Born Armen Kankanian on April 9, 1959, in Yerevan, Armenia, is the youngest of three children. His father was a mechanic at the local government-run light bulb factory and his mother was a Librarian at the government-run University of Yerevan. The Kankanian family was by no means wealthy, they were simply fortunate enough to have regular meals and modest housing in an time where poverty existed in Armenia.
Kankanian knew from an early age he wanted to be an artist, although he trained to be an Architect. Completing his university studies at the age of 23, Kankanian earned a degree in Architecture. After graduation he was hired by the Armenian Government Project Institute as an Architect. Kankanian’s drawings and painting’s during his early years fit well into original thinking and symbolic art. Kankanian’s study of architecture, rooted him in the well springs of Armenia’s rich culture.
Kankanian’s early paintings are highly symbolic, for relaxation he paints some that are not. Here he simply evokes the spirit of beauty. Unlike Botticelli’s famous teatment of the theme, Kankanian’s nascent Venus still dwells under the sea, among the wondrous creatures of the deep. The shape beneath her shoulder represents a fetus.
As an architect, Kankanian developed the master plan for the town of Amasia, rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1988. He also designed a traditional Armenian church for the city of Masis. As a practicing Architect, Kankanian won numerous architectural competitions. All the while, he also continued painting, knowing this is where his true calling lay.
Years in the United States
In 1990 Kankanian was selected to represent Armenia in an Architectural competition sponsored by Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech). Kankanian won the competition and was offered a one-year postgraduate scholarship to further his studies in architecture at Virginia Tech. During that year Kankanian decided to become a full-time painter. He taught art classes and developed four children’s books, promoting art activity. These books were copyrighted in the Library of Congress. The Educational Cultural Center, an organization dedicated to bridge cultural gaps through various training programs, published Kankanian’s books in both Spanish and English and sponsored Kankanian for a US Permanent Resident. In 1999 Kankanian became a US citizen.
Since Kankanian’s university degree was in architecture, he incorporated many architecture elements in his paintings. (Refer to Figure 2). When Kankanian moved to the United States he was encouraged to follow his passion of painting. Kankanian has exhibited his paintings at numerous art galleries in the Washington, DC, Northern Virginia and Maryland area, including: Gallery W34 in Georgetown; Athenaeum Museum, Alexandria, VA; The Prince Royal Gallery, Alexandria, VA; von Brahler Ltd./Gallery, Alexandria, VA; Torpedo Factory, Alexandria, VA.; Artexpo, Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, NY; Décor gallery, Rockville, MD.; and Moscoso Gallery, Washington, DC to name a few.
“Each of my paintings tells a story,” Kankanian explains. “In the twentieth century, with the predominance of abstract art, there is a lot of “feeling,” but not much of a story. I think it is time again for paintings to represent something, to give some sort of message and convey the artist’s outlook on the world. Perhaps this is why I go back to art of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries for inspiration.”
While Kankanian is able to give detailed explanations of each of his paintings, he stresses that he likes people to study each of his paintings and “find their own stories.” Often others’ insights surprise him and help him grasp new aspects of what his imagination is conveying through this symbolic, visual language.
The symbolic on the column, repeated around the woman, is the sign for a human figure. The man and woman dwell within each other, but much has been lost in the recesses of the mind.
Kankanian’s financial situation, throughout the1990’s, was grim as he lived from hand to mouth. Kankanian was not only faced with a new challenge, a new country, but a limited command of the English language which further tested his resiliency to persevere and to continue painting. Kankanian knew in his heart, he would have to find work or return to Armenia. An architect friend suggested he attend the Washington DC Home and Design Show, as there might be high-end home-builder’s or architect’s in need for custom mural’s. Kankanian attended the show and managed to meet a home-builder that was in need of a custom mural for a multi-million dollar home. Kankanian was commissioned to paint the mural. The home-builder was very satisfied with the final product and recommended Kankanian to other home builders and architect’s who might be in need for custom murals. As a result, Kankanian found himself busy painting murals in high-end homes. Kankanian always managed to get projects. Through the years, Kankanian’s work has become well known in the Washington DC, Northern Virginia and Maryland area. His work has been featured in a number of magazines, such as Home and Design, Washington Times, Catholic Standard, Congressional Record, World & I to name a few.
Since the mid 1990’s, Kankanian devoted himself exclusively to creating custom murals (Refer to Figure 4) for multi-million dollar homes, restaurants, churches and other commercial establishments, but he always maintained private time for his fine art, continuing to refine and paint subjects and scenes solely for his own pleasure.
Experimenting with color and light, Kankanian exhumed memories that sustained him throughout his stay in Armenia, Eastern Europe and the United States. For the first time Kankanian was able to separate his public work from his private paintings. While he was able to meet the financial necessities of his family and venture into the depths of his abilities in murals, he silently and privately continued to paint, but only for himself.
In 1993 Kankanian was commissioned by Saint Aloysius Gonzaga Church Renovation Committee, the oldest Catholic Church in Washington DC and mother church of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), to clean, repair and inpaint the original paintings. Kankanian was also commissioned to create two original murals in the back of the church. (Refer to Figures 5 thru 7)
Kankanian, an immigrant from Armenia, was brought to Saint Aloysius by Art Consultant to the Saint Aloysius Renovation, Bob Murray. Murray knew that Kankanian was uniquely qualified to restore the church’s treasured paintings by Constantino Brumidi, an Italian-American historical artist, best known and honored for his fresco work in the U.S Capitol Building in Washington DC . Brumidi painted the altar and two side paintings in the Saint Aloysius Church. Kankanian took great pride in the fact that, as an immigrant, he was preserving the work of another immigrant, Brumidi.
Kankanian spent countless hours locked away in his studio, cleaning the Brumidi paintings and repairing the canvases, a process called “in-painting.” Kankanian’s work with the Saint Aloysius paintings has, in fact, attracted the attention of Barbara Wolanin, then with the Office of Architect, U.S. Capitol, “who has spent much time with Kankanian on the Saint Aloysius renovation,” says Murray. The June 1st, 1994 edition of the Washington Times Magazine featured Kankanian’s work at Saint Aloysius.
The atmosphere of Kankanian’s paintings are romantic, soft and simple, enhanced by architectural accents, flowing fabrics and a wide range of textures. He displays a range of sediments, often contained within private, intimate settings.