“God gives each of us something at birth. A person doesn’t become an artist – he is simply born an artist” … and so it began for Martiros Manoukian.
Born on August 5, 1947, his talent emerged at an early age and he began painting seriously at age 11. Even as a child, Martiros exhibited his great enthusiasm for freedom, adventure, and nature. Full of energy and the desire for self-expression, he was already rebelling against the status quo, conformity, and anything “collective” in character. Once, after skipping school, he reappeared with a painting in hand, explaining that he couldn’t attend school because, “Nature grabbed me and seduced me… and I had to paint it.” That painting eventually won first prize at his art school in the Soviet Union. His unusually advanced artistic ability enabled him to enter the Academy of Art in Yerevan in 1967, directly from high school. He also traveled to and studied at the academies in Moscow and Leningrad and completed his studies in Yerevan in 1972.
Martiros’ first exhibit as an adult was in 1972 in Armenia, in the Young Artists Exhibit sponsored by the Union of Soviet Artists – an exhibit later seen in Moscow. At an unusually young age of 26, he had the prestigious honor of qualifying to become a member of the Union of Soviet Artists. He participated in numerous exhibits under the auspices of the Union during the years 1974-1986 and received many honors and awards.
Martiros holds great fondness for the people and rich culture of Armenia, Russia, and the rest of the former USSR. In the USSR, he flourished not only as a painter, but also as an artist and designer in many other disciplines. However, his material success and outspoken defiance of Communist dogma continually brought him serious difficulties. Through his art, he found a means of expressing his freedom in symbolic ways, still within the parameters of politically acceptable images.
“It was the only place to speak about freedom and so I spoke with my canvases in an easy, careful way.” Yet Martiros knew the potential and depth of his creativity would remain inhibited as long as he remained in the Soviet Union.
Finally, in 1987, his dream to emigrate to the U.S. was realized. This marked the beginning of a metamorphosis and an artistic rebirth. Martiros says, “I had all these emotions and all these dreams but no way to express them.” “Now,” he says, “I am able to express them all.”
On those rare occasions when Martiros does speak about art, his thoughts are a delight to hear:
“My style is life and I like life very much. My motif is beauty; the serenade and music are my life motif. I enjoy mixing media because art is freedom, my feelings, my victory… I do not actually know what I feel when I paint; I just paint my mood, a feeling that a camera’s eye cannot catch – some special, subtle angle that perhaps others would not see.”
His colors combine mood and movement — key elements of his work. According to Martiros, “It is like a piano player who isn’t limited to one or two octaves. Instead, he uses the whole keyboard.”
Some works by Martiros reflect something of antiquity in his homeland – reflections of centuries-old icons of Russian Orthodoxy. Others express contemporary images. All, in one way or another, celebrate love of life and freedom.