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Martiros Manoukian 1947 -

THAT GREAT SOURCE OF POWER . . . creativity . . . is the life of Martiros, a man in love. Understand the sources of his incredible artistic capacity, and then realize what motivates this phenomenal artist. Martiros would be ecstatic never to speak of his life as a painter. A biographical sketch closest to his heart would be a book or exhibit of all his paintings which would say everything, without words.

Nevertheless his words do unfold some aspects of his life as an artist. "I was born an artist. God gives each of us something at birth . . . a person doesn't become an artist, he is simply born an artist." And so it began for Martiros Manoukian, artist, born on August 5, 1947.

His talent emerged at an early age, and he began painting seriously at age eleven. Even as a child, Martiros exhibited his great enthusiasm for freedom, adventure, and nature. Full of energy and the desire for self-expression, he was already quite the individual, rebelling against the status quo, conformity, and anything "collective" in character. Once after skipping school, he reappeared with a painting in hand, explaining that he couldn't attend school because, "Nature grabbed me and seduced me . . . and I had to paint it." That painting eventually won first prize for School Art in the Soviet Union. His unusually advanced artistic ability enabled him to enter the Academy of Art in Yerevan in 1967, directly from high school. He also traveled to and studied at the academies in Moscow and Leningrad and completed his studies in Yerevan in 1972.

Martiros' first exhibit as an adult was in 1972 in Armenia, in the Young Artists Exhibit sponsored by the Union of Soviet Artists, an exhibit later seen in Moscow. At an unusually young age of 26 he had the prestigious honor of qualifying to become a member of the Artists Union (Union of Soviet Artists). He participated in numerous exhibits under the auspices of the Union during the years 1974-1986 and received many honors and awards as well.

Martiros holds great fondness for the people and rich culture of Armenia, Russia, and the rest of the U.S.S.R. In his real life, he lived as his own person in the U.S.S.R., flourishing not only as a painter, but as an artist and designer in many other disciplines. However, his material success and outspoken defiance of Communist dogma continually brought him serious difficulties. Through his art he found a means of expressing his freedom in symbolic ways, but still within the parameters of politically acceptable images. "It was the only place to speak about freedom, and so I spoke with my canvases in an easy careful way." Yet Martiros knew the potential and depth of his creativity would remain inhibited as long as he remained in the Soviet Union.

Finally in 1987 his dream to emigrate to the U.S. was realized. This marked the beginning of a metamorphosis, an artistic rebirth of remarkable magnitude, the core of which was born of freedom to meet the challenge, to move toward victory. Martiros says, "I had all these emotions and all these dreams, but no way to express them." "Now," he says, "I am able to express them all."

On those rare occasions when Martiros does speak about art, his thoughts are a delight to hear: "My style is life, and I like life very much. My motif is beauty; the serenade, music are my leit motif, I enjoy mixing media because art is freedom, my feelings, my victory, I do not actually know what I feel when I paint; I just paint my mood, a feeling that camera's eye cannot catch, some special, subtle angle that perhaps others would not see."

His colors combine mood and movement key elements of his work. According to Martiros, "It is like a piano player who isn't limited to one or two octaves. Instead, he uses the whole keyboard." Some works by Martiros reflect something of antiquity in his homeland, reflections of centuries-old icons of Russian Orthodoxy. Others express contemporary images. All in one way or another, celebrate love of life and freedom.

To come close to the creativity of an artist like Martiros allows us to become part of a very special and exciting moment in art. Such an artist seems somehow proof of the undefeatable spirit and power of love to burst through all boundaries, to know the meaning of freedom and challenge. And for those who have been deeply touched by Martiros' paintings, they can understand when he says, "If you ask me to speak about a piece, please just look at it and understand what I feel." We do understand and are moved by our own, very personal experience with the genius of a truly monumental artist, Martiros Manoukian.