Edward Edigarian, An Artist By Birth


AZG Armenian Daily


In a small, cobble stoned, historic square in central Prague the
passerby notices a strange name on an arched entrance: "Anahit",
and then reads the words Art Gallery.

As you walk into the small exhibition room, you meet Anahit, a
middle-aged, ‘very Armenian’ lady who greets you with the warmth of
the sunrays in the Ararat plain. On the walls you see mostly abstract
paintings, with a strong element of Armenian medieval art. The bright
colors and the shine of golden lines in the paintings warm the soul.

This is not a gallery selling art from different painters. It is
a family gallery, where the paintings of Edward Edigarian and his
daughter Gohar are on display. Anahit is the matriarch of the family
or the business manager of the gallery. Edward is sometimes there,
just bothering his patient and smiling wife and asking her: "Anahit
karank mi hat tsekhel – Anahit can we smoke here?". Then he convinces
her also to light up a cigarette and then the double espresso arrives
from the cafÃ~H next door and the memories go back to Armenia – 1960s
and 70s Armenia, where artists lived a Bohemian life. Not much money
and not even many modern or exotic painting materials, but a lot of
friends, art lovers and plenty of affordable vodka.

Edward is turning 65, with distinguished white hair, smiling eyes
and a never-ending optimism about life, art and people.

In 1988 Edward had his home and atelier in Gyumri when the devastating
earthquake hit. He lost most of his paintings under the rubble of
the high-rise building. In 1993 he came to Prague for a few months
for a temporary painting assignment and ended up staying. What made
him make that decision? " I saw the huge interest in art in Prague,
mostly from tourists who had started to flood the former communist
country. They were buying my paintings like hot bread". Later on he
brought his family from Armenia; wife, daughter and son.

Work and life in Prague also changed his painting style from a less
abstract style of pencil and watercolor depiction of people and places,
to a more abstract genre of showing human desires, especially joyful
women and musical instruments, sometimes with red fruits perhaps
symbolizing youth and ecstasy. Why the change, I ask him? "Well, part
of it is what new painting material and methods made possible and part
of it is what the European customer likes". But the Armenian miniature
painting art is all over his works. The golden lines mentioned earlier,
are a very graphic reminder of the miniature paintings in medieval
Armenian bibles.

Edward had a rich career in Armenia. He studied painting in Yerevan
and later became the official painter of the city’s Opera and Ballet
Theatre. He painted many of the scenes for famous performances,
such as Sassountsi Davit and Leblebeji Hor-Hor Agha.

His daughter, Gohar is an aspiring painter now. Many of her works are
displayed in the small gallery and they sell well. Did she attend
a fine art school in Prague, I ask. "Well, her best school was her
father", answers Edward with a humble smile.

In the small Armenian community of Prague everyone knows Edigarian
and everyone respects him. But in the one-hour I was in the gallery,
a number of Russians also came to say hello to him, among them a
talented young sculptor.

Edward is happy with his life and work in Prague, but he is most proud
of his exhibitions in other European countries. He can’t hide his pride
when he recalls that in a successful exhibition in Norway, they asked
him to donate a painting for auction and the proceeds to be sent to
the Red Cross in Armenia. "It fetched $5,000 and I was very happy,
but when I asked the Norwegians for the money to go to young artists
in Gyumri, they said we can’t ask the Armenian Red Cross to give it to
any specific group. Well, it is OK. I know that Armenia got the money".

I ask the grandfatherly painter if art is pure talent or has a measure
of learning. He smiles and gently moves his head. "It is both. But I
think if a child grows up with art, like my daughter did and I taught
her the technique – most people’s inner talents surface".

By Mardo Soghomian. Media Analyst with Radio Free Europe/Radio
Liberty, Prague