By Margaux Bonnet
Kevork Mourad is one of these multi-skilled artists whose art feeds on an array of art disciplines and cultural richness. Born of Armenian descent in Syria in 1970, he obtained an MFA from the Yerevan Institute of Fine Arts in Armenia. He is currently living in New York where he produces his paintings or drawings and prepares his graphic live performances with other artists like Anaïs Tekerian in his latest multimedia production Goradz Karoun (“Lost Spring”). By confronting different time and space layers, Kevork’s artworks invite us to a new sensory experience. His creative duo with the Syrian clarinet player Kinan Azmeh provides a good example by connecting Kervork’s spontaneous drawings with Kinan’s hypnotic music and movements on stage. His artworks also call for a journey through personal and collective history. While Kevork Mourad has always considered that confronting his work with political issues was a duty to society, the uprising of the Syrian war in 2011 was a turning point for his political involvement as an artist. Thus when Kevork and Kinan performed in the Parisian jazz Club New Morning in November 2013, all benefits were donated to a Syrian association working with children. Most recently, Goradz Karoun was presented in MuCEM in New York City for the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide last April.
Here, I invite you to discover his art through his own words:
The Genesis of artistic expression: “Surrounded by so much that was visually interesting (…) in both Syria and Armenia”
I started drawing at the age of 6, and from then on all my friends and teachers knew that this was my passion. All my schoolbooks were covered in drawings. I am an artist, and from an early age I needed to express myself and found I could so with my pencil.
I’m not sure why I chose visual art. Perhaps being surrounded by so much that was visually interesting, from the architecture of my native city of Aleppo, to the crafts my mother was adept in… I never studied architecture, but I grew up in one of the oldest cities of the world with striking architecture in its historic sections, and this visual vocabulary found its way into my art. I am most certainly defined by the places in which I grew up. The art and culture that surrounded me in both Syria and Armenia formed and informed me as a person and as an artist.
Early on I was very inspired by Egon Schiele, among others. I always loved the strong, intuitive lines of his paintings. At the beginning of my career I was very much influenced by German expressionists, like Franz Marc, Emil Nolde and Edvard Munch. But the more you work, the more your own voice evolves, and becomes clarified.
The creative process: “a dialogue with the work itself”
I usually work on pieces in series, like my Mourning series or Invisible Cities, and I’ll go into this period for months or years. I think about moods, about feelings. I don’t think about the imagery, but I let myself be influenced by my senses and emotions, layers built upon each other like a fresco. Each layer of a painting is affected by the layer beneath it. I like to have a dialogue with the work itself.
A Word for All: “Working in the negative space, the untold stories, the dark matter”
The painting A Word for All was created in 2009, a turning point for me. It’s one of the early works that was inspired by tapestry, calligraphy, and the different ethnicities living in Syria. Pulling from my double Armenian and Syrian heritage, in this piece and so many subsequent pieces, I explore the negative space in a work, the spaces between objects and figures, like the holes in lace, like the silence within a piece of music. The negative spaces create moments of light, maps, and it’s the relationship between those empty spaces that defines the piece, that creates a tapestry between the different elements of the piece. The concept of working in the negative space, the untold stories, the dark matter, has been a continual element in my work since this painting was created.
When visual art meets music: Spontaneous drawing performances with Kinan Azmeh
Kevork Mourad and Kinan Azmeh, Home Within, at the Festival of the World Cultures “OKNO na ŚWIAT”(« Window onto the World”) in Gdansk (Poland), in November 2013
When I create pieces with Kinan Azmeh, we map out the piece in terms of the narrative and the emotions we want to evoke. Then a portion of the piece is pre-prepared as animations, and we both leave room for improvisation. I was always inspired by music in my art, and I have an affinity for improvisation in the jazz style, which I apply to my visuals. It is also very easy to be inspired and not be daunted by a blank page when working with someone like Kinan, who is like a brother to me, and with whom collaboration is easy—we know how to communicate and have our art work off of each other’s.
Engagement through art: “the artist has a role as a record-keeper for society”
I have been political in my art for a while, in the things I decide to address, like the environment, exploitation… But I have definitely found myself even more involved since 2011 as I watch my native country torn apart by the conflict. I have been so overwhelmed with sadness and anger at what has been happening to Syria, and that has definitely found its way into my art. I feel that the artist has a role as a record-keeper for society. The artist sees the present in a certain way, and it is his/her duty to make a record of that in the vocabulary at his/her disposal.
I was involved in a couple of projects around the centennial of the Armenian Genocide. My latest multi-media production, called Goradz Karoun (“Lost Spring”) with writer/performer Anaïs Tekerian, questions how one must convey a painful history to the next generation, and we ask these questions through the telling of the amazing story of my great-grandmother’s survival of the genocide. The piece premiered at MuCEM in April, and will be performed at Morgenland this July.
My new projects are working on an animation film in collaboration with a Syrian animator based in Germany that has to do with rebuilding Syria, also a multi-media play with Anaïs Tekerian, Anna Garano and a dancer that speaks about how one transmits a difficult history to the next generation and at last an animation commissioned by the Philadelphia Opera.
The French Claude Lemand Gallery : http://www.claude-lemand.com/exposition/happy-new-year-2015