Kalayjian’s work is a creative exploration into the self and spirituality. In part due to his childhood experience of immigration and also inspired by the teachings of Buddhism, his work reflects a need for understanding and healing. The study of human consciousness has been a lifelong interest, which he pursues through Shamanic practice and the Fourth Way teachings of the mystic and philosopher George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (G. I. Gurdjieff) and his students, P.D. Ouspensky, Maurice Nicoll, and Jeanne de Salzmann. These rich and varied learnings have fused into his artistic and personal philosophy, and manifest themselves in his distinct visual language.
“Whatever concepts that I cannot express through language,” he writes, “all flow through me into my painting. In that moment, it becomes my connection a lifeline to everything and everybody.”
Vasken Kalayjian was born in 1956 in Aleppo, Syria, a descendent of Armenian immigrants who had fled their homeland to escape genocide by the Ottoman Turks 40 years earlier. Kalayjian’s passion for painting began as a young boy in Syria, and continued throughout his youth as a teenager in the United States. He met his mentors, Professor Bruce Colvin and painting instructor Rudolph Baranik, while studying Fine Arts at the Pratt Institute in New York.
In the 1970s his work chameleoned through surrealism, impressionism, and synthetic cubism before coming into his own artistic voice in the early 90s. While his early works were monochromatic and chiefly dominated by black, his mature periods move towards a vibrant color palette and expressive abstraction. His work shows a clear influence by color field painters like Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still.
In parallel to his career as an artist, Kalayjian is also a successful business owner. As a young man, Kalayjian developed a career as an art director and branding specialist beginning with his work in broadcasting at NBC. Later he formed a New York based branding consultancy specialized in global strategic branding, naming, integrated marketing and design. Today, the company has grown to a major global network of more than 120 partner offices around the globe. Vasken Kalayjian is a proud father and currently lives between Armenia and the USA. He keeps a studio at the Read’s Artspace Building in Bridgeport, CT as well as in Yerevan Armenia.
Philosophy and Spirituality
Like his upbringing, Vasken Kalayjian’s spirituality is a composite of different cultures. Born into a devout Christian family and the brother of a priest, religious iconography no doubt plays a role in his visual image culture as seen in his “Madonna and Child” series and portraiture of the early 90s. As the decade progresses, we see a more pronounced shift towards abstraction as Kalayjian literally refuses the figure through his expressive “Negation Series” from 1995. Moving from explicit subjects to insinuated emotional states, Kalayjian’s interest reflects his contemporary studies in Eastern philosophy and Shamanic practice which both underlined mind-body harmony and heightened states of
Kalayjian received formal training in Rinzai Zen Buddhism and Koan study. He also studied TM, yoga, Pathwork, Qigong, Taoist energy cultivation, The Fourth Way, and until today regularly practices meditation. The influence of Eastern calligraphy is visible in his “Zen Brush” series, and also in more subtle forms in his “Subconscious” series from the late 90s, in which script-like line is scratched into the surface of the painting with the brush handle.
In the 90s, Kalayjian became increasingly interested in Shamanic teachings, and since then, he has partaken in many Vision Quests. A nature-based practice, Vision Quests require spending extended periods of time in nature to fast and meditate. This ritual of purging in order to achieve a raised state of consciousness is mirrored in his own creative process. Kalayjian explains that when working, he can spend several days without sleep and food painting in flow-state.
Always exploring, growing and learning, Kalayjian also studied Eastern Sufi, Esoteric Christianity, and the teachings of the Fourth Way, a holistic approach taught by the philosopher and mystic G.I. Gurdjieff and his student P.D. Ouspensky. For Kalayjian, his spirituality and his art are one: a path to self-discovery where movement, line, and meditation come together through formalistic process.
New York “Millennium” Period
In the mid to late 90s Vasken Kalayjian made a name for himself in the Soho gallery scene exhibiting frequently with solo shows at the Cast Iron Gallery, the Montserrat Gallery, along with an appearance at the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza.
His “Windows on the Sacred” series received significant critical acclaim and earned him the title “An Abstractionist for the Millennium” by art critic Ed McCormack in 1996. Kalayjian’s mature works show a movement towards pure abstraction and more vibrant color schemes, as seen in the “Rays of Creation” and “Vibration” series from the early 2000s. Their large scale and generous application of paint contrasts to his earlier “Zen” and “Subconscious” works that showed more fluid, open brush strokes. In 2001, deeply affected by the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City, Kalayjian’s “Vibration” series takes an ominous tone reflecting inner turmoil and angst through dark erotic imagery.
“As if looking through a mirror, thoroughly ageless and mindless. When objects appear before a mirror, they are shown as beautiful or ugly. Everything is revealed as it is. There is no discriminating mind or self-consciousness on the part of the mirror. If the object disappears, the mirror let’s it, with no traces left. This is the pure essence I try to achieve; the state of mind, or the free working mirror. This state of an immaculate, lucid mind–me, myself, the brush, the paint, paper, canvas, emotions, the subconscious, objects, and countless things, melt into this one. But you can’t have one without the other. Like water and ice, there is no ice apart from water.”
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