Guillaume Toumanian

Guillaume Toumanian: Developing French-Armenian Artistic Links

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YEREVAN / BORDEAUX, France — The Marseille-born painter Guillaume Toumanian, 48, studied plastic arts and sciences of art at Michel de Montaigne University, Bordeaux 3, in parallel attending workshops at the School of Fine Arts of Bordeaux. In 1997, he obtained a master’s degree in plastic arts, then started a teaching career in Toulouse. Here he meets the gallery owner Fabrice Galvani, who organized his first personal exhibition in 1999. For the past twenty years, Guillaume has dedicated himself entirely to painting. He has had personal exhibitions in major cities of France (Paris, Lyon, Montpellier, Bordeaux, Angouleme, Toulouse, Marseille), as well as in China, the US and Armenia.

“Presence III” by Guillaume Toumanian

“Guillaume Toumanian paints with conviction, as if, in this ancestral gesture and almost without age, the immemorial appearance of the visible was replayed: its violence or its break-in, its miracle renewed” (Dominique Rabaté, 2019).

Guillaume, is it possible in today’s France to make a living by painting only?

Yes, the French art market is active, and Paris is once again one of the most important cities in the world for painting in particular. There are also private and public financing systems for buying works of art. However, it is difficult to live by painting, because there are many artists in France who come from all over the world to Paris. For my part, I live by painting since I stopped teaching arts five years ago after my art residence in China.

Are people interested in obtaining classical paintings?

There are also many collectors and figurative painting is very well represented in France. But it all depends on what you mean by classical painting. If we consider that the word “classic” means realistic or hyper realistic, then this is trendy in Paris at the moment

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In the second half of the 20th century, there were many Armenian and Armenian-born artists in France. What about now?

There have always been many Armenian artists and artists of Armenian origin in France. I know many of them and I recently organized an exhibition which brought together artists of Armenian origin. This is the MENK (We) project that I continue to develop in France and in Armenia. It is important to maintain this link between the two countries.

You cooperated with veteran French-Armenian painter, Jansem (Jean Semerdjian) at the Museum of the Resistance of Toulouse for the exhibition “Armenia, Act of Memory.” How do you evaluate your collaboration with him?

I was lucky to be chosen in 2003 to exhibit with Jansem at the Resistance Museum in Toulouse. Dr. Fernand Torossian, whom I respect highly, had done a lot for this exhibition organized by the Midi Pyrenees Region. It was not an Armenian diaspora project but there was this desire to talk about the Genocide with the great painter Jansem from the first generation and a young painter, from a third generation, which I was. I was very impressed with this idea and at that time my work was very expressionist, I had shown red paintings, a series of “torsos” and “heads” in particular.

Unfortunately, I had not been able to meet the master Jansem, who was already very old and sick at the time of the exhibition in Toulouse. It was an honor for me to take part in this exhibition and to inform the public who did not know the history of the Armenians.

You bear an honorable Armenian surname. And you have a special connection with Lori region in the north of Armenia. Any family connection with the “Great Loretsi” – Hovhannes Toumanian?

My grandparents come from Erzerum and Sivas and survived the Genocide. Unfortunately, we don’t know much about our family because my grandfather, Hemayak Toumanian, was an orphan. They arrived in Marseille in 1924. Currently, I am conducting further research on my family. We have no connection with the region of Lori and the great Armenian poet.

Your biography says your trip to Armenia in 2016 marked a “turning point in your painting.” How?

In 2016, I return to Armenia almost 10 years after my first trip to the country. I wanted to travel alone in the country to meet the people and discovering the magnificent landscapes, but also to study in Yerevan the Eastern Armenian landscape art movement at the end of the 19th century. Through good knowledge in the artistic world, I had the chance to regularly visit the National Gallery of Armenia and see the works of the masters up close. I was fascinated by “night paintings,” and this influenced my work on my return. I took a lot of notes and immersed myself in the atmospheres of  major works of especially two eminent Armenian painters — the “night paintings” of Gevorg Bashindjaghian and storms of Ivan (Hovhannes) Aïvazovski.

“Presence II” by Guillaume Toumanian

Have art critics and viewers seen a link between your artistic style and your Armenian heritage?

Sometimes, journalists and art critics ask me if I think I am influenced by my Armenian origins. I always answer that there is necessarily something that shows through in my painting in the same way as my origins alongside my mother in the Landes (South West of France) and the representation of trees and forests in particular. I paint what I feel and what I am, so there is a connection, yes, and people who know and are interested in my work see connection in a certain way.

In 2018 you had an exhibition in First International Print Biennale at NPAK Art Center in Yerevan. Do you have any plans to travel to Armenia again?

In fact, it was an invitation from KulturDialog Armenien organization, which arranges this biennial. I only participated with a series of small monotype formats, but it was above all a work of artistic exchange that I had started to organize with an Armenian artist Tigran Sahakyan who came for a residency in Bordeaux in 2015. Since then, we have seen again in Switzerland and Germany and have always kept in touch. That’s why in 2022, Tigran returned to France for a residency and exhibition with Arman Vahanyan as part of the MENK project. It is under development and we will definitely talk about it again if you are interested.

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