Vachagan Narazyan’s art captivates our hearts with the creation of his own mysterious, intriguing yet classical world on canvas. His paintings are hauntingly beautiful, whimsical and surreal, with provocative symbolic undertones.
The works of this “dissident artist” are among the most evocative to come out of the Non-conformist movement of the former Soviet Union. His poetic and visionary style is simply magical. His subjects are widely diverse, often juxtaposing “Old World” images with “New Age” elements.
Vachagan Narazyan was a major part of the non-conformist art movement of the Soviet Union. He was trained to paint in the classical traditional Social Realism style. Vachagan wanted to paint from his heart, soul and imagination. He disagreed with the Soviet dogma and the conformist ideals of the Stalinist. Following his beliefs he joined the Non- Conformist art movement. This movement consisted of a group of artists who painted in the Non-Traditional style, which was illegal under Soviet rule. Stalinist ideals dictate all art needs to depict everyday people working hard and being happy. The paintings also had to be painted in realistic, representational form. Stalinist ideals are against anything imaginary or controversial and against the status quo. Painting in the Non-Conformist style under Soviet rule, Vachagan put his life and his family’s lives in jeopardy. His work first arrived in the United States smuggled by Dr. Norton Dodge. Dr. Dodge worked for the United States inside the USSR. He was the first person to bring the Non- Conformist to the free world. He owns over 10,000 paintings of the Non-Conformist including 50 of Vachagan’s oils. A large portion of the collection was displayed at the Zimmerlie museum in New Brunswick, NJ in 1995.
"I am pleased that the viewers ask me about the work. I think it's important for the artist to see the impact of his work, the reaction of the viewer. No matter where you are in the world, the love for art transcends language," he said through an interpreter in a recent trip to the United States.
Born in 1957 in Kislovodsk, Russia, Narazyan lost his parents as a young boy and went to live with his grandparents. His latest works are a direct reflection of the images he experienced when the circus came to visit his town. While the images are true in their depiction, the years that have passed and his feelings at the time he created each piece has a direct effect on the finished work.
They are full of symbolic encoding where reality is faintly visible in the form of profoundly personal experience of spiritual perception. Using tempera along with oil the painter depicts complicated artistic surface full of vibrating shades-the surface that reacts
to any move in the artist's thoughts or dreams. His method is both simple yet complicated. It is the method that absorbed the experience of many generations of artists from Duerer and Bosch.
"The memories of my childhood and the circus coming to my town are exciting and joyous," he said. "But now, reflecting back and in my work, they seem to be melancholy and quite sad. They are very reflective of the way I remember the people of the circus looking."
Perhaps the most immediately noticeable aspect of Narazyan's work can be found in the expressions on the faces of the people he depicts. While they appear similar upon first examination, further study reveals more about each character's personality. "In some of them, (the faces) are a reflection of my feelings at the moment, in relationship to the people that are or were part of my life," he said. "The paintings couldn't have been as they are if the faces weren't as expressive and yet subdued."
He hopes the faces and the settings of paintings in his current work will inspire the viewers to find inspirations within themselves. "I want the viewer to be immersed in the setting of my paintings," he said. "I also want people to be intrigued to discover the memories of their own childhood and remember them, relive them in their minds. That is what I love about painting and showing my work. I try to leave room for interpretation by the viewer, to give them the space to draw their own conclusions from the imagery and the setting."
Narazyan's work can be classified as a Non-Conformist style, painting with classical flair of the Renaissance masters. Much of his work contains subtle symbolic imagery, which add a bit of magic. He explains the "rings" surrounding some of the characters in his pieces are representative of a person's aura and the black and white sticks or balancing poles many of his characters are seen holding represent that individual's boundaries or limitations.
His works are in the public collections of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine, the Artists Union of Ukraine and Russia, and the City Kharkiv Art Museum.
While he acknowledges the attention his work has garnered over the years, he says that only recently has he become confident in the art he creates. "I look back at some of the work I did when I first started painting and can't imagine ever showing that work to anyone," he said with a shy laugh. "I think I've improved in my use of space and color. The main theme I try to convey is travel and space in my paintings. I am much more confident now because I know what I am doing and know what I want to do in the future."