MYSTICAL AND LYRICAL: ARMENIAN ARTIST ONIK SAHAKIAN

GAYANE ABRAHAMYAN

Excerpt from the article published in “Armenia Now” that covered Sahakian’s exhibition in his motherland, at the at the Gevorgyan Gallery, Yerevan

The world’s most famous surrealist once called Iranian- Armenian artist Onik Sahakian the Daliest man I know. (…) Sahakian has had 52 solo exhibitions, in such places as the Museum of World Culture at Gotheborg, the Grand Palais in Paris, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow, and the Contemporary Art Museum in Tehran, his home.

`I have a strange feeling. I have always identified myself as an American, and only here, in Armenia, I understood I belong to this land, as if I have lived especially here in my
past life,’ Sahakian told ArmeniaNow.

His has been a life immersed in art, starting from age seven, when he became acquainted with Indian dance, and began staging his own performances. He later studied at the Yelena Avetisian School of Choreography, while also studying painting (Persian miniatures) at the Tehran Institute of Fine Arts.

In 1956, and by then a skilled ballet dancer, Sahakian moved to the United States, where he appeared in more than 100 dance performances over 10 years.

In 1958, he met Dali. Sahakian’s nephew was a hairdresser to Iranian Queen Farah, and to another famous client . . . The nephew introduced Sahakian to a certain client who fancied having enormous rollers in his hair, Salvador Dali. That day was the beginning of a unique friendship that was to last 20 years. `The Spaniard cast a spell upon me so that I began painting again,’ Sahakian says. `A moment came when painting became my way of self-expression. A dancer’s life is as short as that of a butterfly. Art is a means of self- expression to me. After dance, painting became the world where I be- come candid and express myself.’

Over the years Sahakian assisted Dali with his collages, paintings and sculptures. He also designed exquisite jewelry for Dali and his wife. Then he moved to New York City, where he set up a consulting agency for art and jewelry design, known as `Onik Design Ltd’. (He now lives in New York and Lisbon.) Dali also once told Sahakian: `You are crazy; but a good kind of crazy’. The super surrealist’s `crazy’ friend says his life has been one of a constant search for meaning. His search through art took him from miniatures to Dutch classics into impressionism.

Of course he could not escape the influence of the powerful surrealist, but Sahakian soon found his own style and means of expression. `My works are mystical and lyrical, Dali’s are aggressive and shocking, if critics compare us, they must have never known him,’ says Sahakian. `I do not aim at shocking people with my art. Life is cruel by itself; on the contrary art should embrace people’s hearts with quietness and harmony.’

In his book `Prodigy’ Explanation’ , art critic Ghoncheh Tazmini writes that Sahakian
`infuses in the disjuncture of the surrealist imagination elements of hope, faith and comfort. Onik’s talent lies in his ability to reconcile two disparate orientations bringing to his audience a sense of harmony and equilibrium.’

The painter’s series of faceless Madonnas puts the revered figure in gorgeous garments with an empty oval instead of the face that allows people, the artist says, to feel the spiritual essence, to ascend from the material and the body and see not beautiful eyes, nose or mouth, but an unearthly spirit.

`And who knows how Madonna’s or Christ’s faces looked? For every man the face of the Lord is inside himself, within the limits of his conscience,’ says the artist. Stairs are also a frequently repeating theme in Sahakian’s paintings – Place of Silence, Enigma. Stairs going up to the endless sky symbolize each step of the man, every single kind thing done that step by step lead to cosmic eternity and quietness. `In arts, and especially in painting, the most important thing is the positive energy the art should ex- press,’ Sahakian says. `I get hundreds of letters from different people mostly saying their souls calm down in front of my paintings. I think this is a big achievement.”

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