Photo credits: Katya Golotvina
HAYP has been inviting artists to be part of our pop-up exhibits for over three years. During this time, we curated 11 exhibits and worked with over 80 visual and performing artists — local and international — who explored the most unconventional liminal space that we could find. In 2018, HAYP is turning an inward eye from the public space to the personal creative space of artists through a special blog series #StudioVisit. A HAYP envoy will meet with our beloved artists at their natural habitat biweekly for a studio visit, talk and coffee, in order to ask existential questions and see art in its nascent stage…
Nareg Barseghyan – painter and visual artist – is a recent graduate of Yerevan State Academy of Fine Arts. His recent explorations in contemporary abstraction over the past two years led him to international recognition by institutions such as the Haystack Artists Residency program where he participated in the summer of 2017 with the support of the Luys Foundation. Narek became a part of HAYP’s artist community in April 2017 with two works for HAYP 9.0: Downshift.
During a taxi ride to Narek’s studio, I was briefing my friend Katya, who was visiting from Moscow and kindly agreed to take on the role of photographer for this endeavour: “Narek is a classically trained painter with a very good hand, but something happened and he turned away from Rembrandt and Caravaggio. You will probably notice a resemblance to Egon Schiele… but his style is still evolving.”
In usual Yerevan fashion, in order to find Narek’s studio we had to put him on the phone with our taxi driver. There was no address or anything particularly remarkable about the blue fence where Narek was waiting for us. It was already dark and the neighborhood seemed extinct. The three of us entered the gates and continued on to a two-story building with dark windows to find a dilapidated Soviet kindergarten that our artist previously attended. This detail could be heartwarming if the place didn’t give off such a strong sensation of pending horror – with toys (specifically post-soviet жэк арт, “Zhek-art”) and childrens clothes hanging on rusted hooks fastened to crumbling walls. [Side note, for the reader unfamiliar with “Zhek-art”, take a look at this link for a little insight]
H: Aren’t you scared to stay here at night all alone?
N: It took me some getting used to sudden sounds and noises that empty buildings produce, but now it’s fine.
We went upstairs and passed through several corridors before arriving to his studio. Katya and I kept our coats on, it was cold. The studio was well lit and surprisingly big, a large room filled with canvases: some rolled up and some stretched, others still “in-progress” – nailed to the walls which were themselves covered in sketches, notes and scribbles. A folding bed and a mattress lay right on the floor – a comfortable hangout spot.
H: Tell us how this all started?
N: I began attending Terlemezyan Art College when I was 15, but didn’t pay much attention. At some point all my friends ended up serving in the military, I was left on my own and started drawing more and more, and basically, I became an artist out of boredom. [laughs]
H: What were your drawings like back in college?
N: I did a lot of graphic work and oil paintings. I considered myself one of the Caravaggisti [stylistic followers of the 16th-century Italian Baroque painter Caravaggio] and mostly did self portraits, sometimes with both my right and left hands.
H: What changed your trajectory towards contemporary art?
N: It all happened over night, at the same time this realisation was prepared by all of my previous work. I think, any artist needs to have a balance between his/her technical skills and “brain.” Back then, it became clear to me that my exercises in realism were pointless, mindless… so that made me reconsider my whole artistic approach.
H: Do you have an image of an ideal studio?
N: I thought about that. Some artists have beautiful and clean studios, not a single paint stain anywhere. I think I wouldn’t be able to work in such conditions, I would rather live in a studio like that. I need “needles” to get going, something that will push me to work – the cold, no water, no comfort… I am the most lazy person ever, I need those stimuli [laughs].
H: How do you feel about people visiting your studio?
N: I don’t mind it, but the days I am having visitors I can’t work. My work requires all of my energy (that’s the main reason I don’t use underframes, to save energy) and whenever I have to spend it on communicating with guests, the work is not getting done.
H: But do you still invite your friends over?
N: Not as much anymore. I think, an artist’s studio is a very intimate space… When I work here I forget about time and the world outside; I zone out. So I guess my ideal studio is a place where I am not too comfortable, but also can’t stop working once I’ve started.
H: You have a lot of works. Is there a way you systematize them, do you create an archive?
N: Well, I don’t have an archive, but I use the exact time when I am pleased with the work as a number marker. Let’s say I look at my work and am satisfied with it at 8:20, then I put 820 on the canvas as if it’s a serial number. After that, I usually don’t touch the work.
H: And when you look at your old works (do you do that at all?), what do you feel?
N: Yes, sometimes I go back to my old canvases and feel like they were logical and necessary at that time, but I wouldn’t do that now. I put that out of my system and move on to other things.
H: You spent two weeks at the Haystack Artists Residency in the U.S., what was the highlight of that experience?
N: Uff, tough question… I was very impressed by their fab lab, and all of the possibilities that digital fabrication opens up. Unfortunately, I didn’t know about it beforehand, so I hadn’t signed up for it. Honestly, I would rather choose studios for ceramics, iron, or wood, then the one I ended up signing up for, which was graphics. I want to learn new materials, new techniques, even though I don’t have particular ideas of how to use it in my work yet.
H: And what about New York? It was your first time there.
N: Well, I really didn’t like museums in New York, the space, the architecture, the light.. all of it was so unattractive. Honestly, Zarashop had more art in it than most of the museums. Clothes there were not placed just to be sold, everything in these shops is very well thought out to be visually attractive. And museums felt more like supermarkets, places to see as much art works as physically possible. But most of all I was impressed by receptions in New York buildings… if those are receptions, then what is happening inside, you know?
H: And finally, a quick questionnaire, choose an option:
Coffee or tea
Morning or evening
Black or white – grey
One big or many small
Light or shadow
See through or solid
Wet or dry
Whisper or scream
Square or circle
Audio or Video
The book or the movie
Inside or outside
Salt or sugar
Slow or fast