Gayane Khachaturian

Remembering Artist Gayane Khachaturian in the Decade Since Her Passing

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By Artsvi Bakhchinyan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

YEREVAN — Many consider Gayane Khachaturian the greatest of Armenian female artist ever. The late painter and graphic artist, who was born and lived all her life in Georgia, remained an Armenian artist (even if there is nothing particularly Armenian in her works), being a part of the Armenian fine art family and signing her paintings in Armenian.

Armenia and Armenians have appreciated Gayane Khachaturian from the very beginning of her career. She was just 20 when another noted Armenian artist from Georgia, Alexander Bazhbeuk-Melikyan, supported her endeavors, while the patriarch of Armenian painting, Martiros Saryan, appreciated her works very much.

Meeting Sergei Paradjanov was a turning point in Gayane’s life. Two extraordinary Tiflis-Armenians, both unusually talented and “alien,” were kindred souls. “Gayane is a shamaness, who creates her amazing world of magic,” Paradjanov said.

At his initiative, in 1967, her first non-official exhibition was opened in Yerevan, followed by official exhibitions in Moscow and Tbilisi. Outside the USSR, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation organized her personal and group exhibitions in Lisbon, Beirut and cities of France.

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Generally, Armenians were not indifferent to their talented compatriot. Two documentaries about Khachaturian were filmed at Hayfilm Studio. One documentary about the then-29-year-old artist, titled “Gayane,” was shot in 1971 by Yuri Yerznkyan, and seven years later, Ruben Gevorgyants screened “Blue Wind, Almond’s Aroma” about the artist. In 2006 Levon Grigoryan made a third documentary about the artist, “I, Gayane from Tiflis.”

She was recognized and loved, but was out of official Soviet art. It is not a coincidence that Khachaturian’s supporters were mostly the young Soviet-era population that felt outside the mainstream. Paradjanov had introduced many of his friends to Khachaturian, and also thanks to him, Gayane was recognized and appreciated by Marc Chagall, Andrey Tarkovsky, Federico Fellini, Tonino Guerra, Vladimir Spivakov, Yuri Lyubimov, Eldar Ryazanov, Françoise Sagan, Yves Saint Laurent, Bella Akhmadulina, Otar Iosseliani, Gia Kancelli, Alla Demidova, Yevgeny Primakov and Mikhail Tumanishvili. Many bought works by Khachaturian.

Like another great Khachaturian, born in Tiflis — Aram — Gayane Khachaturian’s roots also go back to the historical Armenian Goghtn province (now in Azerbaijan), the city of Agulis.

Gayane was named in honor of her grandmother, whose piety was revered by all of Goghtn. Having gained a brilliant education in Tbilisi, Gayane led an intensely productive life. She had almost no other interests. The tiny payments she received for her paintings she often distributed to needy families, continuing to live more than an ascetic life, never thinking about material goods, sleeping on the floor. And in such conditions she used to create her colorful, vivid, imaginary worlds, the street masquerades with the colorings of Agulis and Tiflis, her mysterious, yet simultaneously simple and ordinary characters. Art specialists catagorize Khachaturian’s painting style as “magical realism,” rarely seen in painting, the few representatives of which are Belgian René Magritte, Mexican Frieda Kahlo, French-Jewish Marc Chagal and English Peter Doig.

Paradjanov’s friend, Russian-Armenian documentarian Vasily Katanyan, wrote in his memoirs: “On the first day he [Paradjanov] took us to her protégée, Gayane Khachaturian. We met her on the street; she was going to the empty shop with an empty bag. Seeing Seryozha [Paradjanov], she suddenly turned back and took us to her poor room/studio and showed the paintings that Sergei asked her to show. We saw marvelous paintings from which we could not move away. In general, Gayane Khachaturian has been officially recognized only recently, but Seryozha had discovered her long time ago. The artist argued that ‘if it were not Sergei Iosifovich, I could not do anything; he helped me, and I listened to him very much.’ Seryozha was sitting importantly. Today, Gayane’s paintings cost thousands, they are shown in the museums, but it does not matter for her. She is a little bit not from this world and is like Novella Matveeva [Russian poet]. She speaks with a bass voice, loves singing psalms, but, alas, never became a singer.” (Vasily Katanyan, Touching the Idols, Moscow, 1997, p. 227, in Russian).

Khachaturian was also remembered this way by Russian writer Vladimir Moshchenko. “She was not from this world. She was living in poor conditions, but was not complaining. They say, Tarkovsky devoted poems to Gayane. We should find them. She was poetry herself. Her paintings mesmerize. “Veil of Wine,” “Elephant – A Purple Bow,” “The Procession of Orange’s Day,” “Morning: the Violet’s Whisper,” “In the Evening: the Harp Night of Blue Night” (Vladimir Moshchenko, The Voices Disappear, the Music Remains, Moscow, 2015, p. 112, in Russian).

Gayane Khachaturian and Sergei Paradjanov

In 2009, the Armenian pavilion in Venice International Biennale was presented only by Gayane Khachaturian’s 15 works. Unfortunately, the painter passed away two months before the Biennale. On April 14, 2009, the artist said in a conversation with Moscow curator and collector Valery Khanukayev at the Tbilisi Oncology Hospital: “I have always wanted to show my world, the world of magic realism, but the illness and the nerves have exhausted my strength and my health. Soon it is Venice Biennale, I know, and when my paintings and drawings will be exposed, they will have great success, the late success that I earned before my death, but I don’t care, as I do not consider my paintings masterpieces…”

Ten years ago, at the Venice Biennale, I was watching Gayane’s magical paintings and seeing the admiration of visitors of different nationalities, remembering my only meeting with the artist a few years ago in front of the Contemporary Art Museum in Yerevan. I have taken her hands that created so many wonderful canvasses and said that we are always waiting for her in Armenia and expect her constant return, which, unfortunately, did not happen…

In 2008 Khanukayev with the artist’s consent and her personal leadership, founded and chaired the Gayane Khachaturian International Foundation, which organizes exhibitions, creates an archive and studies the heritage of the artist. By the way, by Khanukayev’s initiative Austrian ballet master Michael Fichtenbaum has staged in Moscow one action ballet titled “Gayane,” devoted to the life of the artist…

Certainly, we are grateful to this non-Armenian collector and curator who take care of the heritage of the Armenian artist, but we also regret that Paradjanov’s kin friend, unlike him, does not have her own museum in Yerevan…

In the Armenian Pantheon of Tbilisi (Khojivank), mostly destroyed during the Stalin era, 10 years ago a new, humble gravestone appeared. The great Armenian female painter has been lying near the tombs of our great writers: Raffi, Sundukyan, Tumanyan… And as the signature of her canvases, the gravestone is also Armenian, something rare in modern Georgia, which is actively erasing Armenian traces.

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