Contemporary Art World: Mikayel Ohanjanyan

Portrait of Mikayel Ohanjanyan: Photographer Nicola Gnesi

Mikayel Ohanjanyan was born in Yerevan, Armenia in 1976. He attended the Terlemezyan state College of Fine Arts of Yerevan (graduated with honors in 1995) and then the State Academy of Fine Arts of Yerevan (graduated with honors in 2001). In 2000 he moved to Italy, where he still lives and works, after having graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts of Florence.

During his artistic career he has participated in numerous national and international exhibitions and has won prestigious prizes, among them are the 2010 Venice International Architecture Biennale in Venice in 2010 and the 2011 Venice Art Biennale, the Prize Henraux 2014 and many others. In 2015 Ohanjanyan, together with other artists of Armenian diaspora, was the artist of the Armenian pavilion at the 56th Venice Art Biennale, which was the Golden Lion winner. His works can be found in Italian and international collections including the Vatican, Henraux Foundation, Targetti’s Light Art Collection, and in Collection of the City of Neustadt an der Weinstrasse, Germany; as well as in private collections throughout the world.

As Toni Toniato, an Art Historian and Critic wrote: «In every project of Mikayel Ohanjanyan’s plastic elaboration, we always find the attempt to embody ineffability. His sculpture involves and activates opposites: strict exactness vs. shadowy forms, in a very transparent spaciousness, where substance shades off in a light without boundary lines, where invisible shows itself in real things, which reveal invisible changing again just in the moment of its becoming perceptible.»

We are delighted to have an interview with Mikayel Ohanjanyan and ask about his art and the creative process.

How did you come to the idea of becoming an artist? Who or what influenced you?

My decision to become an artist/sculptor happened at around the age of 10 when my parents enrolled me at the art school. I decided spontaneously, without any infuence of something or someone, probably fascinated more by the nature and effect of the majestic basalt rocks which are everywhere in Armenia.

Diario/Diary, 2016. Photo: Nicola Gnesi.

What is your background? Where did you study?

I started with the Art School of Nor Hachin, a small city not far from Yerevan, where my family lived. After high school I enrolled at the College of Fine Arts P. Terlemezyan followed by the Academy of Fine Arts in Yerevan.

Prior to attending the Arts School, I already liked drawing and making small sculptures, which my mother taught me to do. I must admit that I have always been fascinated by the dedication of my grandparents who were artisants, and then by my father who was also a craftsman.

Diario/Diary, 2016. Photo: Nicola Gnesi.

Could you tell about your studies in Florence?

I decided to study in Florence following my first visit to Italy in occasion of the XIII International Biennale of Ravenna. After my studies in Armenia, where I obtained a traditional/figurative and technically excellent preparation I managed to strengthen my knowledge at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence and at the same time I started expanding it, especially in the contemporary art world.

Diario/Diary, 2016. Photo: Nicola Gnesi.

What did it first feel like to live in a country that wasn’t your own? How has the feeling changed over the years as you acclimated to a new environment? And how have both affected your artistic process?

I was always very curious to novelty and change, same as it happens now, hence, the feeling was positive and stimulating. Both places undoubtedly have and continue to influence my artistic path. The place where I was born and raised remains inside of me and I carry within me that culture, whereas where I now live evolves everything I carry within me.

Dur/Door, 2016. Photo: Mikayel Ohanjanyan.

What is your favourite subject-matter or what are your works devoted to? What inspires you?

My work is often concentrated on the issues that concern space, dimensions, contrasts and tensions resulting from a continuous observation of the human being and his inner and outer world.

I am inspired by the human being with his complex relationship with himself and with the world around him, and also certainly by the nature.

Introverted perspective #13, 2016.

Materiality of the Invisible #6, 2016.

What media/material do you use or do you prefer – marble, clay, bronze, etc.?

I love all materials. Each material has its own soul and requires a special attention. It depends on each individual work which material to choose for, since each material with its own identity can bring out the concept of the artwork itself.

Materiality of the Invisible #1, 2015. Photo: Nicola Gnesi.

Could you describe the process of creating your artworks in more detail?

The process of creating artworks is complex, and varies according to the material chosen. Each material has its own technical necessities and it is fundamental to know them in order to manage well the entire realisation process which often can be very soon.

First of all, I do little drawings, and then depending on the material chosen, which changes for each project, I decide the steps to realise it, which I then follow until I reach the final result.

Which of the prominent artists of the past inspire you or influenced your art?

There are many artists and thinkers who have influenced my artistic path. It depends where I find myself at that moment in my career. As you grow and start to know the history of art, you start to appreciate and be influenced by various sources, artists and periods. However, even today I am fascinated by the archaic and the Egyptian sculptures.

Tasnerku/Twelve, 2015. Photo: Nicola Gnesi.

Could you name contemporary artists whose works you admire?

There are many and the list is really long. I admire the research of Anish Kapoor, Tony Cragg, Antony Gormley, Richard Long, just to name some. I admire the research of my colleagues Mat Chivers, Mattia Bosco, with whom I often confront.

Do you have a favourite artwork that is the most precious for you?

For me, all my artwork is precious as they are part of a path.

Tasnerku/Twelve, 2015. Photo: Nicola Gnesi.

Could you, please, tell about your work for the Armenian Pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale?

With the work, created for the exhibition Armenity / 56th Venice Biennale, I tried to conjure up a special sensation I perceived in Armenia. It is a vibration, a spatial rhythm that goes beyond any imagination. The same that is then reflected in the thinking of art, architecture, music and all forms of expression. I believe that this is what Osip Mandelstam in 1930 during his trip to Armenia described as “Armenia, the kingdom of screaming stones”.

Tasnerku/Twelve, 2015. Photo: Nicola Gnesi.

What is the most memorable response that you have received to your artworks so far?

When the visitor says he feels part of the artwork or vice versa. This happens often.

Could you tell about your lifestyle, do you have hobbies, how do you spend your spare time?

I love nature and new places. I like to get to know people of these places and to learn about their way of seeing things. This is fundamental to me. I love food and I love cooking. I also love a lot science.

Do you enjoy travelling and what are your favourite destinations? Does traveling inspire you?

Yes, I like to travel. I am attracted to every place and corner of the world, which has its own fascinating aspect.

Materiality of the Invisible, 2014. Photo: Nicola Gnesi.

What are you currently working at?  And what are your future plans?

I recently returned from London, where my artwork “Diary” was chosen for the Frieze Sculpture Park 2016 and is on display at Regent’s Park until 8 January. At this very moment, I work on a new series of artwork called “Introverse Perspectives”.

I am also working on new projects which I will reveal soon.

We thank Mikayel Ohanjanyan for the interesting interview and for sharing his thoughts with us. Our readers can learn more on Mikayel Ohanjanyan’s personal website