ARTISTS OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM : ONIK SAHAKIAN AND ROMEO NIRAM by Eva Defeses

In the article “Brancusi E=mc2” – Painting Exhibition at Mac, Lisbon, published in the previous issue of Niram Art Magazine, I underlined Romeo Niram’s attempt to bring together two different visions, one in the scientific field, of Albert Einstein and the other in the artistic one, of Constantin Brancusi: “This exhibition is dedicated to the encounter that has never taken place in the real world between the physicist Albert Einstein and the sculptor Constantin Brancusi, an encounter that may have taken place in the world of the creative ideas. Romeo Niram tries to find common points, to establish relations between science and art, showing how the human mind can reach, by way of unknown and unexplainable mechanisms, scientifically or artistically, the same genial intuition that can determine the progress of Humanity. Brancusi’s sculpture, Einstein’s physics, art and science are brought together on Niram’s canvas, raising even more questions. (…)”.

The words “the human mind can reach, by way of unknown and unexplainable mechanisms, scientifically or artistically, the same intuition (…)” came directly to mind when I saw the year mentioned underneath a photo of the painting “The Vision of Albert Einstein” by Onik Sahakian – the year 2007. It is not surprising that two painters coincided on their mutual fascination about the figure of the great physicist and they both portrayed them in their work, but it is at least intriguing that they were both captured by the same inspiration in the same year. In 2007, while Sahakian was painting his “Vision of Albert Einstein”, Romeo Niram created the series of paintings “Brancusi E=mc2”, in which the portrait of Albert Einstein appears several times. It should be mentioned that the two painters weren’t acquaintances at that time, having thus no idea that, at exactly the same time, the other one was painting exactly the same thing – Einstein’s portrait.

Attracted by this coincidence, I began to study the work of Onik Sahakian and realized that they did not coincide only on one painting. At a closer view, there are several important elements in their art that periodically reappear: stairs, clocks, flowers, floors, walls, chessboards, etc. I tried to venture within their art, disregarding the most important element that binds them together and I failed. Between their two art forms, I had to recognize the overwhelming shadow of Salvador Dali.

In the case of Onik Sahakian, the presence of Salvador Dali is more than obvious, even at a personal level. He met Dali in 1950 and they were united in a friendship that lasted for 20 years and culminated in Sahakian’s return to painting, at Dali’s advice. We can see throughout his work a constant reference to Dali although from a different point of view, as Sahakian himself states that his works are more “lyrical and mystical”.

The early works of Romeo Niram also present many surrealist elements, as well as sketches after Dali`s paintings. Niram later learned to disguise his surrealistic appetite, without ever renouncing at it. Stubbornly believing Salvador Dali to be the greatest painter of our recent times, Romeo Niram has always been fascinated with the art and life of the Spanish painter, describing, for instance, his own passage through the Academy of Fine Arts of Bucharest with the Dalinian words: “I was the best in the art school. But not because I was very good, but because everybody else was very bad.” It is not surprising then, that we can find many similarities with Dali’s art in his paintings, like his dedication to technical virtuosity and the taste for creating complex, detailed, thoroughly studied even at the smallest level, artworks.

Of course this statement is puzzling. Wasn´t Surrealism the artistic movement that was trying to free art from the control of reason and that underlined the importance of what they called “automatism” – writing and drawing without any conscious control? Attempting to answer this dilemma, the art critic Christopher Masters in the book “Dali” states that “Dali himself had little sympathy with automatism and always composed his paintings with great deliberation. Nonetheless, the imaginative power of his imagery was so great that by 1929, the Surrealist leader Andre Breton admitted: “It is perhaps with Dali that for the first time the windows of the mind are opened fully wide”.

An important element in both Niram and Sahakian’s art is their interest in science, particularly physics, as demonstrated by the works mentioned above, the portraits of Albert Einstein. Once more, the figure of Dali rises between their paintings, having been a pioneer in uniting art and physics, according to the scientific discoveries of his time. “For Dali, the development of nuclear physics exerted a profound metaphysical importance (…). In “The First Sudy for the Madonna of Port Lligat”, the image of the Virgin and Child is split into several sections in order to create a rather superficial metaphor for the divisibility of matter. (…) In “Exploding Raphaelesque Head”, the image is constructed out of smaller forms as metaphor for the structure of matter and antimatter.” (Christopher Masters). Dali`s obsession with time, or the dissolution of time as seen from his dissolving clocks, is also deeply rooted in the revolution that Albert Einstein started and that made mankind’s perception of time explode. Einstein`s relativity of time and Dali`s dissolving clocks annunciate the creation of a new love affair, between science and art, continued nowadays on the canvas of Romeo Niram and Onik Sahakian.

This short introduction into several directions of Dali’s work is meant to create the mirror in which the works of both Niram and Sahakian reflect themselves, a mirror that captures the images and transforms them, to later render them back to our eyes, in a more comprehensible way.

We begin our journey into the art of Onik Sahakian and Romeo Niram not on a chronological level, but on an artistic one, trying to identify potential common elements and sources of inspiration. We don´t have to travel very far away, Sahakian’s “Vision of India”, apart from its very Dalinian influence presents a feminine nude in a reclined position (similar with Gala´s nude in “Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire” – 1940) on a floor resembling a chessboard. The chess pattern can be compared to the one appearing in Niram’s “Symbiosis III”, while he also chooses the same Dalinian painting for his untitled sketch of 2002”.

Niram’s “Symbiosis” and Sahakian’s “Metamorphosis” and “Birth of Aphrodite” combine the same elements in a different artistic vision: plants and flowers embracing feminine nudes, mural background, the combination of vegetal and human elements, more obvious at Sahakian, allusive at Niram. In “Symbiosis I”, the roses duo in the left part of the paintings fluctuate their vegetal bodies in the exact same way of the feminine figures at the right – just as Sahakian´s Aphrodite`s is covered on the left side of her body with floral branches. The blue element is also present although in an upside down manner, sky at Onik, water at Niram. At Onik, most of his paintings contain a lineal element, parts of a simplified wooden floor or parts of a wall. At Niram, this background or support element is also present, but it is disposed on the vertical, in the shape of gigantic walls of labyrinth-shaped constructions that aim for the sky.

The same verticality is experienced at the upper level of Sahakian’s paintings, as seen from his ascending Madonnas or the great amount of space dedicated to the sky. Sahakian´s works appear to have clear separations between the vertical and the horizontal which render them serenity and peacefulness, whereas Niram proposes a more entangled atmosphere, where the limits are not defined, horizontal elements rise up, while the sky is turned into water, labyrinthical and monolithic buildings dominate the space in a continuous inversion of what we may expect; all these elements generate tension and transmit nervousness. The lyrical flow of Sahakian’s paintings is not present at Niram, who creates convulsive atmospheres and even when he tries to paint more peaceful scenes, the turbulent element is always present – a fact which is at least intriguing about a work of such incredible technical detail that gives testimony of long and patient hours of labour. A definite surrealistic touch of Niram’s “Symbiosis” series is the painter’s own confession that he painted these images based on a dream that he recurrently had at nighttime.

The same verticality and ascending motion is better seen in Sahakian’s works “Adoration of the Holy Spirit” and “Enigma” and in Niram`s drawing “Apocalypse”. The religious motif, the ascending images and the staircase that loses its way in the distance are strong elements that demonstrate this intriguing similitude that lies beneath the external, different aspect of their art.

The Portuguese heritage is another element that the two of them share, both on a personal and on a creative level, Niram lived in Portugal for a brief period and Sahakian still lives there nowadays. Niram’s series of paintings “Essay of Lucidity” is centered on culture figures of the Portuguese environment while Sahakian chooses a more geographical approach in his vision of the caravels in the works “Christopher Columbus” from 1997, which renders tribute, although depicting Columbus, to the Portuguese Discoveries and in “Vision of India”, the Portuguese being the first Europeans landing there.

In 1996, Sahakian chooses a curious background for the “Birth of Adam and Eve” – an ovoid shape. Thus, the beginning of mankind according to Sahakian started with a primordial egg inside which Adam and Eve are portrayed embracing one another, their bodies still united into one physical being. In 2007, Niram painted a “Beginning of the World” as well, the centre of his painting being also an ovoid – Brancusi`s sculpture that also bears the same name. On the left and right of the ovoid – the portraits of Einstein and Brancusi. Niram proposes a new interpretation of Brancusi´s sculpture by means of the science, or of the physics by means of the art. “The Beginning of the World”, the famous egg-shaped sculpture of Brancusi had been created before the scientific community decided the shape of the Universe to be quasi-spherical and Einstein’s formula E=mc2 proved to be, after his death, the Formula of the Creation of the Universe. Sahakian’s “Birth” of mankind (Adam and Eve) and Brancusi’s “Beginning and the World” are unified and explained by this painting of Romeo Niram, in which Einstein’s portrait is linked to Brancusi’s ovoid, clearly offering a scientific explanation of the obsession of many artists with the ovoid shape – the shape of the universe.

Sahakian’s work “Pictures in an Exhibition”, from 2004, explore deeper this connection between art and physics, not only by the dominating presence of the clock – the time counter, but by illustrating the physics’ principle of the light. At first glance, we tend to think that the silhouette of the man who is coming towards us reading an exhibition flyer is doubled in the mirror by the silhouette of the same man seen from the back, fading out in the distance. If it weren’t for the trace that recreates the first man`s journey and makes a turn towards the disappearing man, we wouldn’t have thought of a more scientific explanation. But the lingering trace tells a more complex story and Sahakian’s interest in physics offers the clarification: if one man travels on a road holding a lantern in his hand, parallel to the ground, and illuminating his way, the beam of light from the lantern in front of him always travels on a circular trajectory and returns to him in the back, having described a full circle around the Earth.

Three years later, Sahakian returned to his scientific preoccupation in his work “Vision of Albert Einstein”. The lined floor that stretches to the horizon in Sahakian’s painting cannot be interpreted as a “a symbol of intimacy of a parental home” as one commenter says. It is a very important element that appears in most of Sahakian’s works and I believe it means more than the comfort of a familiar wooden floor (it is also present in Niram’s “Essay on Dostoievsky”). The wooden structure similar to that of a floor is indeed a “real”, cozy element of our environment, of all our houses, but its sublimation to mere lines that reach the horizon speak of a larger view. The painter loses all specific elements that hold him or his art captive within a definite space and reaches forward, stretches his vision unto the whole world, and beyond; the Earth with its imaginary geometrical longitudinal and latitudinal lines is the perfect pedestal Sahakian´s figures. Furthermore, the same commenter sees in the white flags that surround and divide Einstein’s face “the desire for peace and for reconciliation of the artist with the visible world”. Indeed, Sahakian’s paintings offer a feeling of serenity and peace, but although Einstein himself was a well-known peace advocate, the scientific revolution that he started is hardly peaceful – he turned into ashes all our previous perceptions of time & space. My own interpretation of the flags is a bit less angelical, they remind me of the flags implanted in the heart of a conquered citadel after a fierce battle or on a newly discovered land, after a strenuous geographical expedition – they are the victorious flags that Albert Einstein vigorously implanted on the soil of a newly conquered territory of science. just as Niram`s vision of Einstein as the new Moses of mankind, depicted with the Tablets of the New Torah in his hands – the Formula of the Creation of the Universe, E=mc2 in several paintings (“Cosmos”, “Die Gottesformel”).

I would like to linger a bit more on this vision of Albert Einstein as an apostle, or better said, a Messiah of the Contemporary world that both Sahakian and Niram share. One of the attributes of such a clairvoyant and futurist leader is his capacity for breaking down an old order and revolutionary creating a new one, governed by new laws that are rejected at first, and later embraced by all his followers. Moses revolutionized the Hebrew society by freeing them from slavery and offering the Moral Code of the Torah – which means “law” in Hebrew – creating a totally new world for them and for all mankind. Later on, Jesus turned upside down all our inherited notions of Good and Evil and offered humanity a new vision of morality governed by the Law of Absolute Love. Until Einstein, humanity had strong beliefs on time and space, unwavering concepts that were the foundation of our world. Albert Einstein, the third Jewish visionary in our exemplification, turns upside down all our previous perceptions and theories of time and space, offering the bewildered mankind the absurd, revolutionary idea of the relativity of space and time – his Theory of Relativity.

United by the same artistic and philosophical quests, Romeo Niram and Onik Sahakian are artists of the new millennium, not the chronological one, but the visionary new era, who have understood that not only Science can determine the Progress of Humanity. Art, by virtue of the powerful and visionary forces of insight of its creators, can also become a tool of investigation. Separated by time and space but united by their epiphanies, like particles of the same beam of light that, although on separate trajectories, mysteriously undergo the same physical changes, Brancusi, Dali, Sahakian and Niram are only a few of the artists whose Art is an exploration of the Universe both on an artistic and on a scientific level.

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