“SEM/7” (TV guide), for August 12th – 18th, 2002
Sculptor Rafael Arutyunyan demonstrates a new side of his talent – painting and drawing. He had dedicated more than thirty years to cutting off everything redundant from slabs of marble, granite, wood. So what happened then, what made the master turn from the chisel to the easel?
The answers are provided below, and his works can be seen at the personal exhibition held in the “Old Town Studio” theatre at Sakala Street 3, from 3rd to 18th of August.
– Rafael, several years ago you ceased working as a sculptor but did not give up creative work. Five years ago, at your previous exhibition, that of sculptures, you described it as a summing up, and now you again surprise everybody with your new craft. How did this transformation happen?
– I came to feel that I have said everything that I could in sculpture. Perhaps it was a deceptive feeling due to my tiredness, but I nevertheless think that I abandoned sculpture for good. Now I am interested in drawing, painting. Beginning drawing is like making a fresh start. But I want to do this so much. Whether I will have enough time to acquire mastery in this field, I do not know, but I would like to dedicate the rest of my life to drawing. Yes, I am learning a craft that is new to me, but I do not care about what people might say about me. Yes, I am somewhat of an amateur in this affair, and I do not declare myself to be a professional drawing artist, I am a professional sculptor. But I like and want to draw very much, I just cannot help it.
– Why did you choose sculpture, how did all that begin?
– When I was a child I liked cutting figures from chalk. They happened to catch the attention of Anna Kazartseva, a hobby circle teacher at the local Pioneer Palace. She invited me to join the circle and helped me in developing my abilities. From the first lessons I became “ill” with sculpture. After finishing school I tried to enter an institute of fine arts for two years, first in Moscow, then in Leningrad. But I kept returning to Baku. I worked as an assistant operator of freezing facilities at a biscuit factory and at the same time continued my lessons at the Pioneer Palace: made portraits and plaster copies of antique moulds, drew – in other words, learned.
At 21, I went to Estonia in order to enter the Tallinn Institute of Fine Arts, and I did enter it. During the first year I was taught by the future director of the Academy of Fine Arts, Jaan Vares. During my second year the outstanding sculptor, Olav Männi, came to teach us, and later so did Martin Saks. They were my teachers. That is why I consider myself an Estonian artist with Armenian roots. My southern temperament co-exists successfully with the Baltic restraint.
– How easy is it for you – a sculptor – to paint?
– A painter would naturally find it more difficult to make sculptures, than vice versa. Sculptors tend to turn to painting, often they are women who find it increasingly difficult with age to use the hammer and the chisel. But I did not abandon sculpture because of weakness – thank God, I still have strength. I just wanted to try colours. I tried and I liked it. I continued and got used to this.
– Your work “Vortex of life” is made, just like many other of your canvases, in the style of collage. What is it about?
– Indeed, life spins and turns us so that one never knows what might happen the next moment. The painting contains details that indicate this, once the spectator thinks about it. An empty ring, a button, a slide, money, because it matters in this life. By the way, note that the Soviet banknote has a black strip attached to it. A human face. It is difficult to provide a literary explanation of the painting, it should be emotionally perceived. When you look at it, you will for sure understand what I wanted to say.
– You said that sculpture is serious work. What about drawing and painting?
– As a sculptor I must see the whole sculpture, go around it, like at an exhibition. It must be interesting from every side. This is the difference between a sculpture and a painting. An artist can spend just one productive and hectic evening in his studio and achieve a complete result with a painting or a drawing, having spent the whole previous week looking for inspiration. In sculpture it is dangerous – one can hew off something that should have stayed there, and gluing it back on is just not the way of making a sculpture. One must work in a methodical, concentrated manner, like an apprentice. When an artist uses granite, marble, even wood, he must always be on the alert. That is why I assert that only fanatics make sculptures.
– Have you managed to comprehend the mystery of art?
– There can be no simple reply to this question. The mystery is in the heart of an artist. A work of art comes out alright or it does not come out alright, one can only sense it with the heart. Art has no regulations, you know that as well as I do. First an artist moves blindly, the he reaches a result that satisfies him. How does one get inspiration? No artist knows this and no artist can explain this mystery. One just knows – is inspiration there or is it gone?
– What is your opinion, in order for an artist to become an artist, to be interesting, must he necessarily go through suffering?
– He must. Without suffering he cannot show his sincerity. Without suffering he cannot get to the truth. Suffering, sad as it may seem, is a strong impetus towards intensive quests. Of course, a person is better off not suffering, but an artist is shaped into an artist through suffering.
– What feelings should be especially developed in an artist?
– I believe that first and foremost he should have tender-heartedness. And being a sculptor I know that strength is required. Both emotional and physical. A weak person should not become involved in sculpture. The material is hard, it resists attempts to change it and one needs much time to comprehend its secrets. More so if you work with various materials. There are some sculptors who are dedicated to just one material, but I have been always interested in working with different materials. Maybe I failed to reach such mastery as I could have reached had I dedicated my efforts to working with just one material, but I still have this aspiration towards comprehending various secrets of the craft. This demanded much time – I have been a sculptor for over thirty years.
– I know that you not only did creative work, but also had to do much hard work in order to feed your family. Was it difficult to combine different types of work?
– Yes, for many years I worked as a stonemason, making gravestones. Every instance of this work meant meeting a grieving person. I also accepted private orders – portraits of the deceased, as a rule they were younger people. Every relative tried to tell me in detail about their deceased one, sometimes utterly dismal stories. That was a real ordeal. This accumulates within a person. If one is a strong man, a warrior… But I am no warrior. It is difficult for me. Thank God, I stopped having dreams about this, but sometimes I am walking in the city and suddenly remember a human tragedy.
– An artist always passes a small part of himself on to his work. What demanded the greatest effort from you?
– All my works are as dear to me as my own children, it is difficult to point out just one or two. I begin thinking of what I love most… I put my soul into every work. But I will try to give a reply. It must be the works with which I saw most suffering.
– Do you consider the lack of resemblance to others, the many-sidedness, the uniqueness in the creative work of one artist to be merits?
– Yes. Because the creative process should always be intensive and it is unworthy of oneself to repeat one’s work.
I never set for myself the goal of finding a common style in sculpture, I was never troubled by the issue of my works being recognised through my style. The form itself of a work of art did not mean for me its essence but was merely a tool supporting a theme in a sculpture, helping me to relate to the spectator my understanding of the design for that given moment of life.
– Will beauty “save the world?”
– It is the most important issue of our time. When one speaks about beauty, one usually means its moral side, spiritual beauty. Beauty of a shape or a line is passing, albeit memorable. But if it has nothing spiritual, no depth, then it is rather quickly forgotten. The spiritual, which for me is the moral, stays deep in one’s soul. And currently this is tragically lacking in our lives. You know very well how little nowadays people are interested in the spiritual life. Even films have become aggressive, these thrillers and so on, they do not provide for a spiritual revelation of an event or a character, but merely show external manifestations. I have almost ceased to believe that beauty will save the world. If we continue treating beauty the way we do, then the negative tendencies will gain the upper hand.
– Is love a beginning or a continuation of something?
– Love is by all means the continuation of beauty. We cannot love something ugly. We can register something ugly, but we fall in love with and love beauty. Of course, love is the climax of inspiration. Love for a woman, for art, even for one’s mother, seemingly so mundane, usual, habitual, is still great. An inspiration.
– Can one simulate love?
– Even if one could do that for a while, sooner or later the truth would come out. What’s the use of pretending? One is better off not doing so.
– But is love selfish?
– To a large extent. Love for a woman presumes selfishness. You do not want to share her with anyone else, and this is natural. And love for art is by all means selfish. Not all artists are very gifted. Some have abilities, but not all are so gifted and very few are actually geniuses. But everybody loves art. Everybody in his own way. Look – both the gifted ones and the not so gifted ones sacrifice themselves to this love. One cannot comment on this by saying: “Alright, he is a genius, he can do this.” Some artists were not geniuses while they were alive, but they loved art. For example, Paul Gaugaine – Paris was not enough for him, he had to go to Tahiti and get stuck there, breaking up his own family. But he could not help it. Otherwise he would not have become that artist whom we know. Yes, love for art is selfish. And those who disagree are, in my opinion, not real artists.
– An artist strives to defeat time. What else?
– To defeat time, to express it… it can be said so, meaning that he wants to remain for all times. To defeat time means to defeat death. What else is there to do? Make money? What matters is to be a winner inside. To defeat oneself is more difficult. You know, many artists live for a long time without achieving recognition, even die unrecognised. But I am sure that every artist knows whether he has been working in vain or not. I am absolutely convinced in this. Every artist knows everything about himself. He can make a faulty judgment about somebody else, but not about himself. One cannot always confess something to another person, but one can hardly lie to oneself.
– A craft – how do you understand it? Many people tend to attach a negative connotation to it.
– They must have never been workers. I have deep respect for crafts. When I regard the wooden altar made by Zarudsky, I feel deep respect towards this craftsman – I would even call him an artist. Because what we have there is great patience and enormous love for his craft. All of us, artists, should learn from him. I do not have a negative attitude towards crafts but I admit that an artist should not be satisfied with just learning a craft. If one has wings given to him, then one should take to the air, using the patience of a craftsman that is needed in every form of art.
– In your opinion, how important for an artist is evaluation of his work by other people?
– Very important. How can one not want to be successful? On such occasions I remember Alla Pugatscheva’s reply to the question: “How do you like your crazy popularity?” She answered: “I bathe in it.” It is the same for any artist. If he is recognised, why should he reject this! If he is not recognised, he should have the courage to struggle to obtain recognition.
– What have you obtained in life?
– I obtained what I had expected to obtain. I am a very happy person. I have a wonderful wife, we have been together for 38 years, she is my loyal friend. I have a good son, his family, a marvelous daughter-in-law and, of course, my beloved granddaughters. All human aspirations I have already achieved. But in art it is more complicated. My family cannot always cope with me, I am a difficult person – both in everyday life and in my work. My wife has a hard time with me.
– The main part of the road has already been passed, how do you view it?
– Looking back at my creative path, I come to the conclusion that I am satisfied with it in general. I am satisfied that I did not deviate from my initially outlined path in art, the way towards the truth that demands a great deal of selflessness and altruism. I have remained myself despite all the humiliations I received from my colleagues in art.
Nothing happens in my life without God’s grace. Satisfaction has begun setting in in recent years. Not satisfaction with my art, but with the way people react to my art. I believe that labour is labour, will is will, integrity is integrity, but God’s grace is the best thing that can happen to anyone.
By Pavel Makarov