The Artist as Anarchist: A review of Arman Grigoryan’s work

Punks in Gyumri, nudists in Little Armenia, love parade in Burj Hamood, hippies in Dilijan, an anarchist and a Yeraz van? It’s impossible? If we take away the question marks, then all these become the canvases by Arman Grigoryan and the impossible becomes possible in art.

Nothing invented, of course: sub-cultural groups and Armenian communities – all existent on the Earth. They are simply incompatible, and so much effort and sacrifice would be needed to have the conservative Armenian community revolutionized and tolerate nudists, anarchists and punks. It’s easy to have it on the canvas: there is no need for revolution and struggle, and Grigoryan realizes the dream for freedom in the Armenian surrounding making those things compatible.

This is a means for the artist to criticize the Armenian communities by making positive changes instead of manifesting negative sides. “If people with us manage to see positive things in everything, they will see signs of pluralism in a sect and not a threat. The Armenian community suppresses individuality and forces people to be similar to each other. The characters on my paintings are in communities as well, but each of them decides for himself the way he wants to be, what community to choose and underlines his individuality upon his own choice,” says Grigoryan.

Arman Grigoryan, 47, is one of the founders of the avant-garde movement of the 1980s in Armenia, who in 1987 organized the then controversial Third Floor exhibition with his friends that was a revolution in the atmosphere of academic art. He once wrote: “In my works I try to keep the optimism that the future citizens of the World Federation overwhelmed with their daily life need so much.”

It’s only the character of the last painting of this series – “The Soviet Soldier in the Northern Avenue”, who seems to have stayed in the past. The painting is on exposition at the ‘Yerevan Alert’ exhibition opened at the Center for Contemporary Experimental Art.

As Grigoryan once wrote: “My art gives me opportunity to return to the past to make there changes for the sake of the future.” The Soviet soldier in the past is the change made by the artist, where the imperialist conqueror has turned into a mouthpiece of socialism. Contrary to the rest of his paintings in exhibition this picture lacks the feeling of uneasiness but holds a happy carelessness – an unknown character of a Soviet soldier, smiling and naked, holding the flag of the Soviet Union in the Northern Avenue with a naked woman and a child.

“I want us to understand that the Northern Avenue is a symbol of socialist revolution. Tamanyan’s design plan symbolizes the victory of the Bolshevik revolution and not that of wealthy people as it is interpreted today,” says Grigoryan. The naked soldier of Slavonic appearance and the woman symbolize also sexuality and freedom: “North is a kind of a dream for Armenians. Everyone speaks of the West, but we say the North. North has been a kind of a symbol of modernism; individualism has come from there. They are naked because progress for me is tied up with nakedness. True heroes are naked. Statues of people in overcoats cannot express the heroism of the shown persons,” he says.

The first painting in the series painted in 2005 is the anarchist with his mouth tied up with black piece of cloth and the anarchists’ red and black flag in Yerevan streets, with a blue Yeraz van behind him. (YerAv was a van produced in Armenia in soviet times – taking its name from the company, but the word also means “dream” in Armenian.)

“Anarchist is also an extreme socialist, the last end humanity strives for. He is alone, because he is a symbol,” says Grigoryan. “Anarchists and atheists see the positive in humans despite the history of humanity proves the opposite. It’s the supervision that makes man bad; this may be an idealism I believe in. And the Yeraz is the symbol of Armenia’s progress. No matter how sad the product looks, we have nevertheless had automobile industry.”

“Punks in Gyumri”, “Nudists in Little Armenia” and “Love Parade in Burj Hamood” paintings have survived in photos alone – they don’t exist any more. Grigoryan has painted them on the wall of the exhibition hall in Camper, France within the framework of the Days of Armenia in France. Organizers invite artists to this hall to paint on walls, but other artists come and paint over them after a while.

“When they offered me to paint on the wall, I said of course I will agree: it has been my dream. The result is that up to this moment my works have been best exhibited in Camper.”

He says his paintings have been deleted, but have not been lost as such. If there is much necessity to have a love parade in Burj Hamood, he will paint it again.