Passion guided the hand of Vahan Ananyan. As characteristic of many natives of Armenia, he possessed inborn artistic talent - when the distance between eye and hand, as well as the distance between emotional state and hand, seems not to exist at all. As a result, the painting became the reflection of the artist’s soul. Imagery became his diary. Painting became a record of feelings…
... Yet the feelings were impetuous. Ananyan was an openhearted extrovert, too carelessly trusting of the world. In return, the world entered his soul with everything it had to offer - its artful ability to convert emotion into passion and make freedom self-destructive. Judging from his works, Vahan strived for a certain maximum, an extreme degree of achievement in everything he did.
In painting, he was attracted by the heightened expressiveness of the form. His hand outlined the contours of the heads, aspiring to maximize the contrast between a figure and a background. He achieved stronger and stronger contrast so that the background would shine, and the object would become darker and darker. However, impatience and lack of professional experience impoverished the form. The contour hastily covered the bowed female head, several strokes outlining the hand, somewhere in the darkness the infant could be noticed ...the Virgin Mary? No, more likely the habitual form from which the eye glides in passing without stopping.
From time to time in a number of pictures, there is a flashing silhouette, reminiscent of St. George the Victorious, or a winged angel. But is it an angel? This dark winged creature on the dim bronze of a background. The artist does not have an attitude of iconic delicacy. He is rather attracted by contrast and conflict. That is how the dark heads like photographic negatives or half-seen figures ordained with tattoos appear. An organic form with the geometry of hieroglyphs covering it… The tonal contrasts are lacking so the artist shapes the forces with a brush handle, yielding the lacking volume. He then varnishes the image, making the surface gleam like a polished tree. He neither follows the balanced style of Picasso's Negro Series nor the original African folklore (though he is aware of it).
Ananyan’s primitivism is organic. Paradoxically, it is possible to say that he would have painted in the same style even if he had never seen the African sculpture. However, unlike those folklore styles perfected over time, the artist bravely forms his images scantly, often deprived of nuances or details. However, it never confused Ananyan, who followed wherever his hand guided him, and it guided him to the labyrinths and nooks of the soul - deeper and lower.
Demons indeed inhabited his images. Gradually, the finished work was washed with smoky touches, making the characters look even more ominous - fantasy figures covered by mysterious letters, double and triple headed creatures...Many portray discomfort, but others convey that the author is acquainted not only with Castaneda's books, but also to the practices described in them.
It is well-known that passion is destructive, but why? Why can’t it be creative? Within the space of the art, encompassing all " the properties” of passion, the answer is not given. However, the answer is given in the spiritual world, a world describing all emotions, boundless, and beyond man’s power. That is why the passion is agonizing, intangible by definition. Therefore, it forces one towards self-destruction, tearing one up from within.
In the beginning of the last century, intellectuals ardently discussed a new and confusing philosophical dilemma - the famous idea of Nietzsche’s “push the weak.” This idea sharply contradicted all known views on morality, including the traditional Russian belief, “rise the weak”. To be fair, it should be mentioned that Nietzsche’s paradox did have some basis - the philosopher noticed (though later became an axiom) the tendency of the internally weak to feed off of those who were stronger. Those who favor the latter accept the answer given by the famous Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva - “It is necessary to help those who wish to rise”, i.e. those who possess internal strength, but for various reasons have fallen on hard times.
I neither know whether somebody helped Ananyan in that way nor am I aware of any other influence from his past. However, he was certainly a strong person as picturesque canvases exemplify.
The works, created in a rather short period of time, contrast with earlier ones, as if they were painted by two diametrically different people. Both phases are related perhaps only by his temperament and the art is the continuation and materialization of emotions splashed by the soul. Internal changes and the growth of pictorial mastery occur simultaneously, enriching each other. In other words, in Ananyan’s case, the professional and spiritual perfection is one and the same. And whereas his works once testified to what was torturing him, they now showed what helped what was helping him survive.
His style would change abruptly often within the same year, the work leaving the only evidence of what he had overcome. Movements become complicated and refined, and later demonstrate vigor and strength. The palette brightens over time: from a green lunar-cold to a less faded sunny gold.
The fantasy characters lose their frightening demonic essence. The three-headed form, with vertical fish bodies growing from it, with all its mysteriousness, is now free from anxiety.
In the variety of plots and experiments with textures and pictorial manners, two main basic themes can be noticed - landscapes of native Armenia and religious plots.
Previously, there were no motives in the artist’s paintings until nature influenced the creation of a whole series. Nevertheless, the paintings are unlike. The biblical power of Ararat demanded laconism and intense decorative color. “The Temples of Armenia” were picturesquely complex: red and green blended together so that they form an integrated living environment.
The landscape gave air to Ananyan’s painting.
The frameworks of a concrete genre were too narrow for him; he was attracted by greater categories. His landscapes acquired the range of a Universe. The heat of Armenia became a metaphor for the heat of the heart.
Religious plots accompanied the artist almost all his life, gradually taking up a more and more significant place in his art. The development of the pictorial language went from opposition of the object and the environment to the creation of an integrated artistic environment - from confrontation to a mobile, complex, vibrating world substance, in which the object is almost dissolved, but not destroyed, just transformed. Penetrating into Ananyan’s paintings, this in turn created a form literally - the basic essence of the last and the best works is the creation of the light.
The spiritual and creative experiences had certainly been acquired from religious influences. As in “Annunciation" the figures are like shining streams of light and are molded from light. Even earlier, “The Taking off the Cross” 2000, with its traditionally dramatic treatment of light and shade, has an absolutely non-traditional essence.
The final work is “The Portrait of M. Yelena”. The contours and the face features are easily and freely planned by the wide brush. The dark is necessary so far as it reveals the light. It is less like a portrait, but something closer to the concept of a face - warm, light, clear.
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The final canvas was created under the obvious impression of the exhibition of Vladimir Naumez, who passed away during its creation. The message was clear: “I have understood how and about what you are doing it. We go in one direction... “
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By its state the portrait makes remember “The Trinity”, the death-work of Lyuda Yastreb, probably even unknown to Ananyan.
Art critic, PhD
(As translated by Lusine Hunanyan, Oksana Nilova and Aaron Snyder)
Note: I did not have the opportunity to know Vahan Ananyan personally. All that is written here was inspired from his works after his death.