Featured Artist: Contributing Editor Vera Falenko Talks with Russian Artist Azam Atakhanov

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Contributing Editor Vera Falenko

Featured Artist Interview:
Azam Atakhanov 

Azam Atakhanov was born in Dushanbe in 1964 and in 1983 finished the Republican Art School and went to Moscow. In the capital of Russia, he studied in Stroganov Moscow State Academy of Arts and Industry. His works have been on exhibitions since 1988. For almost nine years (2004-2012) he taught at the departments of academic and monumental painting of Moscow State Academy. Atakhanov’s paintings are kept in museums both in Russia and abroad. His work combines both Russian and European artistic traditions.  In May 2019, he kindly agreed to talk to Open: Journal of Arts & Letters contributing editor and invited us to his studio in Vavilova Street, Moscow. Atakhanov is the O:JA&L Featured Artist for June 2019.


Falenko for O:JA&L: To begin with, Azam, could you tell us a few words about yourself and your art?

Azam Atakhanov: I am engaged in painting, generally speaking. We understand the word “painting” as image, but I see it more as color and space. The original objective of painting is to pass on information in form of color as it’s done with the help of sounds in music. Everything that has to do with color, space and its influence on the audience – that’s what I’ve been dealing with the last 30 years.

Falenko for O:JA&L: You divide these 30 years into five stages, why is it so?

Azam Atakhanov: In my opinion, painting is a means of learning about universe. Human being learns and develops throughout his life, so does an artist. When he’s young, he’s surrounded by the world that’s becoming deeper and wider as he’s growing older. If you don’t follow the path of learning you stop developing, and once you’ve stopped, so does your art.

When I was young I was learning how to use color experimenting with elementary scenes and various compositions. I still am trying to grasp the world, its beauty and I want to share what I see with people.

At some point, I realized that my work is superficial and I turned to the metaphysical side of reality. I thought: “Why does this work exist? What for?” I call this Middle Ages that means  going back to deeper meanings.

“The Guest” by Azam Atakhanov.

Falenko for O:JA&L: By that you mean that you get back to the era when artists put religious and philosophical meanings in their paintings?

Azam Atakhanov: I believe that the pinnacle of fine art, in the form which we are accustomed to, existed in the Middle Ages. That’s when was the highest point of the painting art. The depth of meanings was achieved through the depth of color. This is the golden standard, and when I see the Medieval art I realize that it is very modern and I’d like to be like artists that had done it.

Falenko for O:JA&L: Let’s get back to the beginning. When you understood and realized that you want to be an artist?

Azam Atakhanov: As the majority of people, I knew that I wanted to be an artist when I was a kid. Of course, as many other kids of my generation, I had other dreams of becoming an astronaut, for example. But then it disappeared. I realized that I wanted to be not just an artist, but a great artist. I’ve always been able to see the beauty of our world and wanted to comprehend its mystery and disclose it in my works.

“Wake Up, Azam”

Falenko for O:JA&L: If we take the college and university years, do you distinguish a teacher or mentor that influenced you most?

Azam Atakhanov: Of course, we’re nothing without our mentors. My first teacher Umarov Ahmed – a remarkable artist from Tadzhikistan – started working with me when I was 9. He noticed me and taught me, and he always treated me as if I’d been an adult. It was him who insisted that I was taught the art of painting and not Math. Ahmed Pulatovich was a wonderful painter who worked a lot with colors. He would take his pupils to observe nature, to mountains and to our galleries. He introduced us to states of art.

There was another professor in college – Murivat Beknazarov – he taught me a lot and instilled in me love for art.

Then, when I was studying in Stroganov’s, I had a professor called Kurdukov Alexander he was a muralist. While the previous teachers showed me the beauty of the painting art, he discovered for us the world of professional art. Kurdukov taught me indispensable professional skills, knowledge about space and how to stand firmly on my feet.

Of course, there were many others, but particularly these three people influenced me most.

“In Vorukh” by Azam Atakhanov

Falenko for O:JA&L: Looking at your pictures one can get a feeling that it’s about the South and warmth. Tell us more about your style.

Azam Atakhanov: Perhaps, you get thoughts about the South and warmth because we’re in Moscow now and it’s cold. So, the pictures warm us up. In the South, I think, nobody will say so as it’s just a stereotype that the colors are brighter there.

Truth be told, I don’t like brightness, I like color. I work with it and its phonation in pictures. What important for me is saturation and tone as in music is sounding.

All Medieval art was colorful and saturated. So, it wasn’t Van Gogh nor Gauguin who invented it nor has it been done in our time. What we have been doing, the great Italian art included, is pieces of Byzantine art.

I’ve travelled to Italy several times, particularly to study painting as it is impossible to do that by books, they just can’t convey the essence. This studying means a lot to me and having studied Early Renaissance I realized that an artist has no limits in expressing color sense. I comprehended the absolute liberty that the painters of the past told me about five hundred years after they perished.

I can say for sure that Andrea Mantegna also taught me something. When I had problem finishing a work and didn’t know what to do, I used to say: “I shall go to see my friend Andrea, what he’ll tell me”. Indeed, as soon as I spent some time looking at his paintings, I got an answer, I knew what I should do next. With Tintoretto was the same – his works taught me.

Falenko for O:JA&L: So these artists formed your style?

Azam Atakhanov: Absolutely. They convinced me my choice is right. It’s as if they had said: “This is as it should be”. Perhaps, if I lived in their era they would like what I do and maybe they would have accepted me in their circle.

Almost all artists of Early Renaissance effected my paintings. Among them are: Fra Angelico, Giotto, Duccio di Buoninsegna, Andrea Mantegna and Benozzo Gozzoli.

“Dam in the Mountains” by Azam Atakhanov

Falenko for O:JA&L: Talking about meanings. Many of your works are connected with religion, do you put some additional meaning besides image?

Azam Atakhanov: Of course, I put meaning in all my works, at least I try to communicate an idea through them. When I was beginning, I was also trying to create something similar to Middle Ages, but what resulted was not what I wanted. Unlike the medieval artists who knew what they’re telling you about, I was doing what I had no idea about. Then I came to more realistic scenes and painted what I knew well, without any metaphysics. But after a while I sensed how the Divine was drawing me, but this time I clearly saw what this was about. I started to comprehend that our life is not only the visible world that surrounds us, but also the part we can’t percept though it is here and it penetrated into my works. I’m not saying my paintings carry life truths, that I’ve become as the medieval artists, but at least I represent my understanding of it.

“Adam awoke after being banished”

Falenko for O:JA&L: You have a painting called Adam has awoken in Shri-Lanka after being banished from Paradise. Why in Shri-Lanka?

Azam Atakhanov: There’s a legend that when Adam was banished from Paradise he ended up in Shri-Lanka where now, they say, you can find his footprint that is a place of pilgrimage. There’s also similar tale in Koran, according to which Adam was there.

But there’s another meaning. Adam was banished from Paradise and it’s the greatest tragedy. He lost everything he had. But I approached it with humor, implying that he woke up here, on Earth and though: “Seems fine”.

I think this legend can be interpreted in different ways. Since we are banished to Earth, which itself is a tragedy, we are fallen and we wait for death our whole life. And all our life is about falling into sin. On the other hand, this is God’s will. And can that be that when Adam awoke here a thought could have come to his mind: “Maybe it’s not that bad here?” isn’t it how we sometimes think? So, this painting is about me, because who is Adam? The very word means human and when we say Adam we mean any person.

“Beginning of the New Era” by Azam Atakhanov

Falenko for O:JA&L: Let’s talk about how you work. Is there some kind of routine or you only paint when you get inspired?

Azam Atakhanov: Of course, I paint when I’m inspired, but there’s also place for routine. Sometimes I work because that way I escape the reality and external problems. In any case, painting is what make me feel alive. Artist – as any creator – is lucky, he is given a life where he can create and get pleasure in it. Without painting, art and process of creation I don’t see what a life is for. Although, there are other things that are just as important, but painting art is one of vital aspects, it’s a gift from above. The process itself is always different, sometimes I have to work very hard, some paintings result easy.

Falenko for O:JA&L: What inspires you most?

Azam Atakhanov: Nature and a human being in it is what inspires me. Seeing the beauty of the world and God’s creation makes me inspired and I want to imitate Him and create. Anything can be inspiring, for example, states of art. Music for sure is very influential and perfectly correlates with notion of color.

“The Gate to Paradise” by Azam Atakhanov

Falenko for O:JA&L: When you think about painting something new, do you have a certain selection of motives?

Azam Atakhanov: I always paint about what is familiar to me and what I want to share. In this case, I know what I’m doing and how to do it better. Of course, I try to make it medieval-like, a praise for God.

In my works, I only talk about beauty. We see all kind of thing in our life. Why not remind that there’s always bright side?

“Mother and Child” by Azam Atakhanov

Falenko for O:JA&L: Do you have audience, people who you want to communicate your ideas to?

Azam Atakhanov: I’m not sure I have audience, but there’re those who like my works. They’re students, collectors and fine art experts, many people from different countries. Some of them buy my paintings, others learn by them.

“Talk about the [innermost] Secret” by Azam Atakhanov

Falenko for O:JA&L: What painting of yours you consider most important?

Azam Atakhanov: Dam in the mountains, Guest, Talk about the innermost [secret] and Wake up, Azam! are most important for me.

Frankly, each stage in my life has had its own important paintings. I know it because when I work on it I think: “If I finish this one, my mission in this world is completed.” But when I do finish it everything starts all over again.

“Time for Bukhara!” by Azam Atakhanov

Falenko for O:JA&L: Some of your paintings are in International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. What are these works?

Azam Atakhanov: In Washington D.C. there’re Vorukh and The Beginning of the new era. They were bought for an exhibition and now are kept there. Actually, my first buyers were Americans and now may of my works are in the U.S.A.

Falenko for O:JA&L: That will be final question. What’s are for you?

Azam Atakhanov: For me art means creation and most important in this process is to create beautiful things. Now under the guise of art a lot of ambiguous works that in my opinion look more like entertainment. Like in the Roman Empire there were Gladiator fights that were also considered art. But in reality, it’s murder – of a human or a beast and even spectators but figuratively and it was done by what they were witnessing.

If we generalize, art means making of good not evil as the good doesn’t suppose divine punishment, but the evil does. That is why even if you are not a professional or if you are not sure of himself, but work on the bright side we will see the imprint of the good. We are attracted by works of simple artists like Asmani, for example, because we see good in what they did. Art is not about skill, it’s about what side you are on.


About the interviewer:
Vera Falenko is a 2017 graduate of the Moscow Aviation Institute, a State University. She is a native Russian speaker and a language specialist with fluency in English (English level C2, according to the European frame) and Spanish (Spanish level C1). She is a senior teacher of foreign languages at Alibra School, a private institution in Moscow. Falenko is an O:JA&L Contributing Editor for Arts & Letters of Moscow. She also provides selected Russian and Spanish translations for our readers in the Eurozone and in eastern Europe. She maintains an independent book review site, offering book reviews in three languages.

Images of Atakhanov paintings: By permission of Azam Atakhanov.

Images of Azam Atakhanov and his studio: Courtesy of Vera Falenko.

Special Exhibition notes: Azam Atakhanov’s exhibitional project “A Poem of Sense” opened in the ARTSTORY gallery on the 6th of June and continues until 26th of July of 2019. The visitors are offered an enchanting and at the same time, a philosophically stunning trip into a world full of wonders. This trip is not only meeting masterful colorist with unparalleled sense of color, but also with a philosopher and meditator. Atakhov is an artist who combines cultural traditions of the Persian East, the Russian avant-garde and the European Renaissance showing the other side of life, the one that is hidden from us and that is only slightly similar to ours.

“What’s the difference between music and noise, art and painted wall, literature and written instructions? It’s in beauty, and only the true beauty gives sense to art. To grasp and transmit it, these are the only true aims of an artist.”

If we talk about the origin of his artistic style, we should name such universally-thinking and pantheistic artists of the first avant-garde as P.Kuznetsova, R.Falka, D.Stentenberg, N.Krymova, and V.Favorsky. It is these artists who think of a landscape’s attributes as animate beings. The monumentalism of Atakhanov’s works has its roots in the other line of spiritual mentors, and these are the Italian Renaissance artists Duccio, Giotto, Fra Angelico, Gozzoli, and especially Mantegna and Tintoretto.

The existence of a figure within a landscape is no less important in Atakhanov’s paintings; however, traditional eastern motives and women in his works bear sense only at first glance. It’s here where we talk about intertwining ideas, about going back to the roots and times when art found its origin in religion and philosophy.