By Professor H. I. PILIKIAN
Classical painting always produced Meaning and Beauty, in contrast to Modern Art which can be meaningless, pointless, and a deliberate act of the conscious cult of the Ugly – Marcel Duchamp’s Urinal (1917) labeled Fountain, which obviously some modernists who love gay lavatory humor consider it to be ... beautiful and inversely exciting.
Oshakantsi’s paintings restore Meaning and true Beauty in the ugly scene of the modernist British art; Damien Hirst’s death-obsessed dead animals, Tracy Emin’s filthy sex-bed, Chris Ofili’s prettified huge elephant-dung droppings... Artour Oshakantsi would surrender his art to none of those stupidities merely to gain recognition at London’s Tate Modern. The New York Metropolitan Museum’s powerful affirmation of his work is acknowledgment enough for him.
Even Oshakantsi’s own Blue Period (reminiscent of Picasso’s Depression-filled Jazz concept) is mixed with lively optimistic life-enhancing Red-and-Pink, and the different tonalities (like musical variations) of the Red Flag texture (Nos. 16-19 Armenia Series, henceforth abbreviated as AS). In Oshakantsi, it all begins with Armenia’s Soviet flag (01 AS) being pierced through with life’s black-and-white Chess-board, forming a cross with a pale pink absent Jesus.
Oshakantsi is a serious major artist in the category of the modern greats, unlike the ridiculous jokers above. Oshakantsi’s paintings are embedded within and narrate the history of his people, a very ancient one – perhaps the very first humanism of the planet – a rich story, infinitely complex, and itself endless.
It is virtually impossible to date precisely Artour Oshakantsi’s oil paintings – and therein hangs a tale – ironically, the date of the purchase of a painting by a client can be regarded as its final seal. Well-aware of Artour’s perfectionism, I have witnessed a painting start as a vague, almost watercolor wash, gradually over time, frequently years, evolve into being an erotic trinity of musical instruments shaped like ‘womanly’ violins, becoming a religious ‘Artouresque’ icon, then a triptych of Birth, Crucifixion and Resurrection (Nos. 18-20, London Series, henceforth abbreviated as LS) all drenched in life-giving blood. Never forget that Artour has grown up, discovered his manhood and defined his self-identity under the Red Flag now dead in the water, but equally ambiguous in its glory days of Stalinist paranoia, for the several hundred million of the multi-ethnic Soviet citizenry nowadays thrown to the blinding winds of Mafia-Capitalism – a new evolutionary form based on scam banking and insurance frauds...
The red texture of Oshakantsi’s triptych-blood is the same, although 18 LS may be the heart you see otherwise of Mother-and-Son (Mary/Jesus) exposed to the faithful for their exclusive delectation within the frame of Catholic iconography – the pictures printed for mass-consumption by the Catholic churches everywhere – inversely and unwittingly erotic; Oshakantsi’s Crucifixion (19 LS) simultaneously symbolizes a massive holy Mons veneris...
No painter of my knowledge has rendered Resurrection (20 LS – daringly, the beautiful, nurturing, life-giving breasts of the Holy Mother) as a part and parcel of the theme of Crucifixion – it speaks volumes of Oshakantsi’s ‘Armenian’ national characteristic to reject Tragedy, dejected pessimism and hopelessness, fend for life and Regeneration at all times; the features of a much massacred nation that had the courage of converting first in history to the new revolutionary monotheistic religion of Christianity (in 301 AD) with King-and- Country – an act of immense risk-taking (no modern ... Banker can match!) that guaranteed the Armenian people’s survival as a nation in an ocean of polytheistic pagan cultures, although the heavy price paid for it was incalculable destruction of its millennial old pagan culture.
Kill an Armenian, and his blood (like that of Jesus and Oshakantsi’s paintings) will regenerate, come alive again and bring life with it to the other genocide fellow nations. Approximately 2000 German officers that had commanded the Ottoman Army, and witnessed first-hand the genocide of the Armenians by their military allies during the First World War, later became the hierarchy of the Nazi genociders of the Jews.
The Ottoman Turks were determined to spill all of the blood the Armenians contained, and their descendents in today’s Turkey are shocked that 3 million of their people contain the spilt blood of ... Oshakantsi’s Triptych! Everyday, some new Turks discover that the grannies they knew and loved as children were actually Armenian... terrified of their fascist genociders they had whispered their true identity only on their deathbeds to their parents.
The Armenian people have sanctified the composer Komitas. German-educated, he was well-known to the German musical circles, who could snatch him out of the Ottoman death-marches – but unfortunately, he had already witnessed the genocide first-hand and lost his mind; Oshakantsi paints him with deep creative ambiguity, eyes shut (blinded? 12 AS). An unbearably tortured soul, Komitas died in a Paris hospice after another decade; Oshakantsi paints him also as a deteriorated skull (13 AS), with smatterings of broken musical notes...
Influences on his work? Most certainly – no man is an island unto himself – Oshakantsi stands on the shoulders of giants like Arshile Gorky, Martiross Sarian, and Minass Avetissian, all classical masters of Armenian Painting.
16 LS, Refugees is a major masterpiece. Oshakantsi is able to transcend – as in all of his paintings, remarkably consistently, always, without an exception – the thematic boundaries of his chosen subject and reach the heights of universalism, then to subtend profundities of its humanism; his religious icons (11 LS, 07 AS, 08 AS, 09 AS) while tackling the theme of the Holy Family, are equilaterally about the holiness of the human family; his Armenian genocide series, mourns the misery and tragedy of all genocides irrespective of skin color and religion (15 LS has undoubted echoes of Picasso’s Guernica).
The semi comical, because grotesque portrait of the Refugee in 16 AS – definitely another masterpiece – with a cancerous tongue (because of starvation and dehydration in the Syrian desert of Der elZor where the Ottoman death-marches were dispatched), with a cowboy hat or is it ... Mexican, carries not only the famous hooked nose of the Caucasian type (Armenians and Jews alike) but also the ancient ... Sumerians and Assyrians (compare with their mural portraits in the British Museum); this pathetic ridiculous ruin of humanity becomes ALL humanity suffering under and because of imperialist greed for the resources of the genocided nations ... Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Syria turned into rabbles of rock and stone, once peaceful infrastructures of beautiful homes, now exploded into smithereens of biblical Satanic evil.
I know that 16 LS (the original of the iconographic variation of 12 LS, equally a major masterpiece) evolved out of a faded black-and-white photograph of Armenian refugees in a refuge in Aleppo gathered around for a poor-man’s meal from a communal plate placed in the centre. Aleppo (the second city of Syria) was the end station of the Ottoman genocidal trail of 1915, and today, even now this very moment is being bombarded by inhuman arms-dealers to total destruction.
The plate at the foreground of Oshakantsi’s painting is as much the beggar’s plate of the homeless sleeping rough in the streets of London to the greatest shame of the City of London (the international Bankers’ Mile) that boasts several hundred trillion (not million/billion) pounds worth of financial transactions every day of every year. Capitalism does not have to be so totally inhuman, which imperialist mafia-capitalism has become. Surely the State of Singapore could serve as the ideal model for a capitalism with some human decencies.