Taron Simonyan

Taron Simonyan Finds Humanity in Far-Flung Locales

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By Artsvi Bakhchinyan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

YEREVAN – The 39-year-old painter and photographer Taron Simonyan is a citizen of the world. He says he has a home and family in different countries around the world. His parents — sculptor Tsolak Simonyan and philologist Anahit Minasyan — have lived in St. Petersburg since 1963, but Taron “succeeded” in being born in Armavir, Armenia. He was 40-days-old when the family returned to Russia, and since then Simonyan splits his life between two cities, St. Petersburg and Yerevan. After graduating from Fine Arts High School, he received an artist’s education at St. Petersburg State Art Academy and then studied at the Ljubeck School of Communication Design in Germany. His first personal exhibition took place at the age of 19 in 1998 in Aachen, then in other cities in Germany, Russia, Armenia, Spain, Japan, and the United Arab Emirates. The Naples Documentary Film Festival, which organizes an exhibition of works by a single artist, in 2015 hosted Taron’s exhibition on Zorats Karer — one of the most prominent Armenian archeological sites, as well as his lecture about Armenia.

My conversation with Taron took place in his home in Yerevan in the presence of his amiable parents, in a completely artistic environment with Ararat and a panoramic view of Yerevan in the background.

There are artists who do not need new impressions and do not travel, yet they create new worlds in a closed space, relying on their imagination. Taron, you are the contrary. Your art is being fed by various trips, especially to exotic lands.

One should either close himself up or be open till the end! Everyone should be in harmony with his inner world. I have traveled from childhood, and the love for discovering new horizons emerged in me and grew year after year. I have always wanted to know what exists behind the wall. I have always been attracted to unusual countries and cultures. In 2006 I was in Japan for the first time and stayed there for two and a half months. In Kyoto I accidentally got acquainted with the famous sculptor Yasuo Yashikawa, who owns a bar for local artists. Thanks to him, I met many Japanese artists and entered the Kyoto Traditional and Modern Art Academies. I did sketches in Japan, but only during the nights, as during the days I wanted to use every minute and not miss any information. Everything was new to me. I left for Japan for the second time in 2010, worked with local artists and traveled all over the country. Moving from south to the north, I was watching the sakura’s gradual flowering. In the spring, human energy is changing, and every time I have a new energy awakening. So I reached Hokkaido island and got two exhibitions in Sapporo titled “Walk in St. Petersburg.”

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So the Japanese recognized you as a St. Petersburg artist?

Not so much. It is true that I was presenting my works based on the performances of the Mariinsky Theater of Opera and Ballet, but the Japanese said that there are Armenian colors in my works. And I remembered the words of my anatomy teacher that the colors I use are very bright, while pastel shades are dominant in St. Petersburg.

I remember your “Japan’s Colors” photo series at the Armenian-Japanese joint exhibition in National Gallery of Armenia in 2006.

That exhibition was called “From Ararat to Fujiyama,” organized by specialists of Japanese art curators Andrey and Irina Mikhailov from St. Petersburg, with the participation of 13 Japanese artists (painters, sculptors, photographers, conceptual artists). One of those artists stayed in our home and every morning was meditating in front of the Ararat view. It was a great experience in my life to communicate with the Japanese reality. I remember one interesting thing: in the first month of my stay in Japan, I bought a kimono and went to the same store before returning. The owner of the store remembered me, and appreciating my three-month stay in his country and visiting his store for the second time, he donated seven kimonos to me. Japan has somewhat refined me; it indirectly imposes rules that were difficult, but acceptable and very interesting. When a person sees some news and understands that it is right, good and healthful for him, he begins to be improved at once. From Japan, we have a lot to take: first of all, love and sensitivity toward nature. Once we were returning from Geghard with the Japanese guests. I got out of the car and took a round stone lying on the road and brought it home, and the Japanese woman told me: “You took that stone in vain, cutting it off from its family.”

Was Japan was your creative boom?

Actually, Indonesia. I stayed there for more than a year, as, unlike Japan, life is not expensive there. I have worked actively there and later visited the country again. Indeed, national traditions are still very bright in Indonesia. Although the Muslims try to make the whole country Muslim, Bali’s people in particular still strive to preserve their identity and culture at all costs. The Shinto religion of Japan has turned into a kind of museum religion (as technocratic reality cannot affect the viewpoint of people), though Bali’s local beliefs and culture seem to be on their last breath. I lived and worked in a great art center in Bali where people come from all over the world. One time I made a performance with the painters of different nations: we took canvases, went to the rice fields and started drawing on the spot. It was just a experiment, an emotional explosion, not a creative work. My Indonesian paintings, about 20 large canvases, along with four other artists’ works, have been exhibited at the Yerevan Folk Art Museum.

And how did you arrive in Africa?

Before Africa it was Nepal, which is also a location with a very strong energy. I stayed there for a month. I went the Himalayan mountains, and wanted to stay there for a longer time, but because of the revolution in the country, I had to leave my bags and escaped from the country only taking my paintings. I exhibited them in Yerevan too, at the Russian Art Museum. As far as Africa goes, Tanzania in particular, it had such strong impression on me that for two years I was not able to work. Appearing in Africa, you realize that it is the strongest, most interesting area on our entire planet; the most difficult one, the hungriest one, the poorest one, but the most amazing one. The source of everything is there — of civilization, fashion, design, music, sports and bodily beauty. Even now I am very excited about Africa. I went there with my Russian friend, who is an art critic. I took 80 kilograms of paints and canvases. I was particularly interested in Maasais, about one million semi-nomadic people living in Tanzania and Kenya, near Kilimanjaro, in the national park. We did not want to stay in the capital of Tanzania, Dar al-Salam, where more than four million people live. It is impossible to deal with painting there; you could endanger your life. We spent three months in a village on Zanzibar, a tourist island, where I worked very efficiently. On Zanzibar, we got acquainted with two Maasais and traveled with them to the continent, cutting across about 1500-2000 kilometers. When we entered the national park, the connection with the world was cut off; cell phones stopped working. Finally, you understand that you are in another dimension. We went about 40 to 50 minutes in the darkness. There would not be a way back if your companions suddenly leave you. It was kind of playing on the boundary of life and death, but faith leads you to wherever you are. And so we reached the village of Lesoito. Although it was night, the residents came to greet us and started dancing around in our honor. Imagine that a man is alone, surrounded by African natives, hears their voices and feels that he is on another planet where there is nothing artificial, chemical, and therefore, there is no garbage. People take everything from nature.

What interesting special story do you remember from Africa?

One night the cottage where I stayed froze. Yes, sometimes in Africa you can be frozen. I said that it was cold, and they brought a bull inside to warm the cottage. And the cottage really warmed up from the animal’s face. I stayed a week among the Maasais and was dressed like them, I had my mammy Yoyo, who cared for me. We witnessed the celebration of the full-moon festival of Maasais, which takes place twice a year and is the ritual of man becoming a hunter. I had not brought paints with me, only taking photos and videos because, as in my first time in Japan, I did not want to miss any minute. I had to comprehend everything quickly, accumulate it, and when I felt that I could no longer get more information, at 2:00 a.m. I said, “This is enough, I have to go back quickly.” There is a kind of energy that a human being does not need anymore. I had had to not exceed the “limit” in order to  not damage my impressions. Returning to Zanzibar, I immediately created my African painting series and opened exhibitions in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The local Art Myph magazine considered my exhibition the best of the year. As a result, I had twenty large canvases that I brought to Yerevan, but I have not had an exhibition yet.

You came back from Indonesia recently. This country seems to keep you inspired continuously. Indonesia, Japan, Nepal, the Maasai people … what’s next?

I do not know. Maybe Mexico? I feel good in new places. I get energy from communication with new people. I love to communicate with ethnic cultures, seeing more emotional art in them. There is nothing like this in Europe. In St. Petersburg, painters “smash” their head in their studio. What new things can they invent? Whereas in Bali, if you do not have any ideas, you can just go out to the street and nature, the environment, will give you ideas at once. Even in highly developed Japan it is easier to do so, though the Japanese people put their ideas more in line with their diligence. From my example, I can say that travels improve people a lot, expanding their outlook, and are especially important for artists.

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