Gallery Girl meets Armine Harutyunyan

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On my debut trip to Armenia, I was welcomed with open arms by Armine Harutyunyan, a designer and illustrator local to Yerevan, Armenia’s capital city. The granddaughter of Khachatur Azizyan, one of Armenia’s most celebrated living painters, Armine comes from a long line of artists and is just one of Armenia’s many bright young creatives.

Despite being half Armenian, I did not know anyone in Yerevan prior to my visit and found Armine via an Instagram search in my bid to find young artists and creatives from my ancestral homeland. On my arrival Armine eagerly took me to her grandfather’s studio, a beautiful space covered in books, paintings and traditional Armenian carpets. Over deep bowls of cake and ice cream Armine introduced me to her mother and grandparents: ‘I was born and grew up in the creative environment’, explains Armine: ‘my great-grandfather, grandfather, and grandmother are famous artists and although my mother works in the medical field, she actively participates in art exhibitions as well.’ In the stunning studio served dessert parlour, the walls are covered from floor to ceiling in paintings made by various members of Armine’s family. One portrait stood out in particular: an image of Armine. The girl in the image was the perfect depiction of the young woman cutting cake in front of me, seated in a chair just like the one she is sat in eating her pudding. Seeing the painting in the private Yerevan studio was extremely special with both artist and sitter giggling before it.

In her grandfather’s studio Armine eagerly showed me the set and costume designs she made for her final university project. The illustrations are for a modern adaptation of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And, while it might seem bizarre for a young artist in modern Armenia to be designing for a British play from the Elizabethan era, when you see all the books filling the shelves in the studio, it is not surprising that Armine has drawn inspiration from literature. ‘Since my early years I have been surrounded by creativity’, says Armine, adding that she was also exposed to: ‘interesting people whose discussions were not only about painting, but also about literature, poetry and theatre.’ It seems natural therefore that Armine synthesized her love of both art and literature to become a designer working across many disciplines.

Armine’s model for her version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is completely different to the productions one would expect to see at the Globe theatre in London. Her tale takes place in a golden land in the middle of a pink haze. The stage appears like it literally fell out of a dream and is significantly lighter than the Tudor costumes that we might associate with the play. Armine explains: ‘it is important to remember that plays convey what usually happens in reality to real people regardless of their nationality, culture and time in history.’ Along with the golden set Armine has designed costumes for her characters. Armine does not separate her costume and stage designs, explaining ‘the stage and costumes go hand in hand. I can’t work on costumes without envisioning the entire set.’ Titania’s costume in particular is captivating. Dressed in a skirt of pink flowers and with her hair in long braids, she appears like the princess of a faraway land.

Speaking to Armine about the art scene in Yerevan, she describes a thriving city, listing the many performances and exhibitions that take place in galleries, cafes, temporary spaces and even subways. She says that as a student at art college, the ability to see so much art provided a great opportunity for creative communication with her fellow students: ‘It also gave us freedom and faith in our capabilities.’ On my trip to Yerevan Armine took me to the Artists’ Union of Armenia where the city’s artists regularly display their work. The lights were switched on just for us to see the art on display, which included paintings by both Armine’s grandmother and grandfather, displayed proudly side by side each other.

Armine’s interests are many and varied, she does not limit herself to one mode of inspiration or way of work: ‘it is important to cultivate a sense of beauty, seeing its manifestations everywhere.’ She explains that anything can be a source of inspiration: ‘a bend of a line, a combination of colours, sounds, shapes, unexpected foreshortening of vision, rotation of the head, hands, body, natural phenomena.’ All of these things sound as though they might appear to the artist in slow motion, during sleep or even a daydream. Much like her wistful stage designs, Armine’s approach and mode of expression is soft, gentle and meditative.

Speaking about the art scene in Armenia, Armine is quick to stress that Armenia is a nation with a rich culture: ‘the young artists are lucky to live in the country with such a great cultural heritage.’ Moreover, she adds that there are numerous art schools for children and that artists are always seeking new ideas and exhibiting both in Armenia, and internationally. ‘The modern young artists here are very communicative and do not confine themselves to their works. Striving for perfection, they try different genre styles without any fear of failure’, says Armine, ‘we have a fascinating and versatile youth.’ Armine – so artistic, creative and kind – is just one of these fascinating and versatile young Armenian artists.

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer with a special interest in contemporary Middle Eastern Art. She has a BA in Art History and an MA in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Asia and Africa from the School of Oriental and African Studies. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and has written for After Nyne, Arteviste, Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine, ReOrient and Suitcase Magazine. Lizzy is also curator of Arab Women Artists Now - AWAN 2018 (London).

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