many visual, technical, and creative issues in future printing endeavors. During this intense learning period Avakian's interest began with experimental issues using abstract visual elements exclusivly that eventually introduced representational subject matter into abstract settings as an integrative challenge. After a couple of years, a radical change followed that included serious subject matter. A wide range of topical issues such as sociopolitical, psychological, and existential. In 1992, Avakian came across a novel plate-making method that suited his printmaking vision—. Paper-litho, a 20th xerographic copying and printing technology. This peripheral undeveloped method of printing became Avakian's long standing engagement and passion. His journey in this medium was unprecedented in the production of large-scale images. The paper-litho medium turned out to be extremely fragile and unpredictable especially in producing tonal differentiations. However, this problem too reached a manageble level of technical success in the production of imagery that looked professional and had a different feel and look, tending to have more of the qualities of a painting when printed.
Avakian became seriously interested in drawing during his early grammer school years when his father drew him a horse with a rider. This moment began a bond of love for Avakian. In the latter years of grammer school he admired the masterful story telling and painting technique of Norman Rockwell. During his high school years he was mentored by Lincoln Levinson his art teacher. For his dedication as an art student he was awarded 3-gold keys ; one for photography, drawing, and painting. At the SMFA, he studied with the Belgian painter Jan Cox who's paintings had a strong influence on him. Avakian traveled to NY city to see Cox's bewitching Orpheus and Eurydice paintings at the Catherine Viviano Gallery. Jan Cox happened to be there, and was willing to sit in front of his his large-scale painting for a historical snapshot. In grad school, Alber's color course had a powerful effect him, while his paintings in class were considered "idiosyncratic" and he was harsly judged to be "unteachable" by an abstract painter from New York. His enrollment in Existential Philosophy, introduced him to the writtings of Heidegger, Husserl, Sartre, and others that opened his mind in a wonderous way beyond anything he could have imagined. Also his on-going interest in design and brought him in contact with Gestalt psychology, and the interior world of the psyche, and C. G. Jung whose writtings had a profound influence on him. After grad school, Avakian read the biography BLACK ANGEL: A Life of Arshile Gorky authored by Nuritza Matossian. In the life of Gorky, Avakian found a soulful kinship with Gorky's existential challenges, includinng his multiple losses, lonliness, and despair that finally drove him to take his life. Gorky's life had in some unexplicable way entered Avakian's art with loving compassionate silence.
*See monoprint "Gorky & Me" under "Portraits" in slide show.
This monoprint (in the 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 sourced 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 was printed later.
The above monoprint is from the FAMILY BIOGRAPHY series exhibited at the Attleboro Arts Museum. Previously FAMILY BIO 30 (not in photo) received the Best of Show Award. These prints are a combination of family and historical photos. It was conceived to be spread out 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 through a timeless passing on to the next generation their legacy and history through protective silences, stories, secrets, anger, and 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 experimentations with a variety of materials and tools. Figurative subjects were also 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 to 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 the Genocide of 1915.
This multilayered monoprint AQUATIC 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 that explores a complicated layering system of ghost images, stencils, and aluminum foil printings. The harmonious blue and green colors reflect a sense of transparency and depth. On a metaphoric level, it expresses the depth and breath of the subconscious. Herein lies the murky waters of our mind where memories lie in wait, to break the chains, and see the ever present light.
AN IMMIGRANT'S SONG GOES UNHEARD selected by the Judge of selection and Awards: Hollis Dunlap award received the Weiss Sisters Prize and purchased for the permanent collection of the NHP&CC. The print medium is unique and seldom utilized in such a distinguished way, and in a large scale. The image is from a photo of the artist's father, after a hard day's work and a warm ethnic dinner.
Photo taken by artist.