Taron Simonian’s latest show charts his travels and experiences. Here, he explains how he’s learnt to let his heart dictate each painting.
From enthusiastic collaborations and bustling scenes of human movement, to bold simplicity and calm introspective pieces, Armenian artist Taron Simonian’s style of painting is nearly impossible to define. His use of abstract swirls to capture two roosters fighting is juxtaposed against the rich blues and dotted luminescent stars of the remote African night skies. Described as ‘expressionistic’, Taron’s art, now on show at the Baganskiya Gallery and Studio, is eclectic and engaging. Yet, the one thread which binds all of these works together is the artist himself and his insatiable quest to represent what he sees as the truth.
Based in St Petersburg, Taron’s work Leningradka captures a scene in a small theatre, where puppets and actors are representing the 1941-44 Siege of Leningrad during World War II. St Petersburg was surrounded by Nazi troops for 872 days and the citizens starved. The play follows a young, destitute girl who lives in a cupboard. A street sweeper takes pity on the infant and offers her help whenever he passes. This struck a chord with Taron, so he decided to translate these evocative feelings into a painting because ‘it touched my soul’.
Another work Moika addresses the artist’s feelings about his adopted hometown, following his return after studying in Paris for five years. The scene captures his connections with St Petersburg, where he includes the Moika, a palace where the famous poet Pushkin lived, the famous Mariinsky Theatre and references to the classic author Fyodor Dostoevsky. The season is winter and the colours are muted pastels – a representation of how he sees the ‘soft colours’ in this northern city.
The Russian work contrasts strongly with Taron’s art during his stay in Bali. The eye-catching Fish Seller was a painting he completed in 40 minutes. The masculine aspects of the female’s appearance and the sense of tension are instantly apparent.
‘I went to Bali in winter. I painted the first impressions I had of the place,’ he explains, revealing his favourite spot in Bali is Ubud. ‘It’s the best place in Bali – it’s beautiful and the people are so spiritual there. I was sitting in my studio and I was thinking, what kind of painting can I do? And then when I went there [to Ubud] it opened my heart and I wanted to paint and I realised that I can paint with different things [techniques]. When you’ve been painting in an academy and then you want to make more relaxed and free art, it’s so difficult because you want to show reality. In Bali, I changed a bit, because I saw I can paint what I see but also how I felt in my heart.’
One of the most fascinating sections of Taron’s show is inspired by when he lived with a Masai tribe in Tanzania. This is clearly an experience that had an incredibly profound impact on his art.
‘Before I wanted to go to Mexico but then I read about Masai. I read that they are people who are really free – they cannot go to jail. It changed everything because I’d never seen people who live with nature so closely. I come from the city – I have garbage – these people don’t have garbage. When I’m painting in my studio I can never get these colours.’
The work Maitey is Taron’s depiction of a coming-of-age moon ceremony, where Masai boys become warrior men. The artist was lucky enough to witness this ritual, and the sense of nature and gravitas is captured in haunting simplicity in a completely different style to his creations in St Petersburg. The colours in this show are extraordinarily evocative, hence the title ‘Colours of Life’, which seems wholly fitting for someone with such an uncanny way of capturing life’s essence and spirit.
Exhibition: ‘Colours of Life’ at Baganskiya Gallery and Studio, JLT (050 556 2210). Runs: Until January 21. Artist: Taron Simonian