Javad Mirjavadov: Unfathomed genius

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BY NARGIZ HAJIYEVA

ARTS CRITIC             

Azerbaijani painter Javad Mirjavadov is an unfathomed genius of the 20th century, a non-conformist and a reformer, whose masterpieces have had a tremendous influence on the development of contemporary Azerbaijani art.

Mirjavadov`s paintings are presently part of the collections of major art lovers and museums around the world. His works are either unequivocally recognized or rejected, but the further his creative work distances from us in time, the clearer one may comprehend the uniqueness of his grandeur as a classical contemporary painter in Azerbaijan, the merits that Mirjavadov has gained after many years of non-recognition by critics and viewers.

The history of the painter`s life is as complicated and captivating as his works. He was the first and the most remarkable figure of the Azerbaijani avant-garde. Though the painter was born to a well-to-do family in Baku in 1923, his ancestors were famed for being ascetics and curers. In a way, Mirjavadov followed in their foot steps, though he cured not human bodies, but human souls by his paintings. A turning point in his creative work came when he was a student and saw a reproduction of Paul Cezanne`s “Mardi Gras“, experiencing creative regeneration. This passionate, dedicated and fearless man headed to Saint Petersburg to study the works of Cezanne, Van Gogh, Matisse and other outstanding artists of the 20th century. In order to fully grasp the enormous courage of this decision, we must recall that this happened during Stalin`s rule, when taking interest in these painters was considered heterodoxy and even treachery.

Displaying the art of impressionists and post-impressionists was banned at the time and, though these works were stored in the Hermitage museum, they were considered anti-Soviet. Once Mirjavadov entered the office of Hermitage director Mikhail Artamonov and demanded: “Show me Cezanne, or I will kill you!“ Artamonov replied, smiling: “Why kill me, we will show you everything.“

Owing to a miraculous set of circumstances, Mirjavadov was allowed to enter the Hermitage repository, where he embraced with his whole being the paintings by El Greco, Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Cezanne. Later he asked the art gallery director why he had not called the police, but decided to help him instead, and Artamonov said: “No one in the whole country needs this. But here you are, rushing in like the wind, a man from another land, and all you need is art and nothing else, just look at you!“

However, Mirjavadov`s inquisitive mind did not confine itself to exploring art at the Hermitage, and, while in St. Petersburg, he also studied the art of the peoples of Congo, Benin and Ivory Coast at the Museum of the Orient. Further, he sought information about the Turkic nations` traditions of Shamanism.

Museums and books became his passion. Having returned to Baku in 1955, the artist settled down in the countryside and began creating abstract relief samples from tar, sand, cobble-stone, bitumen, timber and metal. The owner of the summer house he lived in, a teacher of Marxism and Leninism, demanded that the painter remove from his property “all this anti-Soviet nightmare“, referring to the abstract compositions drawn on large boards. Javad dug the compositions into sand, hoping to extract them later, but, in fact, “buried“ them, as the property owner subsequently revealed the painter`s secret and turned the area into a vineyard…

So, Javad Mirjavadov`s entire one-of-the-kind heritage has been essentially lost. His life and creative activity unfolded apart from the Socialist art, which encouraged depictions that promote Soviet ideology in some shape or form. And it wasn`t by mere chance that Mirjavadov said: “I live in a parallel dimension. I have my own Azerbaijan, my own flag and my own anthem!“

The nature of the Absheron Peninsula was an inspiration for the artist, which enlivened his creative outlook. The artist`s conscience remarkably captured on-rock carvings of primitive human beings, ancient volcanoes and archaic graves. In his paintings, Mirjavadov reflected upon all the layers of world culture — spanning from Oriental miniatures and antique art to African masks and the heritage of western Europe`s great artists.

Mirjavadov`s far-reaching view explores how a man can be wise or silly, loving or lukewarm, noble or faint-hearted. His paintings indicate the versatile colors and mixture of human qualities. There is not a single bit of idealization or lies. Due to his straightforward and independent approach, non-compliant with Soviet ideology, the artist was shunned by the political system and did not live long enough to receive due recognition. 1985 was one of the most challenging years of his life. Persistent financial constraints, health problems and — the most disappointing of all – non-recognition of his talent, caused the painter to fall into a world of darkness. In one of those days the elderly, ailing and down-hearted artist asked his wife to turn on the TV, and on the screen was the smiling face of writer Chingiz Aytmatov, who just arrived in Baku. Half an hour later Mirjavadov and his spouse were at the guest house, and the artist told the crowd of admirers that he would be the first to meet the renowned writer. A minor squabble ensued, and Aytmatov`s friend, writer Leonid Latynin, came out after hearing the noise…Having looked at the slides of Mirjavadov`s paintings, he unexpectedly asked the Mirjavadovs to come in.

This meeting was a turning point in the artist`s life. On the following day, Aytmatov came to their apartment, which was full of Mirjavadov`s drawings. On the same day, a huge canvass entitled “Phaeton“, created by the Azerbaijani painter, became part of Aytmatov`s private collection. Moreover, the “Fire“ painting soon ended up in Arthur Miller`s private collection, while “Somnambulu“ was taken by Gabriel Garcia Marques, who said: “I will hang up `Somnambulu` in the study at my apartment in Paris.“

Mirjavadov`s first private exhibition took place in 1987 when the artist was 64, and it was the first-ever opportunity to familiarize a wide range of viewers with his works. In 1987, when the breeze of freedom swept through the country, the daring painter was unexpectedly elected to the administration of the Union of Artists; the documentary “This is Javad“ about the artist was shot; and the reproductions of his paintings were published in the Gobustan magazine. A year later, Mirjavadov was named a renowned art figure of the republic. In 1988 Mirjavadov`s drawings were included in an exhibition held in Japan. Mirjavadov got his first opportunity to travel abroad — to faraway Denmark — in 1989.

“I particularly rejoiced that the first country I could go to was a monarchy, to the aggravation of the communists, and at times I shouted on the streets “Viva the Queen!“

But as early as in 1988 Mirjavadov was diagnosed with the ruthless “atrophy of the brain“. The painter battled the illness for four years before he died.

The artist was fond of music…Once he asked his wife: “When I die, make sure you look at my eyes. If they are shut, I was born to be a musician, but if they are open, my life was on the right path.“

He passed away on a train. Suffering from severe illness and still unrecognized, he has proven with his whole life that he was a real painter. Javad left this world with his eyes wide open.

BIO

Born January 19, 1923 in Baku, Azerbaijan.

1949 – Graduated from A. Azimzade State Art College in Baku.

1949-1954 – Mirjavadov lived in Leningrad and worked as an unskilled laborer in the Hermitage, where he learned the art of non-Soviet painting from great masters, mostly owing to M.T. Artamonov – the director of Hermitage.

1970 – Participated at art exhibition for the first time.

1988 – Awarded the title of Honorary Art Worker of Azerbaijan SSR. Javad Mirjavadov passed away on June 24, 1992.