-by Brenda Haroutunian
I came to the United States all by myself with 27 dollars in my pocket and little understanding of English. Those barriers could have caused any individual to fall into difficult situations – Vera Arutyunyan
When I read the above sentence during an email conversation with Vera Arutyunyan, it was impossible for me to identify with her situation. Suppose for a moment that you needed to uproot, to move far from home, leaving behind everything familiar and dear. Furthermore, you found refuge, but communicating in a foreign language was frustrating. You had no family nearby and less than 30 dollars in your pocket. It’s inconceivable. Many would be tempted to find a quick fix in a bottle or a pill. Arutyunyan, however, relied upon her creativity when she immigrated to the United States from Yerevan, Armenia in 1991.
I found my way … through my art. During that time … my passion for art was reborn.
While in 1991, Arutyunyan struggled to adapt, in 2014, she enjoys extraordinary global success. Her luminous painting has caught the attention of glossy cosmopolitan publications like Art in America and La Gazette Des Art. It has also appealed to impressively diverse audiences. Whether at The Carrousel du Louvre in Paris, The Korean Cultural Center in Seoul, or The Latino Museum in Los Angeles, audiences everywhere have shared a common fascination with Arutyunyan’s feeling-drenched painting.
If you’re wondering how the artist became a global luminary, when once she was so profoundly vulnerable, you’re not alone. When I wrote to her of my interest, the artist graciously agreed to answer my questions, and joked that who knew, maybe we were related. Arutyunyan and Haroutunian, my married name, is the same name spelled differently. Her easy friendliness made me feel at home as I asked. I discovered during our conversation that Vera Arutyunyan is a truly original artist, and a human being with enormous heart and soul.
My colors can have a more powerful impact on the human soul than words.
Arutyunyan discovered her calling in the crucible of immigration. The artist longed to give color and form to her feelings of alienation, rather than surrendering to despair. She went back to school, built on an engineering degree from Yerevan State University, and a creative gift recognized from childhood, to, in her own words, fly to places where my free spirit and spontaneity come alive. Furthermore, as Arutyunyan’s feelings of alienation subsided, she found that she longed to give color and form to other, often spiritually charged, messages.
I stand in front of the canvas, turn my conscience off and plunge into my sub-conscience. From there all my energy pours onto the canvas through my hands. … I feel like I become God’s messenger through creation in this world.
It’s fascinating to watch this artist switch off her conscious mind and slip into her own emotional and spiritual world. For starters, she applies paint directly onto the canvas with her fingers. A pattern appears and color combusts. Many of her compositions spin out into the viewer’s space, including them in the joy and love for life broadcast on canvas in glorious color and form.
For me, viewing one of Arutyunyan’s blazing beauties creates an altered state of consciousness. The response startles me much the same way that paintings by other Abstract Expressionist painters like Jackson Pollock, or Sam Francis, have caught me by the collar. Standing in front of one of these surfaces, it seems that my brain switches off and I wander across the surface of the painting, lost. Words interrupt and I shake my brain back into place. Arutyunyan’s flaming colors and bold forms prompt swelling joy.
Yet, there are real differences between Vera Arutyunyan’s painting and those of iconic Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock, and others who adhered to Clement Greenberg’s dictum that the two-dimensional surface was the subject of a painting. Vera Arutyunyan’s subject matter is not tied to any dogmatic theory.
My all-time favorite artist is Van Gogh, who in one of his letters to his brother mentioned that there will be a time when a painter will only paint with their fingers, putting the paint directly on the canvas from the tube. I think he was talking about me when he said that.
Arutyunyan, in contrast to the Abstract Expressionists, portrays immaterial subject matter, including, aspirational inner states. In my mind, she said, I’m always surrounded by a play of colors. In this respect, her painting more closely resembles the early twentieth century Expressionists who represented interior states by freeing color from conservative tastes, and proprieties. Beyond that, Arutyunyan seeks to represent, in her own words, the emotional resonance of all that surrounds me. The artist’s color is grounded partly in a deeply personal reverence for nature.
Maybe Vera Arutyunyan is the artist that Van Gogh foresaw. Like Van Gogh, she has soared past boundaries. Her painting is not influenced by self-pity, alcohol, or narcissism. Instead, it speaks for a pure spirit prevailing against the odds.