Art as a Skill and Experience of the Skill as a Search for Inspiration
At the very beginning of 20th century Russian philosopher N. Berdyaev wrote - “Picasso is not a beginning of a new art, but rather the end of the old”. Berdyaev could have not even presumed that the Spanish artist would live such a long life and would be perceived by next generations as the beginning of a new art as well. By this opening note I aim to emphasize the complexity of the idea of time within the art and its versatile nature. This is why a young modern artist perceives ambiguously the cultural heritage of the 20th century. Twentieth century is the era of struggle for substantial human freedoms. It is an era of destruction of both artistic forms and life as a whole. It was an era of two world wars, creation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons; an era of communist dictatorship and more. It is a time of serious question about ideology that bothers every generation of our contemporaries.
21st century, on the other hand, offered not only global information flow, exceptionally remarkable search within the fields of science and technology, but also a number of challenges, within the field of arts in particular. Destroyed form of Christian culture which was a centerpiece for the entire world art at the beginning of the 20th century, today is in need of a new room for synthesis. We address here to two mutually exclusive vectors – new forms (for instance, installation or performance, objects or collages, video art and etc.) and continuous tradition in various forms of art.
Certainly, as a representative of a new and young generation of artists, Hayk Grigoryan contemplates about the destiny of art and understands the globalization as a great synthesis of various national and cultural traditions. On the other hand, however, he understands and carefully explores the tradition of the world art, particularly the world of graphics as an important search of the human nature in the course of his life. Consider the depth of his understanding and expression of human character. Here are some of them: “Noah”, “Trdat”, “Don Quixote”, and “Esse Homo”. Not every young artist evokes such pool of thoughts, although I have an extensive experience interacting with their representatives. Many young artists all over the world strive to comprehend experiences of outstanding masters of the past centuries which include Armenian artists as well. Armenia is a country with a great artistic knowledge that just now, after the dissolution of the USSR, is having been studied. The artistic and cultural potential of Armenia is just about to gain its momentum in international synthesis. This is the true path to reciprocity of various traditions and forms representing an important segment of an artistic life of a modern individual, an individual who wishes to see not only epatage and verbal doping but what is more remarkable the dialog with old European and oriental masters. This includes such great civilizations as Egyptian or Aztec…
In the field of machine and print graphics it takes a great deal of experience and technical excellence to excel as it also is directly linked to a constructive thought. All these mentioned traits and habit of thoughts are present in Hayk to the full. I think people who had a chance to converse with him during pre-printing and printing stages (either it is eau-forte or lithography, for instance) know him as both a master of his craft and a curious student who can set and solve technical and artistic goals.
One of the most important issues in the modern global art is the search for new perspectives and forms within the world that change dynamically. This is the very quest that sustains the substance and this is the flow that artists of today and tomorrow should follow. Their priority is to create new form generating vectors in the framework of progressive evolution of art. How this movement forward should be done in a period of global cultural stagnation if an artist is not willing to diverge from the fine artistic tradition, if he is not willing to lose traditional form of art, graphics, sculpture or architecture? These are high questions to be answered. Legitimate valuation of the work that represents a fine oeuvre and brilliant mastery is impossible without asking these questions. Hayk Grigoryan belongs to the new generation of artists who are the true masters of graphics. He is an Armenian artist who grew up in Yerevan and went through a certain evolution in both Armenian national and Russian cultural environments; who has an excellent apprehension of his generation as a time for major artistic challenges.
Television introduced me to Hayk Grigoryan (born in 1974 in Yerevan, Armenia) while they were preparing a program about art of Exlibris. The artist cheered me with his curious and balanced attitude to graphic arts as a whole and to graphics in particular. I was pleasantly surprised that such a serious-minded, deep and interesting artist has emerged in the Armenian culture. This was quite unexpected for the national culture itself. Usually graphic artists have a tendency addressing the virtuosic technical potentials of graphic arts which give various benefits in terms of typographic art and hardly ever a curious and philosophical mind. Hayk was gratifying me with his ingenious search for philosophical and poetic metaphors. His originality and depth are justified rather than incidentally combined as many artists and even famous ones are fond of. Hayk is remarkably keen on creating his style and his own world. Much of his art space Hayk devotes to a national artistic culture, such as cross stones and sculptural reliefs of medieval churches, and, certainly, famous miniatures; another form he uses is the shape of egg symbolyzing a reviving position of beauty and a link to tradition. Some of the examples of his work are – “Trdat” and “Khoran”. I find the time of experiment as a time of the form destruction to be over. Now the artist builds a new artistic world piece by piece relying on the experiences inherited by both 20th century and the entire experience of the world culture. This is what makes up the unique value of an artistic experience of Hayk Grigoryan and of the best representatives of his generation. The Armenian artist somehow caught the spirit of times and the progressive trend of the world esthetic thought. For the most part it is a birth of the true talent. It might explain the interest that his oeuvre evokes on the international arena for over ten years now. His strong artistic imagination cannot tolerate episodic burst; yet, the emotional bursts are not disregarded. This is the example of the fortunate combination of intellect and sensuality.
The oeuvre of Paul Klee, one of the outstanding artists of the 20th century, denotes the new turning point of the world art. He named one of his works “Death of Silence”. This idea is a symbolic sign that locks the intellectual search of artists of the 20th century from complete destruction or deformation of artistic form. Hayk Grigoryan moves into this direction. Although having no visual association with the art works of Paul Klee and Arshile Gorky who had been building new spiritual paths between East and West; yet, the world of the young Armenian artist was raised on their artistic experiences. The artistic paths of both artists came to an end in the 1940s of the past century. Thus, Hayk picks up the torch from these distinguished artists – the torch of experience and ideas; he has a sense of occasion and sensuality in the search of a character; he has an idea of the place of the national element within the scope of global synthesis.
Hayk lives his life for the fullest in the world of minor graphics becoming more and more experienced every year, therefore strengthening his position within this field.
21st century brings many opportunities for personal exhibitions to the Armenian artist along with a number of awards in a series of countries, such as Italy, Canada, France, Poland, China, Serbia and etc.
Nonetheless, what are the esthetic trends close to Hayk Grigoryan that shape his oeuvre? It is North renaissance to begin with (Germany and Netherlands – Durer, Breughel Sr., Callow, and Tiepolo) both virtuosity and spirituality are combined in this genre with a unique human analysis. Yet, the European graphic arts of 18th – 19th centuries are familiar to the artist by its symbolism, completeness and elegance of forms, and technical innovations. Indeed, mastery is as important for the young artist as inspiration, birth of an image or a metaphor. He has a grip of complicated, multifaceted images and laconic compositions as well. Hayk strives to understand his generation, the world of the 21st century; he attempts to comprehend the place that a human being occupies in the array of events and information pressure. He aims to be distinctive, yet avoid imitation. At the same time, he is not among provoking young artists who deny both traditions and artistic taste. Hayk is not willing to be among those who repeat the experiences of others. His intuitive analysis forms his intellect while the substance of signs created by him in the genre of minor graphic – exlibris – has a multilayered nature. These book signs at times having a narrative nature yet are literary which is quite interesting as well, although they may have some literary impulse. He pictures the images in a soft, but treacle way. His works are often immersed into a form of anticipation and silence, and in the meantime they remain dynamic.
I touched the most important part of Hayk Grigoryan’s oeuvre – his outlook and understanding the role of art in the modern world. Yes, it represents his standpoint. He is young, he has not yet reached the mid-course of his life journey, but he has already discovered the state of the art of technical patterns and compositional approaches. The Armenian artist comprehends this world and the time he belongs to through complicated metaphors. For this I call you to carefully study his works! There is an array of subjects awaiting him to be comprehended and discovered but he is a mature artist and his life journey is not an ordinary journey of an artist, rather full of pain and joy that opens up a curious character of an ambitious individual. He already has occupied a certain place in the history of Armenian graphic arts and now the whole world is ahead of him. Let’s wish him fruitful outcomes. Hayk Grigoryan is full of creative conceptions and this is an inevitability of the maturity of his creative thought.
Art critic, philosopher
Beyond the Dream
Imaginary, fabulousness, super-real character of perception of usual, as they may seem, plots and natural motives – are hardly the only probable elements to one of the major properties of Hayk Grigoryan’s art.
From the earliest works of the artist elements of paradoxal connection of rationalism and freak of imagination, of strict scrupulous compositions and its free incompleteness, fragmentation and mysteriously made-up images are observed.
The character of Grigoryan’s art does not give the bases to strictly interlink the interpretation of mythology of the artist to those or other sources. In some cases images and plots of engravings of the master as though incite to an opportunity of their direct correlation with certain widely known iconographic and subject complexes. However, conditionally speaking, the overall figurative build of Grigoryan pieces of art, the structure of his thinking itself, in its broader sense, can be correlated to the universal and at the same time particularly individual symbolics, which arises spontaneously in the dreams and imaginations of modern people. As the artist marks himself: “The development of figurative topic in my works is extremely important, in fact, the genuine essence of the engravings is opened via them. My signs and symbols are born and ripen during the work on compositions, and frequently, they visit in dreams”.
Thus, I think there is no sense to try to decipher these symbols literally. It is only possible to guess about the chains of the probable semantic associations giving an opportunity to see various sides of the inner world of the artist.
As a rule, in Hayk’s engravings - rich in information, strongly pronounced movement does not exist - they are static. However by more detailed consideration one notices, that all the surface of the compositions is full of vital energy. Here and there it seems that the uncommon background flashes by fantastic accents - mythical animals, fabulous castles, mysterious signs - pictograms, hitherto by unknown mysterious vegetation. One of most frequently occurring signs - a boat, a ship, is perceived as a symbol of a way, wandering, and not only in geographical space.
Almost in all the engravings near somewhat ingenuous admiration by the most usual subjects, the mysterious, fantastic plan, withdrawing from a reality, almost always appears. Here the paradoxical alloy of reminiscences of graphic styles, images and motives of old masters are demonstrated, which can be met on engravings to esoteric compositions, and modern household stages, as well as on communication with traditional iconography of medieval manuscripts. Hayk’s original engravings, their complicated metaphoric and symbolic nature, are similar to “non-decodable” alchemical figures which, basically, possessed independent character and did not act as direct illustrations to the text and were made only for ‘activation of imagination”. On the reference to alchemical "lexicon" unambiguously hint the wizard – old man, salamander-fire, the name of some graphic sheets – “Earth”, “Air”, “The Fifth Element” and so on. Carefully traced natural elements - the smallest branches, small stones, and roots of the trees, also separate elements - water, fire, air, and the ground - are in deep relationship with the elements of human soul. At the same time the image of the nature is far from its psychologization. For the artist the nature is more likely an equivalent to deep unconscious creative processes of the person, rather than analogue of his/her psychology. Just for this reason in Grigoryan's graphic sheets of certain escaping, semi-dreaming, semi-mirage character are inherent. It is a composition - fairy tale, a composition of a dream in which elements of the nature appear in changed, purified original manner.
Examining phantasmagoric engraving compositions of the artist, the spectator is involuntarily immersed in fantastic, the Grigoryan world, set by questions, searches clues for them - adjoining with art.
So let us be patient and attentive towards the graphic messages of the artist, probably, in these small engravings on the size we can find the unique and unusual fairy tale which lacks in our daily life and to which every person craves for........
Doctor of Arts
Poet of the Sign
The approximation to an artist’s work is always something relative because it is normally based on sensations, emotions and feelings which are difficult to convey. This is just what happened to me when I contemplated Grigoryan’s bookplates. It is true that authentic art talks by itself with no need of great explanations. Therefore, I’m approaching Hayk Grigoryan’s work with all the consideration which it deserves because of its ineffability and liveliness, simply due to the curiosity and the attraction that fate offered me.
In fact, I met Grigoryan by chance at the XXX International Ex-libris Congress held in Wels (Austria). He was exhibiting his work in a space next to where I was exchanging bookplates and we got in touch using a beginners’ English with the help of a mediating Good Samaritan. It was the result of our circumstantial encounter which led me to promise him I would write about him.
Grigoryan was born in Yerevan, the capital city of the chastised Armenian Republic, on June 20th, 1974. Although, many members of his family dedicated themselves to medicine, Grigoryan, having been initiated in the study of drawing by his grandfather, at the age of twelve he was admitted in a school of art for teenagers for the period of time ranging from 1986 to 1990. Then he continued his studies in the Graphic Department in the Yerevan Institute of Art, where he graduated in 1997. From then on, his artistic activity has not stopped. Hayk Grigoryan gained access into the ex-libris world in the year 2000. It can be said that, as a vocational student of the art of graphics and sensible of the values of the printing culture, he is a good expert of the secrets of the art of engraving as well as of modern digital technology. We put forward this detail because his ex-libris work is the laudable and innovative result of this understanding which he has applied to his more that thirty bookplates produced during the last four years. All of them deserve our particular attention because of their technical and formal aspects as well as because of their conceptual aspect and contents. Let us then approach his work.
From a formal point of view Grigoryan’s bookplates are capable of being studied under different concepts. Therefore, in relation to their composition they are built around a vertebral core – a face, an animal or any other element which agglutinates a rich settlement of images. In general, it is a question of a large size element in the foreground accompanied by an unlimited number of icons which invite us to read them for the need of making explicit the visual narration involved. Another aspect to be considered is the treatment of these images, hyper-realistic and in some instances almost photographic, while in others, they possess a more synthetic, graphic or a simple illustrative character but always with a great dose of a figurative, detailed and decorative precision.
Grigoryan’s ex-libris may have a rectangular, rhomboidal, circular or irregular formal structure, but they are always the result of an interesting combination of the traditional techniques of engraving, especially chalcography and serigraphy. In his last bookplates there can be appreciated a great interest in experimenting the conjunction of the new digital technology together with chalcography, obtaining in this way really remarkable results. Considered in their conceptual aspect, Grigoryan’s ex-libris deserve a high respect because beyond their precise graphic expression, they espress contents which are far away from the symbolism and the allegories of the bookplates we are used to. Grigoryan’s library marks emit wholly visual poetry. The artist conceives the creation of his bookplates in short series which complement each other and he enjoys giving them a title although they are meant for different possessors. In this way, we shall emphasize the series The birds and We which he began with his first bookplates in the year 2000, followed by Old Scripts, The way of Pilgrim, Winter’s Melody, All the Roads Lead to Rome, The Four Elements or In search of Lost Sun Town. The poetic statement of these series gives sense and motivates the ex-libris work of this artist, who complements with the written word that he has already said through images.
Grigoryan’s bookplates are not conventional because being open and polysemous in their meanings; they surpass the concept of traditional symbolic ex-libris. Grigoryan, who is a poet of the sign, knows very well what he wants and he has opened a new promising way in the always renewed art of bookplates. I thank fate which gave me the chance to meet this Armenian artist, who from periphery is creating his own space in the ex-libris world and at the same time decidedly corroborates that the art of the ex-libris has nor space neither time frontiers.
Prof. Francesc Orenes Navarro