31 July 2020 | Interview

Interview with Romeo Melikyan

While browsing through Instagram, I casually stumbled upon Romeo Melikyan, a young, expressionist painter, living and working in Armenia. The dark nature of his works, even though sparkling with color, hit my eye with lasting interest. Since he is living and working in Armenia, he agreed on talking with me through a webcam. I got to know Romeo as a very polite, educated, and humble artist, regardless of his remarkable success in young years. This is what we talked about.

Velártez: Romeo, you were born in 1987 in Tavush, in Armenia. How do you remember your childhood?

Romeo: Shadows of war are covering the memories of my childhood. Kids of my generation spent their childhood in shelters and basements. I’m living very close to the border of Azerbaijan. Our two countries are fighting over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, and one day, Azerbaijanian troops attacked us. When the war was at its height, I was a first-grader. The violent and dark prevailing circumstances influenced my artistic way of thinking. Until this day, the conflict and the war are still going on. My studio, where I live and work, is located right in the heart of the zone.

Velártez: How did you start as a painter?

Romeo: I began painting when I was three years old, and at the age of ten, I already decided to become a painter one day. That was all that interested me, and each day I dedicated to it all of my free time. Even my teacher said to me that my way of living would be that of an artist. Other people were saying similar things to me. So what else could I’ve possibly done (laughing)? Painting, during my early years as well as today, is nothing I can predict in advance. It happens, and it is always present in my life.

Velártez: How did you develop as an artist, Romeo? Especially during your early years.

Romeo: The beginning was not easy. Especially at the art academy. I was a very stubborn student trying to push my way of thinking and working through that time. I can say that the relationship with my professors was not comfortable. But eventually, during my fourth year, I slowly convinced them that I was on the right track.

Velártez: What kind of problems were you encountering? And how could you convince your critics?

Romeo: My artistic freedom was in danger. My professors did not like the expressions echoing from my works. They even tried to expel me from the academy because of my style. However, my drawing teacher encouraged me to stick to myself. Later, I went to university only to take the exams. The rest of my time, I was buried in my studio painting endlessly. But regardless of all the criticism that I received, the jury always liked my works. After graduating, Poghos Haytayan, a well-known and honored Armenian artist, came to my studio and asked me why I did not continue my studies at the academy. However, after looking at my pictures, he said that my studio is the academy. I guess that moment was the compensation for the personal sufferings I had to endure. He even wrote an excellent article about me.

Velártez: Why did you choose for your painting style? Why your specific images?

Romeo: We don’t choose the style we paint. It is given to us from above. My works usually depict contemporary, actual events and carry a message for the future.

Velártez: Can we discuss your development from your early paintings to today?

Romeo: In my early years, I painted mostly nature, trees, flowers, and village themes. Coming to the city and studying here, the prevailing architecture and urban environment, which impressed me very much, influenced my development. Urban life needs to be revised, and I emphasize that in my work. My current style began in 2009, and I am developing it until today. Ruins and abandoned cities fire me as well. A theme that often appears in my works.

Velártez: When I take a look at your work Romeo, you often paint crowds of people inside or outside of representative buildings that seem to have passed their glorious times or scenes of a very dark nature related to war and revolution. Why is that?

Romeo: The crowd symbolizes power. A mob can make a change. A group of people gathering together can’t do much. But a crowd is the beginning of a new era. It has happened many times in the past. For instance, while we are talking, thousands of people are gathering together in Bamako, the capital of Mali, calling for the president to step back. We will see how this will end.

Velártez: In 2011, you graduated as an artist at the state college of arts in Armenia. Only eight years later, your works occupy a permanent exhibition in the Modern Art Museum of Yerevan. That looks like quite a career to me. How do you feel about it?

Romeo: The director of The Modern Art Museum of Yerevan, Vardan Vardanyan, is a good friend of mine and one of the first critics of my artworks. I owe him a lot for excellent assistance and encouragement in the early years of my career. I have worked hard and given up many things to get where I am today. Sometimes I even missed participating in my exhibitions cause I felt that I had to finish work. I cannot sacrifice the art, but I give up a lot for it. This permanent exhibition is the platform where I find the possibility to express myself the best way and what to showcase what I have done during my long years of work. It was a mind-blowing moment receiving the confirmation.

Velártez: What can we expect from you in the future?

Romeo: Only development. I want to exhibit in Europe and show my collages, objects, and sculptures.

Velártez: What is it that inspires you?

Romeo: The music of Johann Sebastian Bach, which is always playing when I work. But it is mostly the human condition of my country and the world that inspires me. There is a lot of negative energy spreading across it at the moment, and I try to show that we can find a way to overcome it. Everything is in people’s hands.

Velártez: Which artists, moves, and styles do you like the most Romeo, and what else interests you except art?

Romeo: I love Anselm Kiefer, Lucian Freud, Eduard Munch, Bernard Buffet, Edward Hopper, Max Beckman, Georges Roualt, Oskar Kokoschka, Francis Bacon and Petra Breger, and except art, I relish swimming and ping-pong.

Velártez: Romeo, thank you very much for your time. I’m looking forward to working with you.