“Khorhurt khorin,” from Nora Azadian’s “My Armenia” series

Nora Azadian – The Artist

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By Dr. Gary Belian

DETROIT – Visually rich, emotionally gratifying, the art of Nora Azadian stems from European and Armenian sources. Although French influence is apparent in her art, most of her recent work is emphatically expressionist. Restless, dark colors, being disturbed by uneven white illuminations.

“Egyptian Motherhood,” oil on canvas

Born in Egypt, she became the prize student of the renowned painter Ashod Zorian and later graduated from the ABC School in Paris. She has influenced a generation of painters, some of whom have distinguished themselves in the Middle East and Europe.

Nora Azadian’s portrait of poet and intellectual Vahan Tekeyan, a family friend

Nora was noted for her figure paintings and picturesque watercolors, lyrical, poetic, almost exotic with nostalgic overtones.

The talent of Nora Ipekian Azadian stems from her childhood experiences. She was brought up in a family circle of intellectuals and artists, an environment conducive to artistic pursuits. Her greatest enthusiasm comes from the encouragement of her husband Edmond Azadian, the well-known intellectual and public figure.

Nora and Edmond Azadian in front of the Vahan Tekeyan statue at Yerevan’s Vahan Tekeyan School

The exhibition entitled “My Armenia” is an outgrowth of the artist’s recent visit to the motherland. Its intent is not merely to reflect the brilliance and pageantry of contemporary Armenia, but to reflect on its past heroic achievements.

Sculptor Reuben Nakian, left, with Dr. Gary Belian at Nora Azadian’s “My Armenia” exhibition

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In order to understand Nora’s “My Armenia,” let us refer to the historical background of the land.

Situated at the crossroads of the East and West, Armenia witnessed endless fights of independence and on its soil the destinies of great nations were tested.

After adopting Christianity in 301, Armenia remained faithful to the Nicene Creed and severed all ties with the Byzantine Church; thereafter, being at the mercy of the powerful Byzantine Empire and the neighboring enemies of Christianity. Churches were erected, monasteries with fortress-like walls, outside cities and towns, on mountain slopes. These acted as cultural centers and as a protection in times of war and foreign suzerainty.

Most of these architectural edifices are in ruins, most of the neighboring peoples have passed into oblivion, but the Armenian people have survived, rebuilt their cities and glorified their churches.

“The Lonely Church,” from Nora Azadian’s “My Armenia” series

These ruins and the reconstructed edifices are a testimony of a people who had the courage to defy the mighty Byzantine Empire, and repulse the neighboring enemies of Christianity.

Nora’s “My Armenia,” the Armenia of all the Armenians, is an important glorification of our country, its past, its present and its future.

Topics: art, painting
People: Nora Azadian

The visit of Nora Azadian to the homeland was a revelation. She penetrated the reality of dream and spirit to become a great visionary artist.

Landscape, from Nora Azadian’s “My Armenia” series

The use of color became bolder; she rejected bright colors in favor of somber tones imparting a somber mood. Her brushwork became turbulent, more vigorous, which imbues atmosphere and enlivens the picture surface.

From Naturalistic Landscapes to Mystic Subjects

From naturalistic landscapes, Nora turned inwards to mystical subjects. Her imagination transformed Armenian history and culture, its churches and architectural remains into a wholly personal, original poetry.

With sensuously painted somber colors, permeated by unearthly light, Nora shaped nature’s essential forms and rhythms into a few superbly designed powerful masses.

Thematically related edifices, the churches, monasteries, castles, have a metaphoric significance; the link between the past and the present.

“Armenian Church,” from Nora Azadian’s “My Armenia” series

Eloquent in its simplicity of statement, the architectural monuments represent the entire history of a nation. A symbol of faith, a symbol of belief in survival, a symbol of triumph over destructive forces.

Nora took the colors of Armenia with all its splendors. Earth tones, browns, oranges, blues, in harmonious combinations are applied onto the canvas, ranging from subtle waves of color, to hold lines, with actively stroked pigment. An uninhibited use of color to define forms and express feeling with a coordination of pictorial tension throughout the surface of the canvas. Her moods range from poetic to enigmatic. With a characteristic spontaneity, mysticism and a complete disregard for “truth to nature.”

The colors of Armenia are also reflected in her “rhythm of momentum,” where undulating bands of color travel across the canvas, a simplification of peaks and valleys, and the rolling nature of the country painted in swiftly executed rhythmic movement.

Strong Colors – Simplification of Form

Strong colors, simplification of form with the elimination of detail recall the work of the Fauves, especially Maurice de Vlaminck, one of her idols, whose flat areas of color and vigorous brushstrokes are evident in some of her paintings.

Some of the work is not premeditated, but rather resembles a spontaneous outburst, a release of hidden energy painted rapidly with expressionistic vigor, recalling the brushstrokes of Franz Kline and the spatial arrangement of Pierre Soulages, where the gradation of her energetic brushstrokes also results in the impression of three dimensions.

These paintings carry the emotional impact of the abstract expressionists.

In her recent painting “The Fortress,” she goes even beyond the Fauves. There is a new violence and aggressiveness of attack, in the manner of de Kooning. The paint is vigorously applied onto the canvas in the heat of the execution and the loaded brush is allowed to drag and sweep across the canvas, trailing meteoric splashes and drips; characteristic means of execution of gestural abstractionism.

Her strong colors are softened with touches of white paint which create an interplay of light and shadow.

Nora’s paintings of Armenian landscapes and edifices indicate that she is not immune to the glory and romanticism of the Armenian legendary ruins.

Landscape, from Nora Azadian’s “My Armenia” series

The solemn architectural façade of a cathedral, isolated churches and monasteries, in silent rural suburban flatlands, on mountain tops and mountain slopes, represent vestiges of a past civilization, which served to fire the creative imagination of the artist.

As part of the composition, trees, much simplified in their outline and even distorted in their form, occupy a humanly void milieu, emphasizing a setting of desolate barrenness, and the meager remnants of past grandeur.

An unattainable church, perched on a mountain top, is symbolic. Appropriately titled “Elevation,” it represents the ambitions, the beliefs, and the aspirations of the people.

In “My Armenia,” Nora sought to create visual equivalents, not just for dreams or immediate perceptions, but also for a wide range of experiences including anguish, hope, alienation, suffering, passion and historical sentiments.

Her urban landscapes show her ability to perceive monumentality in the remnants of the churches and monasteries. She magnified the brushstrokes, the paintings became denser and the energies more explosive.

These historic edifices were unveiling the tragic past of her people.

This exhibition bears witness to the artist’s spiritual life and deep national convictions; it is a tribute to her skill, imagination and taste.

Around her monumental landscapes, bathing in Armenian colors, she creates an entire panorama of scenes which tell the story of an ancient civilization which left for posterity a rich legacy of historical and artistic achievements.

(Armenian Mirror-Spectator, 1980)

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