Abstract Art Masterpieces. The Bunker Art Group.

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Abstract Art Masterpieces

The BUNKER ART GROUP From the collection of Sergei Djavadian








Abstract Art Masterpieces


he Bunker Group: First and T second generations.

From the collection of Sergei Djavadian

"This catalog celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Bunker Art Group and the beginning of my collection. The core of the collection are the six bright and bold Armenian artists who went unrecognized by the former Soviet Union's arts establishment, but made significant contributions to the world's abstract art.




Achot Achot
















Los Angeles-based Peter Frank is Associate Editor of Fabrik Magazine. He is former Senior Curator at the RIverside Art Museum, art critic for the LA Weekly, and editor of THEmagLA and Visions Art Quarterly. Originally from New York, Frank wrote for the Village Voice and Peter Frank SoHoWeekly News. He has organized exhibitions for the Guggenheim Museum, the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, Documenta, and other institutions worldwide.

I am grateful to my wife Elmira and my children Samuel and Sofia Djavadian for their moral and financial support of my longtime Bunker Group project." ­— Sergei Djavadiajn, collector and President of Art and Beyond International, Inc. The cover uses a fragment from Kiki's "Red Bobo." Art Director of the Bunker Art Group Project: Larisa Pilinsky

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

All rights reserved.

First Generation

Second Generation

All artists featured in the book retain Copyright © for each of their individual images. All rights reserved.

by Laurence Vittes 6


– Peter Frank

Art & Beyond Studio. Inc. — www.art-beyond.com

Swimming Upstream:

Sergei Djavadian's search for music of art.

I think your collection is of great importance because it documents in detail an art movement that belongs in art history. It is at this point a museum-class collection – maybe not to the extent that a collection of cubism or surrealism would be, but it is even MORE valuable, in my opinion, for the fact that there are probably very few if any other collections documenting Bunker. The works are of high quality, and were collected at major points in the artists' careers. Not everybody knows Bunker, but with a collection like this, everybody can.

Design and Layout: Mila Ryk, president, art director

by Peter Frank 4

Los Angeles-based Laurence Vittes contributes reviews, interviews and features to Gramophone, The Strad, Strings, Bachtrack, Early Music America, the Southern California Early Music Society, and Seen & Heard International. He formerly wrote for the Huffington Post, Laurence Vittes Hollywood Reporter, The Economist, the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Reader and L.A. Style. His current focus in been on orchestras, kids and music.



In 1989 businessman and aesthete Sergei Djavadian made a discovery: he came across a group of artists working in Yerevan in styles seldom seen anywhere in the USSR, and certainly not in Armenia. The artists were essentially collapsing the recent history of Euro-American abstraction – including Abstract Expressionism, Art Informel, Color Field painting, Minimalism, and Support-Surface, among other movements – into a bouquet of formal choices whose application signaled non-conformity and non-compliance with the regime. By this time, however, perestroika had released Soviet artists from their sequestration, allowing radical art by Russian contemporaries to come to the surface. Thus, Djavadian found his artistic soulmates, who, under his beneficence, became the painters of the Bunker Group.

The six artists Djavadian began to collect were all, in his estimation, devoting their lives to the utterances of their souls. They were not theorists but practitioners, not ideologues but individuals protective of their hard-won artistic prerogatives – non-objective styles they had been developing since the 1970s. Djavadian saw each artist as a different universe, scraping the metaphysics of human existence with his particular, even peculiar, concatenations. A jazz enthusiast, Djavadian recognized the integrity of improvised expression manifest – quite differently, but to the same intensity – in the work of each. “HOMELESS ART” Show and performance 2001, Glendale Parking Lot.

This “mighty Six” constituted the first generation of Bunker artists; as the collapse of the Soviet Union allowed them to travel and emigrate, they settled in Moscow, Paris, and Los Angeles, making many new associations, including with younger artists who continue the Bunker ethos.

The first row – composer Tigran Takhemesian performs his abstract composition, second row – Sev creates art with his gas burner, third row – Kiki creates large scale Bobo image.

(continued on p. 57) ~4~

ng Armenian Armen Hadjan in front of his art, You 9 198 , Artists exhibition, Yerevan

Moder n Art exhibition, Museum of Moder n Art, 1988. First row on the far right, Sev among other participatin g artists Second row - Offenbach, Rotch , Kiki, Achot Achot , and other artists Third row - Martin among other participating artists

se of Artists, (Dom Monochromatic Art Exhibition, Yerevan, After the exhibition in the Hou 1990. From left to right - Kiki, Stepan , Rotch, Kiki, Sev Hudozhnikov) 1990, Yerevan:asha and other artists Panosian, Rotch. Nat e wif Offenbach with his

Armenian Artists Union , 1989.

Achot Achot's per formance.

Unofficial Ar t Show of 1985. In the backgrounYoung nonconfor mist artists, Enfiajan . From lef t d is the Ins tallation of Edward to Edward Enfiajan , Kik right - firs t & second row Sev, i, Rotch

In Rotch's studio, 1984: From left to right - Kiki and Rotch


Swimming Upstream S ergei D javadian 's search for music of art by Laurence Vittes

SERGEI DJAVADIAN's first discovery as a major collector of modern Armenian art was Jimi Hendrix. The young Armenian businessman growing up in USSR didn't speak English yet but the emotions and language of American jazz went right to his head. He was looking to immerse himself in something different, against the mainstream; while most people listened to Russian socialist pop music, Sergei became "energized in an American way." Buying vinyl in the former Soviet Union could be an exciting if perilous adventure in those days. "To get an American LP in Russia," Sergei explained, "was like winning the lottery." At the beginning of the 70s, he would fly long hours to Moscow just to get LPs, and get back to work net day. In doing so, he met foreigners – "which was dangerous because American vinyl was basically forbidden by the KGB." As he listened to more jazz, refined his tastes, slowly built up a library of 100 LPs, and his way of thinking became more abstract, a friend suggested he would find an analogous visual experience in the underground art world. He was not worried that he would be caught. "I was used to swimming upstream, and the music inspired me to be even more strongly determined."

Sergei Djavadian


Discovering art At first Sergei had trouble understanding the music of art. "The volume of information was overwhelming." He educated himself. He started by studying catalogs and magazines. "The truth is, I infected myself with art." A second turning point came in 1989 when Sergei attended the Lenz Schoenberg exhibition of postwar European art at Moscow's Central Hall of Artists. His dream was born, to create a similar collection devoted to Armenian abstract art. More swimming upstream. When he went to Yerevan in the fall it was to find the core of this collection. From the more than 30 outstanding artists he met he selected six who would become known as the Bunker Group: Martin Petrosian, Sev, Ashot Ashot, Armen Hadjian Rotch, Grigori Offenbach, and Kiki who served as their leader. "One of the artists, Offenbach, had a basement studio where they met to talk and be inspired by each other's art, and one evening he said, "Let us then be the Bunker Group!"

The truth is, I infected

Sergei with Lark's Collage from his Collection And Kiki's art work in the Background

myself with art.

From the beginning Sergei was as impressed by the artists themselves as by their art. "I heard their souls, their conscience; I was swept away by their originality, and with no obvious influences." These original artists/ philosophers were also the most unprotected, and Sergei wanted to provide them with an atmosphere in which they could work peacefully without commercial pressures. To do so, Sergei awarded stipends to those artists and bought some of them art studios in Yerevan. Basically he told them: Bring me in exchange as many works as you want. That's how he created an historically valuable collection of more than 300 pieces that is split

Bergamot Art Center, Bunker group Exhibition, left to right: Rotch, Sergei Javadian, Kiki

now between Yerevan and Los Angeles. Sergei plans to let "the eagle soar," to give maximum publicity to the artists in his collection who in his opinion are the most fundamental, expressive and honest abstract artists from their period of time in Armenia.

At "Bunker Open Door" show. Left to right, Narine, Sergei Javadian, Kiki, Lark, Galina Kovshilovsky ~7~


KIKI, inspirational leader of the Bunker Art Group, is one of the first abstract artists in Armenia, who started to create his artworks in 1970. Kiki created the series of powerful paintings in which he has achieved an artistic expression of the universal composite of the human form and spirit, which calls Bobo and demonstrated great artistic merit. In 1993, when Kiki was already famous in Europe, he came to United States and now lives and works in Los Angeles. The years in America were very productive for him. Constantly mastering his abstract expressionist techniques, Kiki participated in numerous gallery exhibitions in US and Europe. Over one hundred of Kiki's art works are on display in state museums – Bochum Art Museum, Germany; Armenian Museum of Modern Art; City Museum of Art, Narva, Estonia; Still Gallery, Leninakan, Kazakhstan – and constitute an important part of the Nancy and Norton Dodge collection at the Zimmerly Art Museum of Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey.


KIKI Grigor Mikaelyan



lthough the Bunker group has no declared hierarchy, its fulcrum member, responsible for its conception, cohesion, and continuing public activity, is Kiki. By time he relocated to Los Angeles in the early ‘90s, Kiki had developed a style that exemplifies the Bunker aesthetic. Dark, even brooding fields are at once dense and luminous; clusters of light and dark brushstrokes and collage materials (reminiscent of Spanish tachiste painters Antonio Saura and Manolo Millares) define a low horizon in some of the works, while others feature a loose, open, semi-calligraphic stroke rendered on grounds only slightly different in intensity. In yet another grouping, which Kiki calls his “Bobos,” especially active painterly gestures cluster above a double-circle motif – a precise formula which has long provided the artist a template to be modified and expanded in each iteration, a kind of “theme and variation” driven by an exacting formal rigor. In the examples here, the Bobos are rendered on collages primarily of newspapers and periodicals, serving almost as a kind of diary, the artist responding to the offenses, banalities, and triumphs of the everyday beyond his studio. By contrast, the darker paintings abandon time and space, reaching for a void at once annihilating and transcendent. by Peter Frank ~9~


~ 10 ~

Concurring Soviet Establishment with Art


"I was not going to become an artist when I was in high school. I played guitar in a band and definitely wanted to pursue a career in music. But when I saw paintings by Jackson Pollock in an exhibition catalog, I went crazy and my life changed. It was as though my heart had opened. I had an insight - it’s real and it is my way to go. At that moment, I took out an empty page of paper and drew an abstract figure; it was something magic, and I fell for it.” While Kiki's friends pursued university educations, he proceeded to do the thing he really wanted to do – paint and become an abstract artist. In 1973, however, abstract movement was a dangerous place to be. The only officially accepted art style in the former Soviet Union at that time was Socialist Realism and creating abstract art was considered, if not a crime, at least insanity. All the better for Grigor Mikayelyan who, adopting the art name Kiki, became one of the first young postwar abstract artists in Armenia.

~ 11 ~

RED BOBO. 92-1

~ 12 ~


In 1975 Kiki was drafted into the Soviet army and served on the island of Sakhalin near the border with China; he was probably one of the only soldiers in that huge geographical expanse who painted in an abstract style. "I created little abstract paintings that could fit in the envelopes with the letters I sent to my mother," Kiki recalls. "If officials had seen them, they could have put me in an insane asylum. And in fact, a young lieutenant-propagandist there once caught me painting in the library and immediately proclaimed, 'That is not art!' "I had courage to politely try convince him, and at the end of our talk he finally said, 'maybe.' At that moment I felt as

~ 13 ~


though I had conquered the system, that I could convince them! It was a sign that I was on the right track." Kiki's enthusiasm about abstract art was contagious. At first it was his old schoolmate Grigori Offenbach, then his college friends Martin Petrosyan and Armen Hadjan, and then newly-met art associates Sev and Ashot Ashot. "I was looking for people who were not attached to our physical materialistic world. I was looking for non-conformists." Art and philosophy became main sources of inspiration for Kiki and his friends who shared books on Buddhism alongside Schopenhauer and other Western philosophers. Although Pollock was Kiki's first love, he was subsequently influenced by informalist artists including Jean Fortrier,

~ 14 ~

BOBO. 87-1

Lucio Fontana, Antoni Tàpies, Manolo Milares, and Antonio Saura. While immersing himself in this new world of art, Kiki found his own voice in a series of paintings he called Empty Screens and in his philosophically provocative alter ego image, Bobo. “He is a dancing cosmos," says Kiki, “a symbol of non-duality”. Reflecting on whether he was more creative and happier in Armenia or in the United States, Kiki answered, "Since I live mainly inside myself, it doesn’t matter where I create. As long as I have the opportunity to paint, I’m happy!"

Interview by Larisa Pilinsky

~ 15 ~


GRIGORI OFFENBACH, one of the founding members of the Bunker Art Group. Since 1978 he organized and participated in modern art exhibitions. Grigori played important role in the creation of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Yerevan, assisting Henrikh Igityan. Offenbach is an artist who constantly experiments and creates new styles and techniques in painting and graphics.

~ 16 ~

Grigori Offenbach


GRIGORI OFFENBACH, the one original Bunker member still in the former Soviet Union, lives and works in Moscow. The works representing him here, dating from the early 1990s, maintain Bunker’s original commitment to non-objectivity and expand upon painterly practices earlier prevalent in the West – and in this case, the Far East. Offenbach employs a kind of liberated but still choreographed calligraphic line, one that darts, whiplashes, and fractures across what seems to be multi-planar backgrounds, all the result of painting first with a broad stroke, then with a very fine one, and finally with a pointed tool that “carves” into the original marks. The manner recalls the approaches of German tachistes K.R.H. Sonderborg and Karl-Otto Götz, but also that of any number of painters working in the 1950s and ‘60s primarily in Japan and Taiwan. In other words, Offenbach’s style is deliberately and self-consciously international, speaking to concepts far removed from his own location. This style relies on a refinement of the gesture through mark-making of a seemingly notational, even linguistic kind. Such a quality is heightened by the artist’s spare use of color; he favors a gray scale, enhancing the graphic and even alphabetic inferences of his painting. Offenbach’s Bunker compeers all tend to work with a reduced palette, but in his case it has an almost writerly presence. by Peter Frank

~ 17 ~


~ 18 ~

I always loved to see what is on the back side of the coin


“We had three Grigors among our friends”, Grigor Offenbach began his story of how an Armenian artist wound up with the name of a famous French operetta composer. “One of us got a nickname, Kiki, then another Grigor became Mr. X, but somehow nobody could come up with a proper nickname for me. They tried many times but in vain. Then we all happened to be watching a popular movie called The Republic of ShKID where there's an evening bed check at an orphanage and the names the teacher calls out are 'Ivanov! Sidorov! Offenbach!' "At that moment everyone jumped and cried out 'Offenbach! Yes it suits you perfectly! Hooray!' I accepted it from the first moment because everything German was close to my heart: I am very punctual and I keep my word; if I promise to do something, I will do it. I also knew and loved Offenbach's music. Since then this name became mine, and I was delighted to sign my artworks Offenbach." From his childhood Offenbach had a talent for drawing. With a smile he remembers drawing a realistic picture of an Armenian national hero on a horse, which won an award at his school competition. “It was hung on the board of honor in the corridor – and then was stolen. I was proud of that," Grigor laughs. "But realism didn't last. Kiki, my close friend since we met as classmates, must take the blame for my starting to create abstract art. His contagious enthusiasm infected the whole youth group around. He also whetted our appetite for reading books about modern art and philosophy.” On the question of what philosophy he has applied to his own life Offenbach said simply, “I always loved to see what

~ 19 ~


is on the back side of the coin. That's probably why I never wanted to paint with brushes; I wanted to break with the traditional art techniques used by socialistic-realist artists. And why apply paint when you can remove it? After I make the background base, I clean the paint off with a car window squeegee. It gives me what I always wanted to have: a combination of large smear strokes, then medium and at the end small strokes. This technique produced a visual illusion of moving perspective and I was happy about it.” Asked how he prepared himself for his painting sessions, Offenbach says he meditates to put himself into a state of

~ 20 ~


"high concentration and a kind of trance. It was like the idea in karate that before you make a hit you have to gather all your energy and power in a knot inside you and become still. Then I shouted from the top of my lungs like the Japanese sum-e masters whom I loved to watch, and made a single movement. In this style the stroke cannot be corrected or repeated twice in the same place. I knew what happened happened. Good or bad.” Asked how the name of the Bunker group was born, Offenbach explains, “I had a studio that used to be a boxing gym.

~ 21 ~


After perestroika I privatized it and used as a small exhibition space. It was in the basement of a 12-story house. It had 3 iron metal doors with narrow, 30x60 cm windows. It reminded me of wartime bunkers and we decided to call it our art bunker. When Sergey Djavadian told us that he wanted to work with us, the Bunker Art Group was born.” Offenbach remains the only one left in the former Soviet Union, although not in Armenia's beautiful capital city Yerevan but in Moscow. He told me why: “Perestroika in USSR was followed by an economic blockade of Armenia; there was no light, no heat, no gas. I painted in a studio lit only by two kerosene lamps. The government gave us a half a pound of flour a day and I had to feed two little girls. In addition, the Nagorno-Karabakh War was raging on the border with Azerbaijan. The situation was so critical that my closest friends began leaving Armenia: Armen, Kiki, Sev. The last was Martin. That's when I with my wife of 30 years, Natasha, moved to Moscow.” "The Art Bunker remains closed in Yerevan. There are a lot of works there by our guys, the Bunkers. I dream we will all

~ 22 ~


gather together in the Bunker again, put on a large exhibition of the Javadian art collection, look at our old and new works, discuss them, and laugh happily like in the good old days." Interview by Larisa Pilinsky

~ 23 ~


ACHOT ACHOT was born in Armenia in 1961. Achot left Armenia shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1993 and moved to France. With his discovery of the Vedic philosophy Achot Achot began his mature period where all the works are titled AFACTUM - a word created by the artist from factum for event, and his own private prefix.

~ 24 ~

Achot Achot



ne of two Paris-based Bunker painters, ACHOT ACHOT relies on a familiar device in late 20th century painting – the grid – but engages it in unprecedented ways. The repetition of specific shapes – normally a blot-like form whose irregular contours are repeated exactly at regular intervals – would suggest American Pattern Painting, but references more directly the Support-Surface “banner” approach of Claude Viallat, as well as the rote recurrences of standardized shapes found in the work of the BMPT group (especially Niele Toroni and Michel Parmentier). Achot Achot in fact began working in this manner while still in Armenia, practicing it as a visual manifestation of his meditative chanting. Further, he distinguishes himself from his fellow Parisians artists by varying his physical approach broadly; where the others suppress almost all evidence of handwork and texture, Achot Achot revels in such anti-minimalist qualities. Indeed, he sets up a kind of inner conflict between severely regulated, even regimented shape and rhythm on the one hand and, on the other, a free-form, even agitated surface with strong evidence of weathering and soiling, all casting an endearingly gritty spirit of rough-hewn abjection over the lockstep rows. As it is for his Bunker allies, Minimalism for Achot Achot is a condition to pass through rather than to settle into. by Peter Frank ~ 25 ~


~ 26 ~

Achot Achot's Afactum


Asked what led him to abstract art and eventually to the Bunker Group, Achot Achot said it was not an arbitrary turn. “I first started experimenting with abstract art in the 70’s when foreign art books began to show up in Armenia and I became inspired by Mondrian, Miro, and Kandinsky. Then, when we had nude classes in art college, I fell in love with it because it enabled me to do what I wanted: present people without their different dressings and societal masks. I wanted to show their inner world. I was more interested in presenting my inner point of view than realistically precise images. I called it ‘inner realism.’” ~ 27 ~


Achot Achot's spiritual growth contributed to his artistic development. First his art reflected his Christian beliefs in a series of angelic figures in the 80’s. By the beginning of the 90’s, when he began to read the Bhagavad Gita, his belief in Christianity had come to a standstill, and the style of his art changed too. “Vedic philosophy gave me a very broad view of life and art, and the inspiration to draw biomorphic forms that looked like seeds in a state of germination or drops of water. Painting for me was a meditation, a spiritual immersion – a way to get in touch with God. I used the principle of repetition as an element similar to mantras, and the structure revealed itself in my paintings. I followed my heart and it returned me to abstract art.”

~ 28 ~


For some period Achot Achot belonged to the internationally-known art group Third Floor Art Group, but eventually felt that most of the group's artists were too interested in the social aspect of art. "Art was as pure as a prayer to God,” he said, and so in 1991, with the support of his friend Kiki, he left the group. “Kiki supported me very much during this difficult period – I felt that I was not alone. He was very uncompromising, as were all his artist friends at the time, and I was very attracted to it. It helped me to remain true to pure conceptual abstractionism. “Nonconformism united us in the group that later was called Bunker. During this period we came to the attention of our eventual sponsor Sergei Djavadian. At first we thought he would sell our art, but he collected it instead. In so doing

~ 29 ~


he has preserved the trail of our creative sparks in the unique key artworks of the different painting periods that now have important historic value for us and, I hope, for the art world. We could not have saved them ourselves, especially considering that all of us eventually emigrated from Armenia.” After leaving Armenia, Achot Achot found a second motherland in France and continued to be productive in many artistic directions. From 2004 to 2011 he worked with photographic images, and also turned to filmmaking. “I wanted to show in these art forms the polarity between soul and body, the stages of soul development.” I named my art series Afactum from factum, the Latin word for fact, because every fact causes a consequence. To describe the spiritual world, I came up with the word afactum, because in matters of soul there is no cause and effect – everything is possible!"

~ 30 ~


Achot Achot is still working on the Afactum series. “It was a seed that I started to paint in Armenia, it sprouted here in France where it continues to develop in different directions.” From his base in Paris Ashot Ashot frequently travels abroad to New York, Toronto and London and many other cities where he discusses with his students the psychology of spiritual and creative development. Asked whether he misses being in a group of like-minded artists, Achot Achot answered, “Of course, there is the nostalgia for the Bunker period! Now, residing in three different countries, we have only infrequent chances to communicate, but the inner connections remains, the spirit that united us then still exists. We still have disagreements with societal principles and beliefs about the significance of the material world, but we don't want to fight using their methods. Painting is our weapon." Interview by Larisa Pilinsky ~ 31 ~


ARMEN ROTCH first began to exhibit his work in Armenia in 1978 under the name of Armen Hadjian, with the “Black Square” Group, and continued to exhibit into the 1980s with the avant-garde group “Third Floor”, of which he was one of the founders, taking part in the “First Gathering of USSR AvantGarde” in 1987. At this point, he began to show his work beyond Armenia: in Narva, Estonia in 1988; in Paris in 1989; in Copenhagen in 1990; and in Moscow, Vienna, and New York in 1991. Now he lives and creates artworks in Paris.

~ 32 ~

ROTCH Armen Hajian



ike Achot-Achot, ROTCH lives and works in Paris. Also like his Bunker compeer, Rotch painted in what could be identified as an École de Paris style well before he moved to the French capital. In the works here, Rotch looks somewhat further back into the École de Paris than does Achot-Achot, favoring the “belle peinture” of the postwar years, with its emphasis on tone, texture, and the gravity of both material and spirit. The abstract forms that Rotch seems almost to hew in air, as if wielding an axe rather than a brush, are invariably energetic and even sweeping; they seem not painted so much as choreographed. Sometimes they all but disappear into fields of nearly identical tone, especially as that tone approaches black. Other times their expansive arcs and jumps establish vigorous darker figures against lighter, often multicolored, grounds – almost to the point of fusing with the field, which becomes that much more fractured. The spaces in which the abstract “dancers” move recall the congealed abstract landscapes of Nicolas de Staël and even the black curtains of Pierre Soulages, but in Rotch’s case it is the linear rather than the spatial gestures that focus his compositions. Notably, Rotch works with a somewhat more colorful palette than do the other Bunker artists. by Peter Frank

~ 33 ~


~ 34 ~

We Shared Something Unique


For Bunker member Armen Hadjan Rotch it all started at an art college for ceramics where Kiki and Martin Petrosian also studied. “By the second semester we were already sick of Armenian social realism," he says. "Such paintings did not suit our souls. Kiki was already painting his small abstract works and it was fascinating to see them. I started learning more about the roots and philosophy of abstraction. Malevich and Kandinsky were first who put their spell on me. I liked their intuitive approach to art. They were on the other side of socialistic reality. I also wanted to find my own reality and show it.” Armen's first attempts were imitations of famous abstract masters. Initial excitements – “I can!” – were followed by frustration. “I crumpled most of my paper sketches and threw them away," remembers Armen. “I wanted to find my

~ 35 ~


own art language. The paintings in which I felt something new, I saved. I tried to show them to my classmates, but found that most people were not interested. Fortunately, my close friends and I shared our mutual interests. "We created art more for ourselves than for the audience. The official exhibition organizers did not show our art and we knew that we would never be accepted into the Artists Union of the USSR. There was a moral void around us and we did not want to be drawn in it. Our studios were so small and badly lighted that I still do not understand how we could create good art in them. But in spite of that we had fun in our mostly underground places, where we could fool around and talk openly about our ideas. We felt protected from the outside world; that's why we later chose to call our group Bunker.

~ 36 ~


Meeting art collector Sergei Djavadian, who was sincerely interested in our work, saved the situation. “He started supporting us financially – bought us canvases, paints, and even real art studios – but it was not the main thing. Sergei always said, 'Show me your new artwork, I want to see what you did.' When you feel that a person really cares, you want to create something original and unpredictable. And we did. It was a boost for our creativity and we gifted Sergei our best artworks; that's why now he can be proud of his collection of Bunker art from that period of time. Most of my large works in the collection belong to abstract expressionism, some belong to minimalism." Explaining what drives him in art, Armen says that in his art he express his human core. “Your character involuntarily manifests itself in your work. The monochromatic work I created in France reflects my introverted personality. It is a series

~ 37 ~


of works where you can see at once lots of repetitions reflecting everyday live things. But there are subtle nuances in life. Something that I did not feel or see yesterday suddenly surfaces to my attention. Similarly there are subtle nuances in my colors, shades and objects fading like used tea bags, that have been on my palette for a long time.” Asked what attracted him to the future Bunker group members, Armen answers, “Their strength of character, their passionate devotion to abstraction. When Kiki did his powerful abstract work I felt so happy, as though I had done it myself. When Sev created his works with fire it was difficult not to feel his intensity. Art was the most important thing in their lives, they sacrificed a lot for it, and I knew they were – and are – people who will not deviate from their ideas. We all worked in different ways but there was something common; it was more than friendship, we shared something unique together. Even now after almost 30 years of separation when I see Bunker member's art I admire it and want to exhibit only with those guys.” Interview by Larisa Pilinsky

~ 38 ~


~ 39 ~


MARTIN PETROSYAN was born in Armenia in 1955. He studied drawing and painting at the Khachatur Abovian Pedagogical Institute. In 1982 he started working at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Martin participated in art exhibitions even as a student. From 1987 his work have been exhibited in Union of Soviet Republics shows on a regular basis. His works are on the permanent display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Yerevan, as well as in private collections in Armenia, the former Soviet Union, France, Canada, United States, Germany and Syria. Since 1999, Petrosyan has resided in Los Angeles.

~ 40 ~

Martin Petrosian



ince its beginnings the Bunker group has devoted itself to a non-objective aesthetic, concentrating on form, color, and material for their inherent abilities to affect viewers not just aesthetically, but emotionally and intellectually. By practicing representational as well as abstract painting, Los Angeles-based Martin Petrosian would seem to run counter to Bunker’s precepts. But it’s far more complex than that, certainly with regard to his works included here. First, the earmarks of Petrosian’s abstract style – linear vivaciousness bordering on calligraphy, great variation in texture, muted palette – place it squarely within the movement’s overall characteristics. Second, Bunker came into being as an alternative to the fanciful treatment of the figure that predominated in Armenia at the time. Petrosian’s landscapes are as far removed from such playful surrealism as are his abstract works. The landscapes are rendered with the same active, brittle lines and quiet tonalities (if not the same degree of surface incident) that characterize his abstractions; the mood predominating in these views of fens and marshlands is similarly cool, nuanced, and withdrawn, even when displaying surrealist aspects themselves. Indeed, Petrosian is uniquely successful in blending abstract and representational aspects into odd, even troubling hybrids – a “third stream” between reality and “pure painting” -- whose very oddness ties them close to Bunker. by Peter Frank ~ 41 ~


~ 42 ~

Remaining True to My Personal Code


“To tell the truth", Martin Petrosian says, "I first wanted to be an athlete, a basketball player. Unfortunately, just before the entrance exams for the State Institute of Physical Culture and Sport, I broke my left arm and my application was denied. My second choice was a college specializing in ceramics. Studying there gave me a real taste for all the arts and why they matter – which inspired me to study art education at Yerevan Pedagogical University.” It was there that Martin met Kiki and Armen Hadjan, and the three became friends and rebels. “While other students were preparing ceramic vases, jugs, and small tables for their final exam in the commercial crafts course, we rebels made our creations purely as art. I created a ceramic panel with a crack in it because it looked good to me that way. The dean

~ 43 ~


was mad at us for not following his instructions, but our teacher said, "Those three will become original artists!” Meanwhile Martin fell in love with the science and technology of art at the same time he was becoming interested in a broad spectrum of art styles and forms. “I couldn't consider myself a professional artist,” he says, “until I had thoroughly studied as many art materials as I could, their qualities, and secrets. I had this urge when I was a child, to learn everything from the inside out. It was like a code inscribed inside me. Learn everything connected with this matter, and then create the work. “Only if you know the subtle nuances of color can you become a wizard," he jokes. “I tried a thousand different ways of using delicate, transparent watercolors and it became my favorite medium. Then my intuition spoke to me out of thin air and something magical happened on my papers and canvases. Later, when I invented techniques, I shared them with

~ 44 ~


friends like Grigori Offenbach.” Martin's first artworks were very subtle. His surreal landscapes began to turn into abstracts and then into relief works with 3D effects. That's when art historian Heinrich Igityan, the former director of the Modern Art Museum of Yerevan, challenged him. “You guys do only abstract art. I bet it will be difficult for you to do realistic work." Martin took the bet. He told the director that creating realistic artwork for him would be as easy as “cracking sunflower seeds. I’ll create a new realistic work for you every week, if you buy them," he added with a smile. Martin won the bet and eventually Igityan began falling under the spell of his abstract works and acquired six of them for the Museum collection. In fact, Martin was the first of the Bunker Group artists to become part of the collection, to be widely recognized in Armenia and, after emigrating, in Los Angeles. In spite of that Martin likes to stay in the shade.

~ 45 ~


“I am always trying to get out of the center when people make photos. I prefer to stand somewhere in the corner.” Asked why, Martin answers, “I don't know. How you can explain your own essence? Is it also a code inscribed at birth? Mine is that of a solitary wanderer who doesn't want to compete with anybody and doesn't set his bar high. He wants to stay simple, kind, and true. That's why I never envy someone else's success. I'm just happy for them.” Asked who inspired him, Martin said without hesitation, “It was Kiki who inspired us all to follow him into the reams of abstract art. It was our sponsor and collector Sergei Javadian who really cared about us and what we created. We gave Sergei a nickname, Kematar – 'the one who sacrificed himself for us,' as he used to say, half in jest, half in earnest. And

~ 46 ~


he did so by putting our interests as artists even higher that his own. I had no contract with him. I just wanted to pay him back for his kindness and give my new paintings to him. “ Reflecting on whether it was easier to be an artist back in Armenia than it is here, Martin says, “Armenia is a small country where everyone knows you if you are a good artist. In the United States many of us get lost in the ocean of freelance artists. I learned a new way to be an artist here: creating minimalistic, monochrome mural art. But while I may have learned a new technique I am the same inside, remaining true to my personal code." Interview by Larisa Pilinsky

~ 47 ~


Born in Armenia 1954, Sev started his career as a writer until he met a group of underground artists and joined their ranks. As a member of the Third Floor art group and later as a member of the Bunker Art Group, Sev took part in more than 100 exhibitions and creative actions in Armenia, Russia, Lithuania, Estonia, France, and Germany from 1987 to 1999. His works are part of the permanent collections of the Narva City Museum in Estonia; Panevezhiss City Museum in Lithuania, Museum of Contemporary Art of Madeline, Colombia and private collections in Armenia, Russia, Germany, France, Italy, USA, Canada, Australia, Netherlands and Sweden. Sev now lives and works in Los Angeles.

~ 48 ~

SEV Henry Hachtryan

UNTITLED 89-2. Burned plastic on Wood

Sev is the one artist in Bunker’s original group who does not make paintings. He paints, but on low-relief sculptures made of plastic, which he has created by subjecting common objects (containers, appliances) to fire and rescuing the reduced, tortured forms before they are completely consumed. This approach could be seen as a reaction by an emigré newly arrived in Los Angeles to the consumerist material culture of his newly adopted country and (especially) city. But while that reaction indeed flavors Sev’s approach, he began making these objects long before he moved to L.A. Furthermore, his primary concern (aligned, certainly, with the prominence of assemblage practice in Los Angeles art) is with saving, even recycling, such abject forms into something more noble and mysterious. His commentary is not political so much as it is social and psychological: the melted, distorted, blackened objects mirror our souls and our psyches and speak to both the agonies and the joys of human existence. Sev finds black beautiful in and of itself, a tranquil and spiritual non-color. Indeed, “Sev” means “black” in Armenian, and in his work the artist (who invariably dresses in black) reflects on the manifold conditions of blackness – right down to the ominous “noir” that pervades the sunny clime of southern California. by Peter Frank ~ 49 ~

UNTITLED 89-5. Burned plastic on Wood ~ 50 ~

I Am Silent About Nothing

UNTITLED 89-1. Burned plastic on Wood

The artist known as Sev (Henrich Hachatryan) says, “I was born into a family of Soviet intelligentsia. From my childhood I read a lot of American science fiction: Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Arthur Clarke. I dreamt of being a writer myself but when I brought my stories to Soviet magazines the editors praised but never published me. After his parents discouraged his studying philology Sev ended up studying engineering. However his will to be a creator won out and he quit university, which meant also being drafted into the Soviet army. “At least it gave me time to find a path in life that was right for me." ~ 51 ~

UNTITLED 89-4. Burned plastic on Wood

It was then that Sev met Kiki and his friends. "What I noted about them first was their unusual beards. For me it was a sign of their freedom. Second I noted the way they talked: very unpretentious and direct. They called things by their right names. I understood that I had met real artists.” After Sev celebrated his 30th birthday and his friends left, he did something unpredictable. “I packed up all my manuscripts, books, and journals, which took up 30 bags, and threw them into the fire, one by one. One read, 'If there is a literature without words, this is my literature." When Sev was finished he felt as though repressed inner layers of memory had been released and he saw everything in a brighter light. “I liked the process of burning," he says. While visiting his brother in the country the next spring he worked for the first time with discarded metal scraps. "For three days I welded non stop. At the end I had created a 4-meter tall sculpture.” In 1986 Sev's new circle of friends and artists invited him to participate for the first time in one of their semi-official semi-underground shows. ~ 52 ~

UNTITLED. Plastic on Wooden Board

~ 53 ~

UNTITLED 89-6. Burned plastic on Wood

Sev exhibited his early art in a public square in Yerevan as a way of communicating with the general populace, but the general populace was not so inviting. Many asked why he had brought such ugly pieces, and some accused him of offending conventional Armenian national art. Sev and his sculptures were even arrested one time. "I got lucky," he says, "the desk sergeant had a sense of humor and just told the policemen to take me and my sculptures back." During this period Sev became interested in Zen Buddhism and his favorite art style became Dada. He doesn't like to explain his art. “If I sit in silence and somebody approaches me and asks, 'What are you silent about?' I tell them I am silent about nothing. That it is my meditation. Art for me and my friends was a continuation of our way of life that was difficult to explain to most people. In the process, however, we didn't become elite artists; we became outcasts.” Asked what the act of burning means to him, why it became his brush, Sev said, “Fire is a simultaneously destructive, creative and neutralizing force. It's a creative process in which I partially destroy old discarded things; my intention is to enter into dialogue with them. After they have burned and cooled, the material has changed and a new character appears, at which point my inner voice says it is time to stop. Then I clean the surface and listen for the new voice that will signal rebirth.” Beginning in 1987 Sev and his friends exhibited with the Third Floor Art Group in Yerevan. They parted ways, however, ~ 54 ~

UNTITLED 89-3. Burned plastic on Wood

after the Plus-Minus exhibition of 1991 at which, Sev says, "pop artists were plus and minimalists and abstract artists who were following European and American traditions were minus." Sponsored by their visionary friend and knowledgable art connoisseur Sergei Djavadian they formed the Bunker Art Group. “Before meeting us Sergei thought that selling art was a good business," laughs Sev, "but our spirit was contagious. Something broke in his soul, or perhaps mended, and he became one of us. He also became a businessman who decided that it is better not to sell art.” Like his colleagues Sev is excited and inspired by the opportunity to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Djavadian's collection. "It is as important for us to show our art as it is for Sergei to show the public his creation, the Bunker Art Group collection, his dream come true.” Interview by Larisa Pilinsky ~ 55 ~


(continued from p. 4)

Broken Eggs Exhibition in the USC IGM Institute of Genetics, 2002 From left to right: Narine, Lark, Kiki and Pasqual Bettio, Presenting Certificate of recognition on behalf of Los Angeles City Hall

Sergey Djavadian with his wife Elmira

Djavadian has patronized these acolyte artists as well, especially since his own relocation to California. The four artists who currently comprise the core of Bunker’s second generation – and thus represent that generation in Djavadian’s collection – all live in the Los Angeles area as well, where they have ready contact with first-generation Bunker artists, a dedicated audience and patronage, and one another. Stylistically the second generation is even more diverse than the first, especially with its wider, brighter palette and often-ambitious exploration of size and scale. But its dedication to abstraction, its reliance on the physical presence of materials and on the countervailing evidence of human gesture, and its search for beauty in apparent chaos, the second generation faithfully maintains the aesthetic means and ideals of its predecessor.

The work of the six original Bunker artists, especially from the late 1980s and 1990s, forms the core of Djavadian’s large but focused collection, probably the world’s largest accretion of Bunker art in private hands. But Djavadian realizes that his commitment to the Bunker vision and aesthetic must include the emergent second generation – not least because the younger generation prominently features women artists, giving gender balance to what had been an

Art exhibition Homage to Russian Avantgarde, City of Wes t Hollywood Art Gallery, 2019 From left to right: Martin , Lark and Kiki

Sergei Djavadian and Ruslan at the "Homeless Art" show in Glendale. Ruslan's artwork is on the right wall all-male coterie. In any case, this rare exhibition devoted to Djavadian’s collection provides a striking opportunity to see artists, art history, and a collector in the thick of synergistic action.

~ 56 ~


Exhibition, 2018 Bunker Open Door rine , Mar tin , Marina Na From left to right: ki . Ki , rk La a, Oustinov

t Ruslan in his ar


Bunker Art Show at Don O'Melveny Gallery, Los Angeles. Narine with her circular artwork

Irena Minas yan in front of her ar t work


Bunker Art Group Show, BGH gallery, Bergamot Mar tin , Lark and Kiki at the show Art Studious, Santa Monica, 2000, show received to Vigen Tadevosyan, who influence devoted d Bunker Group LA Weekly, Art Editor's Pick of the Week

Exhibition of Luciana Fontana in Italian Culture Center. From left to right: Kiki, Lark, Narine, Sev

Armenian Artis ts exhibition in North Hollywood 2019 From left to right : Kiki and Narine ~ 57 ~


Lark emerged in Los Angeles as a student of Kiki, a tutelage reflected in her current semi-abstract landscapes and other paintings. She began as a collagist and assemblagist, however, in response as much to the European "tradition" of collage as to Kiki’s informel abstraction. (She became aware of California assemblage after exhibiting her own.) The found-object works Lark produced in the 1990s and into the new century – mainly uniplanar compositions hung on the wall (and even framed) – mimic the elaborate, architectonic language of historical Russian constructivism, but leave evident the original function of the assemblaged elements, in a nod to Dada, Pop Art, and the Russian equivalent, Sots Art. For all her references to the mundane world of commercial objects and images, Lark maintains strong, dramatic structures in her compositions, often focused on circular or spiralic forms. Peter Frank

~ 58 ~

LARK Larisa Pilinsky


At the End All I Want is Harmony


LARISA PILINSKY, the artist known as Lark may have come to Southern California less intentionally as an artist than her eventual colleagues in the Bunker Art Group. But after settling into Los Angeles her fierce determination to become an artist took over and she never looked back. In addition to her evolving body of work as an artist herself, the Group drew on Lark's energy and background as a poet, journalist and even an events planner to mount and curate more than 100 Bunker exhibitions over 20 years at trending galleries and museums. "When I was a teenager, drawing people and their movements was as easy as breathing. I wanted to go to art school but my parents thought art might be impractical, so I pursued an education in industrial design. It delayed my art career for almost 20 years until my friends from the Bunker Group helped get me back on track. It was a second chance to live my childhood dream. "When I met Kiki the first thing he did was take me to the Museum of Modern Art. In Russia we were so used to realistic art, the only kind allowed in Soviet times, that abstract art in the beginning looked kind of strange to me. But with Kiki's descriptions and introductions I started finding the beauty in it. It made me think seriously about creating abstract art myself but I still was a bit afraid.” ~ 60 ~


Undaunted, Lark started as an apprentice to Kiki. "My job was preparing cardboard backgrounds for his collages and paintings. I enjoyed ripping tears in them and making lines and scratches. After that, simple surfaces started looking like rough modern art. And then, one day Kiki said to me, "I will not paint on it. It is already an artwork – your artwork!'" Although Kiki was Lark's mentor, only their philosophical approach was the same. She remembered his words, “I don’t think about what will occur when I create. I just go towards chance. But to take advantage of chance you have to be ready; then something new and original may happen.” So Lark started preparing herself to be ready for her chance. After working all day as a graphic designer she would drive 90 minutes in heavy traffic to her art studio. There she would dive right into the creation process, sometimes until three in the morning. For nine years she dreamt of quitting her full time job and was overjoyed when her boss announced her department was being eliminated. After that she fully immersed herself in art making, forgetting about it only while visiting her spiritual master Cealo in Japan. Meditation became an important part of her creation process. "I found myself using the interaction between

~ 61 ~


meditation and my art materials, encouraging images to emerge from my subconscious. Creation for me has become a dialogue with the world. I listen for voices to lead my hand and watch for objects that appeal to my eye. "I hear the rusty voice of an old metal toy, the elegant whisper of a silk ribbon, the rustic secrets of a wooden armoire, the sexy baritone of a velvet glove. Together these sensual impressions turn into actors in costumes, or an orchestra of colors, or a ballet of lines and shapes. All I need is to choose who will be the star today and who will retreat back into the shade. At the end all I want is harmony. “Eventually I moved from collages to abstract landscapes. I started by creating pure collage/assemblages and gradually proceeded to add color, first with ink, then acrylic spray, then acrylic paint. Now I sometimes do the opposite. I start with pure painting and gradually add collage elements and objects. Both styles remain important to me; in fact I would still like to experiment more with my meditation-based creative process, to see where it will bring me."

~ 62 ~


Lark found more than her freedom as an artist in her new homeland. "In Russia I felt that the most important thing was society's opinion. Here I immediately felt that my life, my personal opinion and my creativity were as important as society itself." But she soon learned that artists needed a bunker right here in the United States too. "In the former Soviet Union we needed a symbolic bunker to protect our art from the political pressures of a totalitarian state. Here we needed such a bunker to protect our art – our authentic art – from the different pressures of commercial art markets. We found it in the safety of loving friends that help each other stay true to our inner artistic and philosophical beliefs." Lark is honored to be a member of the Bunker Group and represented in Sergey Djavadian's historic art collection. "At a time when there are so many obstacles in life and so many reasons to drift apart, this new exhibition and catalog, generously sponsored by Sergey, gives us a chance to feast on the artworks in his collection, to be in awe once more and inspired by each other's talents, and to feel the Bunkers' indomitable energy surge once again." By Laurence Vittes

~ 63 ~


Despite its raw, even aggressive use of material, texture, and color the painting of Narine Isajanyan displays restrained, circumspect refinement. For all her emphasis on gesture, surface, and bold contrast, Isajanyan is a minimalist, confining her forms and her formats to simple iterations, compositions that are not so much seen as felt by the eye. In this regard Isajanyan absorbs the lessons of the Light & Space movement – California’s version of minimalism – and its succeeding phenomenon in Los Angeles, material abstraction. Material abstraction stresses the optically sensual by leaving materials in their raw state or even subjecting them to natural processes of erosion and chemical transformation. Isajanyan reinterprets these conditions into the muted elegance and traditional painterliness of the shared Bunker aesthetic. Peter Frank

~ 64 ~

Narine Isajanyan


~ 65 ~

Time Ticks on My Canvas

STATIC 2 NARINE ISAJANYAN came to California in 1998 searching for a metaphysical miraclethat the Pacific Ocean waves would bring her. “I wanted to work with the ocean to transform myself and my thoughts. When I moved here from faraway Armenia I was homesick at first, but I had wanted to be a person who has neither country nor nationality, just to be me. That became possible in the ocean where I felt my body disappear and become detached from Earth. Entering and exiting water I had no boundaries.” Ocean waves also reconnected Narine with white, the color she loved to use in Armenia. “After my arrival to America I had a challenging period when everything was new and sometimes incomprehensible. It was a discovery of freedom where everything ended and began at the same time. To symbolize it I covered everything I had at hand – pieces of wood, metal, canvas – with white color. I was also covering my beloved former life with white until I had settled into my new motherland. I was helped by the ocean, a valley of water where it was so easy and pleasant to be. I got the miracle I wanted!“ At this period Narine also came to the realization that it really doesn't matter what art materials or tools she uses. “I wanted to understand what to do with my body and my life. The most important thing was my conscious self and what

~ 66 ~


I wanted to express. I also realized I could create with both physical and non physical materials. This had been difficult to explain to my colleagues until I met Sev, Kiki, and Lark. They listened and understood, I knew I was home and could leave my white period behind.” After that Narine went through a period when she created artworks with nails. "Nails were symbols of good times in my life, like the glances my beloved and I exchanged back in Armenia.” Asked whether idea or execution was more important in her art making process, Narine answers: “Philosophy always was first, a plot already was in my head, I knew what I would talk about. The conception of an idea usually took a long time for me but it went fast after that, during the creative process. Perhaps that is why the final result was sometimes different than what I thought would happen." Then came a period when the main players in Narine's art were earth materials like sand, soil, metal powder, and time. “When I work with any material, I always include time and the infinity where we all came from and where we all go. When sand in my artworks crumbles it is a change we must adapt to. COVID-19 also causes unexpected change. Nature responds to the impact of human deeds and we all are responsible for this. We artists have to consciously address the situation and prepare for tomorrow.”

~ 67 ~


~ 68 ~

Before COVID-19 arrived Narine presented art performances in public spaces in many different countries. By using sand, soil, and natural earth pigments on her canvases in addition to conventional paints she attracted attention to environmental issues. “If we live on Earth we'd better treat our planet carefully and protect nature.” Narine remembers the times when she created big artworks outdoors surrounded by building construction in progress. Leaves would fall on her canvas, rain would come down, sometimes people stepped on them. These events made her happy "because it made me feel the time that ticked on my canvases more intensely. These traces of time created unbelievably beautiful effects. It reminds me that all that happens now is a continuation of what we did earlier; and before we notice, it is already tomorrow. I speak through my materials, my art is my word, this is about us and our time.” Narine remembers vividly how meeting the Bunker Art Group members influenced her life. "Communicating with Bunker artists was very important to me! When I talked with Kiki I was in the space of my soul, somewhere where I could find answers to all my questions and where I was always right. Kiki used to tell me, 'If you think so, it should be so.' Kiki also liked my wildness.” “With Sev I talked about earthly things. He was on the other side of reality for me. He had different thoughts about what I could do, and about the possibility of independence from other people's opinions. With Kiki I flew into space. Sev helped me to return to Earth. Sometimes, when it was difficult for me to live in peace with myself, my friendships with Kiki and Sev gave me the strength to be in harmony with the world.”


“It is still very important for me to be and work together with other Bunker members, and to show the whole world what we have said in art. I am very glad that our Maecenas Sergei Javadian continues to work with the Bunker Group and is publishing this wonderful catalog showing his Bunker Group collection from Armenia plus new Bunker creations made here in Los Angeles. "This catalog will prove that our group is still alive in California and that we are still friends, active and creative.” Interview by Larisa Pilinsky

~ 69 ~


Djavadian discovered Ruslan as a new emigré in the Armenian community of southern California. The 10-year-old had been unaware of Bunker while still in Yerevan but took keen interest in works featured in Djavadian’s collection and developed a similar formal and gestural impulse. Ruslan’s earlier paintings, not surprisingly, are filled with youthful exuberance and bravado, making liberal – but notably sophisticated – use of drip and, in particular, spray, relating his painting to graffiti and street art. Spraying and dripping in Ruslan’s hands are as much calligraphy as physical gesture, notation rather than expression per se. Having reached chronological maturity, Ruslan now works with a certain deliberation, building increasingly developed compositional contexts for his mark-making. But that mark-making, and the energy it embodies, continue unabated, a skill and a flare now harnessed but not reined in. Peter Frank

~ 70 ~

Ruslan Kasparyan

UNTITLED 1 ~ 71 ~

I Could Not Go Away Before My Muse Left


RUSLAN KASPARYAN is the youngest of the artists who followed in the footsteps of the Bunker Art Group collection of Sergei Djavadian. Ruslan was 10 years old, just arrived from Armenia, when his uncle took him to a private show of one of the Bunker Group's original members, Martin Petrosyan. “I had never seen anything like that," Ruslan says. "I loved Martin's sophisticated, whimsical drawings and asked my uncle to buy one of his works. However, it did not move me to paint myself." That changed when he saw the iconic Bunker Group show at Bergamot Art Station in 2000. "The energy of all those powerful artists together hit me like a tornado! Kiki's Bobo stared at me from the gallery walls. Sev's burned plastic assemblages radiated mysterious power. Lark's spontaneous avant-garde collages intrigued me. At that point I couldn't resist creating something myself.” Although Ruslan's mother and uncle bought him all the materials he needed to start painting, nobody explained to him how to do it. “I'd never held brushes in my hands and didn't want to use them. I felt myself to be an inventor and so my first painting tool was not a brush but a sheet of paper. I opened the back of an acrylic tube, sprayed color on the paper and then pressed the paper to the canvas. I looked at what happened with delight. From that moment I fell in love with making art. I ran home from school to start a new canvas. It was a new game for me in the beginning. Later I used those early attempts as backgrounds. "My second painting tool was a plastic straw which I had found in the house. I would fill it with water and blow the water ~ 72 ~


out through it, blurring lines I had drawn on the canvas. I used cotton balls from my mom's make-up kit as wipes. These devices all created interesting and different effects." When Kiki and Sev first saw Ruslan's artworks they praised him and commented with astonishment, "Jackson Pollock's spirit has taken over you!” "I had never heard his name before,” laughs Ruslan, “I had never seen his art. It was before the widespread use of mobile phones and computers. So I told Uncle Sergei that I wanted to see Pollock's work in the San Francisco Art Museum. For the first time I saw Pollock's work and read about him; right away I said to my uncle. 'But he doesn't paint the same way I do! He sprays paint with his brush!'" Asked whether he was discouraged when he saw Pollock's artworks Ruslan answered, “No, I was even more determined to paint and find my own unique way in art.“ At some point Ruslan also tried to follow in Sev's path. “It was inspiring to paint with fire and after Sev showed me how to do it I took a gas burner and created a few artworks in his style. But this did not attract me.” Spiritually, however, Sev had a big influence on Ruslan's development as an artist. ~ 73 ~


Ruslan asked his older friend, "How do you start your artwork? How do you know when you're finished?" Sev always answered him honestly and simply so that the young boy could understand. Sometimes Ruslan just listened to Sev and Kiki talk. “Whether they were working or chatting I experienced the powerful passion of their character. Soul was always a main character in their conversations. As far as they were concerned, without its presence there was was no art. “I also loved to watch Sev and Kiki at work – even creating alongside them. I was so excited and proud that they accepted me. Their energy fueled me and helped me to realize I had talent and my own style." Ruslan's early artworks were about 9x12 inches, his later works were as large as 4x6 feet. “I never left any painting unfinished! I went into a state of creative ecstasy and would not leave any work until I was 100 percent satisfied. I could not go away before my muse left,” he explains.

~ 74 ~


At the age of 16 in 2007 Ruslan's devotion to art waned. “Other temptations and peer pressure took over, overshadowing painting. I studied a lot, started driving – and the girls were so pretty!” Asked why he choose the seemingly incongruous profession of deputy sheriff, Ruslan answers, “I always dreamed about being a James Bond type secret agent. When I was 10 I was still playing with toy soldiers and fireman as passionately as I was with acrylics and canvases. So when I needed to choose my profession I applied to the Los Angeles sherif's academy and now I've got a job I love. “Still," Ruslan admits, "I can't imagine life without painting. My first love was art. I remember and miss that feeling of victory inside my soul when I have finished a good artwork. If no one understood what I had achieved - that was not important. I always painted only for myself, but now I am happy when people also enjoy my art.” Interview by Larisa Pilinsky

~ 75 ~


In her thickly painted abstractions Irena Minasyan contrasts two qualities of her materials, fluidity and density. Whether composing with congealed dollops of pigment or with long, attenuated brushstrokes Minasyan sets up a visual dynamic in which shapes seem to advance and retreat even as they coat the picture plane. Minasyan employs a very lively and varied palette from painting to painting, but any one painting is as likely to be dark and volcanic, even monochromatic, as it is wildly colorful. The articulation of forms finally depends not on color or even contour so much as on light itself, light that causes shadows and suggests depth, even landscape space. (Certain of her smaller works read precisely as landscape impressions.) In this regard Minasyan introduces an American sense of space into a Bunker sense of physical substance. Also “American” is Minasyan’s current emphasis on painting large canvases, yawning expanses that alternately burst with form and color and brood with atmospheric mystery. Are these vast spaces views of the heavens? Aquatic dives? Dreamscapes from a fevered world?

Peter Frank

~ 76 ~

Irena Minasyan


~ 77 ~

Impossible Otherwise


On the question of how she got into the dangerous profession of making art, Irena Minasyan answers, “I was a late bloomer. I only started painting when I was 18 years old. In my senior year in high school I took art classes and realized what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I found my authentic self in art, and art became my passion!” Irena's decision was followed by a long period of study on how to paint properly in a realistic manner. After graduating from Cal State University at Long Beach, Irena went to a private art studio. She wanted to learn how to create a strong structure in art and she did, but Irena's mentor also tried to convince her that abstract painting was for those who didn't know how to paint "properly."

~ 78 ~


His words did not resonate with what Irena felt inside. From her early years she had subconsciously absorbed vibes from the Bunker Art Group's powerful abstract paintings in Sergei Djavadian's private collection. “Sergei was our family friend and his role in conducting the Bunker Group's energy was immense. He talked about them with such love and inspiration that I had to meet them.
 "No wonder that at some point I started to feel I had hit the ceiling with realism. I wanted to get out from the heavy weight of realist dogma. I felt that I could break formal structures and achieve a new freedom of expression. I took the chance and created a few abstract works. I liked the feeling.” Irena found further inspiration in meeting the Bunker Art Group at her first university exhibition. She fell in love with Sev's philosophy of life and Kiki's artworks right away. “Kiki paints the way he breathes, and you feel it. The result is so clear and solid, as though he is making an eternal statement. Each of his works transfers his energy; each could have been understood a thousand years ago and each will be understood by future generations.” Irena felt that she had a balanced relationship with the older Bunker artists. “I enjoyed a two-way love that produced synchronicity and an explosion of energy. I was 26 but I did not feel that they were the teachers and I the student. They treated me like I was one of them. “I was also impressed by their clarity. When they said something, they meant it, and they clearly knew what they are doing in their art. They did not push their opinions on me, I was free to create they way I wanted. Their energy seemed to transcend me and spill onto my canvas.” As a result abstract art became for Irena the purest form of expression. “Canvas became my best friend to whom I can pour out my emotions, desires, fears, anything! The key is being honest! No confusion, no lies, just purity. Then and only then will an original art piece be born."

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Irena's first works were 3x4 feet; later she was drawn to larger sizes. One of her biggest was 9x7. “I wanted to enter those big canvases, as though they were movie screens. I wanted to step inside and make love to them. It is a heady feeling, that outpouring of everything you have inside.”
 “You can't hide yourself in abstract art. You appear without makeup in front of your canvas. Whatever you feel at the moment, your painting will show. I know, even if I feel shitty for some reason, or scared, all I need to do is continue painting. The result will be cool. If I notice that I start thinking I leave my studio, smoke a bit, and try to enter the flow of the river again." Sometimes Irena’s dialog with her new artwork takes longer than usual. “I just know when the conversation with a particular work has ended and I had said everything to it I wanted to say. Sometimes I feel that we loved each other but yet I was not satisfied. I would take a break and we would talk with each other later. If there was something unsaid left, there would be no peace in my soul and so I would continue working until I found that peace.” Irena says that the painting process starts for her even before she takes brushes in hand and puts oil colors on a surface. "It starts when I stretch a big canvas and clean the paints from my old palette. Like a woman who buys herself a beautiful hat and shoes in order to go to a party in the proper mood, I also prepare myself to go into a painting trance.

"The main thing for me is inspiration. When you go into a meadow it doesn't matter which flower you smell. It's the atmosphere of the meadow that is important. That's how I enter the atmosphere of creativity. Impossible otherwise.” Interview by Larisa Pilinsky

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