A modern twist to icon painting

Armen at work Credit: Armen Vahramyan The Butterfly Catcher (Left) Playing the Right Notes (Right) Credit: Armen Vahramyan The Wedding of Cana Credit: Armen Vahramyan

Striking sharp and bright colours are quick to catch my eye as I enter the show of works by Armenian artist Armen Vahramyan titled ‘Life, Love and Pomegranates’, which runs at So Galerie in Iklin through 6th February.

Armen has put together a number of paintings that mirror the deep love he has for his country in spite of the fact that he was brought up behind the iron curtain of the Soviet communist era. Armenia also suffered many dramatic events, namely the massive earthquake of 1989 that killed tens of thousands, and the six-year Nagorno-Karabakh War with Azerbaijan.

The artist has captured the spirit of Armenia in his iconographic paintings. He said that his country has maintained very close ties with Russia, and both countries are of Christian faith, yet both Orthodox in their religious celebration. This Orthodox iconography is what marks his paintings. In fact, all his works that possess a biblical theme contain earthy hues, which is what separates these works from his non-religious ones. Armen said that these earth colours evoke a mysterious aura, which is how he succeeds in portraying the mystery of the divine. “We humans cannot even begin to understand the divine, but we can certainly feel it and relate to it… Viewers of my art have responded to this difference in colour without even being aware of it.”

Apart from the fact that all the paintings in this exhibition have been produced in oil on canvas, another common feature across all the pieces, regardless of the theme, is the pomegranate – the symbol of life. This recurrent object can be interpreted as being the link between the two genres in this exhibition – secular and non-secular. Another link would be the stylised faces, which make the paintings so icon-like. They appear in all the exhibits, and you will see that the non-religious paintings have also taken on the iconic look.

His non-religious works are just as mesmerising with the use of sharp, bright colours – they could almost be coming out of a children’s picture book. A perfect example here is The Butterfly Catcher (see picture above). Armen makes use of the hard-edge method of painting where areas of colour are distinct, one from another.

Even though the images may look simplified and flat, if you look close enough you will notice the great attention to detail that this artist imbues into his work. He gives as much importance to the background as the foreground by introducing varying textures that differ according to the patches of colour. Some areas are slightly embossed; others contain flowers some of which he has engraved in the paint layer. All these details contribute to the fact that this artist’s work is best appreciated up close.