“ESTONIA” (newspaper), July 24th, 1997
Today, Rafael Arutyunyan turns 60. A painter and a sculptor whose works were recently exhibited at the Sakala Centre in Tallinn (of which “Estonia” informed its readers).
On R. Arutyunyan’s birthday, we offer you an interview he has given to Pavel Makarov.
– Reading into the memoirs of actors, people of art, I see that they live through any tragic event of their life as spectators, also watching those involved as if from aside …
– No. It is so for actors, it is their profession – to play parts, but an artist sincerely endures tragic events and that is why he sometimes looks weaker than he really is. If he lets everything pass through his heart, he then does not have enough time to watch himself from aside…
– And can your heart pass everything through itself?
– I feel that my strength is waning. For many years, I worked as a stonemason, making gravestones. This meant constantly meeting grieving people. Later, I took private orders to make portraits of the deceased in my studio. As a rule, these portraits are requested for young people. Every visitor tried to tell me in detail about their deceased ones and you know, this accumulates within a person. If one is a strong man, a warrior… But I am no warrior, it is already difficult for me. I am going to abandon this practice, no longer make such portraits so that I no longer have to listen to those stories…
– Must an artist suffer in order to come about?
– Yes. Without suffering there is no sincerity, one cannot reach the truth. Suffering is a strong incentive to conducting intense quests, no matter how sad it may sound. People are better off not suffering, but suffering shapes artists.
– Is the age of 60 a time for summing up for an artist?
– I can only speak for myself. This is not summing up. But I have this feeling that I have achieved all that I could achieve in sculpture. This may be a deceptive feeling, tiredness, but it seems that I have squeezed everything I could out of myself. Now I am attracted to drawing. I am already beginning to “pester” my friends who make drawings, they explain different drawing techniques to me. I do not know, maybe I will continue making sculptures because this is much easier: a familiar path, everybody knows me. But to begin making drawings is a new affair, like starting from scratch. But I want to do this so much. I do not know whether I will have enough time to acquire mastery in this field, but I would like to dedicate the remainder of my life to drawing.
– Rafael, you have said that you are not a warrior. But you were born in Baku, and it is customary to assume that every man in that region is shaped into a warrior from birth onwards.
– I was born in a military family – my father was in the army. Actually, I was not born a warrior. I became a warrior due to some circumstances of my life. Before that I had thought that every man from Chechnya is born a warrior. I always felt an aversion to violence. One cannot be a warrior and not be violent. At the institute we had military training and the colonel who conducted it said that Arutyunyan would make an excellent military leader. But he knew how I hated this military training, I did not hide it. Jumping, running, shooting at targets, having fights, being a madcap – that was me alright. But when I say “warrior,” I mean war as a whole.
– The theme of war in your creative work – is this a part of your personal experience?
– No. There should not be wars. When I was a boy, I was only belligerent in fights. When somebody offended me. Many people know this here too. But I never exacted revenge, even when I lost, although this is not typical of people from the Caucasus.
– Are you a man of tradition?
– In some things, but not in everything. My granddaughter was 6 years old when she found out that she was Armenian – not very traditional…
– What are you afraid of, what can disturb your peace?
– Only one thing – departure of those people who are close to me. I am not afraid that my own life will end, but I have always taken the departure of a close one hard. This is the only thing that I fear, nothing else. I do work that I love, I have a good family, a loyal wife. Everything is good for me. The fact that I have no money is not a tragedy. This is good too. But when something happens to close people… My granddaughter falls ill – I am very unhappy, she gets well – I am the happiest person.
– Do you sometimes feel ashamed for what other people do?
– Quite often, especially nowadays. People have become colder, harsher, thus they behave unbecomingly. In the time of the Soviet Union this was less of a problem. That American question: if you are so clever, why are you so poor? I always want to reply: “It is exactly because I am so clever.” This question is now posed everywhere in our society. Nobody used to ask intelligentsia this question. An intellectual, whether he worked as a watchman or a stoker, was still perceived as an intellectual. And now he is seen as a loser.
– But what distinguishes an intellectual?
– First of all kind-heartedness. One can be educated, erudite and heartless. And one can be a kind-hearted intellectual while actually being a peasant or a worker. That was the goal of education. The more culturally developed a man is, the kinder he is. The more beautiful too. Otherwise – how can he be an intellectual? Merely a person stuffed with knowledge. Go visit a library, read some books – this in itself will hardly provide self-respect. But in order to do something kind one really needs to make an effort.
– What do you think about, what do you want, what, in your opinion, is still likely to happen in your life?
– I would like for something good to happen. Of course, this is good: my 60th jubilee, the exhibition. My son gave me an enormous present, invested so much money in this exhibition. And now he wants to organise a new workshop, which I understand is a serious affair. He considers this to be more important than anything else. I would also very much like to have a grandson. This would be such joy. I did not have a daughter, only a son, but that was for the best, and when we saw our daughter-in-law, we were happy to welcome her as our own daughter. And then she had a daughter and this joy is ongoing. But I want so much for our family name to carry on because we come from a princely background. I think that the Arutyunyan family name will be carried on in my descendants. So I hope very much to have a grandson.