Author: Salatyn MIRZAYEVA
“By its nature, not only is the world a work of art but it is also an artist,” the great Cicero said. Indeed, every artist lives in its own world. Arif Huseynov also lives in a special, fabulous one. Each stroke in his works carries a deep thought, opening broad perspectives for discussions among the viewers of any generation. But only the Creator knows the meaning of Its creatures. Yet there is something valuable that will always be understood at the reflex level of mental memory - national traditions, customs, shades, motives. The master's technique can be easily recognised: his love for his dear Azerbaijan shines through in each of his works. Arif Huseynov will turn 77 in October. He is a People's Artist of Azerbaijan, famous Azerbaijani easel graphic and poster artist, illustrator of books for children and adults. His works The Baikal-Amur Highway, Palette of Friendship, illustrations for Hop-hopname by Mirza Alekber Sabir, Garabaghname. Pages of History made in the genre of documentary and artistic graphics are not only artistic, but also have informational value.
Arif and Sevda HUSEYNOVs welcomed us with great cordiality at their dacha full of fruit trees, and invited us to have a samovar tea with national sweets. You cannot imagine a better environment for a confidential conversation.
"We had a warm autumn. Do you prefer to spend all summer and autumn in the country?"
"I move here every summer. But due to the pandemic, I moved even earlier."
"Don't you want to return to the city? Don’t you pant for the bustle of the city?"
"My work keeps me busy. Here is my second workshop, where I am alone with myself, with my thoughts. My main workshop is in the House of Artists, where I literally spend my life. When I return home late, my home-folks ask whether I popped in just to say hello (laughs). The workshop has a special atmosphere that wraps you in a cocoon, separates you from everything earthly. Imagine, if I don't go there for about three days, then I become a stranger there. Then I have to accustom to that atmosphere again, get in touch with the spirit of the workshop and only then start creating. Solitude fuels creativity. Even if my cat comes into my workshop, I kick it out (laughs)."
"What keeps you so young and positive?"
"Sociability, optimism and complete lack of envy. I sincerely enjoy when I see other people successful. At the same time, I respect myself. It keeps me in good spirits no matter what. I’ll soon turn 80 but my main visitors are still students and kids, whom I love spending time with.
“I opened a studio for kids, where I teach them to draw. Sometimes I buy their works and urge them to spend this money only to buy paints.”
"What does happen to those works that you buy?"
"I have a collection of these works hanging in my workshop. They create a wonderful aura. My students sometimes find such unexpected color schemes that it makes me admire and discover new things."
“They have a lot to learn from the master...”
"Undoubtedly, and I never hide it. In general, an artist and a creative person should be able to surprise and be surprised. Someone may become impressed with a flower in the garden, as if he sees it for the first time, but someone will not notice this beauty at all. That’s how a soul degrades. If you take a look at my garden, you can see reeds that are taller than me (points to his gargen). People pick them off and throw them away like garbage, but here they are blooming."
"You spent five years working on Garabaghname. Are not you tired of black and white colours?"
"Graphic arts attracts me in a special way, because black also radiates light. But I admit that I was missing colors (smiles). One always wants to surround himself with the brightness of colors – both in life and in his works. That is why in parallel with Garabaghname I worked on the order of the Ministry of Culture. It was a book of fairy tales called Ashig Poetry published in three volumes."
"You have spent years to study the history of Karabakh during the creation of Garabaghname. What impressed you the most about this work?"
"I told the audience about the plans of Peter the Great related to the mass resettlement of Armenians to Azerbaijan. About the appropriation of Albanian churches and Azerbaijani monuments of Karabakh by Armenians, about our khanandehs from Karabakh and their great music, about the signing of the Turkmanchay treaty, about famous generals, and much more. I feel troubled when I realise that the historical monuments of my people are vandalized. As an artist, I am outraged by this barbaric attitude, the shelling of the monuments of the great Uzeyir Hajibeyov, Natavan, Bulbul… Many of these monuments are currently stored in the courtyard of the Museum of Art. But I several times made a proposal to install them with bullet holes in the most visited and prominent places in the city. Everyone should see it."
"Did the lockdown contribute to your creativity? What have you created during this time?"
"I am currently focused on a series of works for the national holiday Novruz. I have always paid special attention to illustrating our traditions, customs, national holidays that make our culture unique. During the pandemic, I created paintings dedicated to my favorite holiday Novruz, including Yel Chershenbesi and Su Chershenbesi. Before the lockdown I finished Od Chershenbesi. I am planning to finish the series with Torpag Chershenbesi, which is the only part remaining. However, let me introduce you to my workshop."
We pass the garden full of fig and pomegranate trees. We climb narrow stairs and find ourselves in a small yet neatly tidied workshop – quite a rare instance for artists.
“I do graphics arts, which requires the utmost accuracy and clarity. So, please pardon the creative chaos around,” Arif-muallim said before I could ask him a question. In the middle of the room is the canvas of Fitne depicting one of the characters of Nizami Ganjavi's famous poem Seven Beauties. It’s made with rich colors pleasing to the eye. The walls, hung with family photographs, gave the workshop a special cosiness.
"This is my little workshop, where I mostly make small works. This stand with family photos was created by my son, who died in an accident at the age of 27... (thoughtful). He was also a very creative person. He was making films... We continue his tradition and add new photographs to the studio. Pictures of my granddaughter are especially important. When she is not around, I look at her photos talking with her..."
"You have made illustrations for many fairy tales. Which one of them are you reading to your granddaughter?"
"You read a fairy tale twice in your life – when you are very young and when you are in old age. Perception, of course, is also different. As a child, your understanding of Kim yatmış, kim oyaq? (Who’s asleep?) is quite verbal. But growing older, you understand the hidden context: “He who sleeps misses the most important things in life."
“Nowadays many complain about the lack of fairy tales...”
"I always address this problem, and I always urge for creating something new. At the end of the day, it all boils down to funding. I have been portraying Cırtdan (Tom Thumb) for 40 years. I feel bored, to be honest. Recently I came across a fairy tale by a modern author, which struck me with a very vulgar plot. I don’t recommend reading it to children. Absurd..."
"The pomegranate tree in your garden reminded of your work Narçiçəyi, which is full of symbols, national elements and motives. How do you manage not to cross the line in such a difficult work?"
"It was the late Toghrul Narimanbayov. who created the symbol from pomegranate, which many artists still refer to, including myself. We worked together in Moscow and were friends. Pomegranate is unique both externally due to its multifaceted shape and crown on top and internally due to its complex structure. Each artist draws it in his own way, putting his own philosophy into it. As for crossing the line, one little stroke can ruin the whole work. Do you know which artist is good? The one who knows where to add paint. The color combination depends on the skill. It so happens that you think of one thing, but in the end you get something completely different. Everything can change along the way. A sense of proportion depends on the taste and sensuality of the artist."
"Was there a moment that turned something inside you?"
"Yes. Until 2006 I tried to apply modern graphics in almost everything. I experimented a lot. Then I was invited to organise an exhibition in Tokyo. It was a Japanese Eurasian company that visited Baku to get acquainted with my works. I went to this exhibition with the support of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and Mehriban Aliyeva. The exhibition was held in the very center of bustling Tokyo: it was my choice, since the goal was not just to hold an exhibition symbolically, but to show my works to the people and find out their reaction. Of course, it would be a mistake not to get around and learn about the country in order to feel the spirit of the people. I was so impressed by the synthesis of super-modernity and tradition that the Japanese can combine. They honour traditions, customs and respect their heritage, on the basis of which they create the current reality. This moment changed my view of creativity. After the trip, I rethought and changed my painting technique."
"When was the boom of fine arts in Azerbaijan?"
"In the 1960s when we had Toghrul Narimanbayov, Salahov, Rasim Babayev. There were many of them during that period. Moscow chose good ones among them and organized exhibitions. That is how the Soviet art was created in general. During that period, creative searches in easel graphics yielded positive results, which contributed to the development of all areas of graphic arts. Alekber Rzaguliyev, Nadir Akhundov, Maral Rahmanzade and many others created valuable pictures at that time. I was a late-comer in the 1970s."
"What did contribute to your development then?"
"At that time we did not have graphic arts and lithography in Baku. Every few years, I would visit Moscow for two months. It became a big university for me. I communicated with different people, young people from different countries. Now these artists are prominent representatives of art. This system has raised us. My trip with Fikret Hashimov to Czechoslovakia is also reflected in my works very vividly. I dedicated a lot of my graphic works to this country, its people and, of course, the artists (Josef Velczovsky, Pavel Vavris), with whom we became friends there. It is great that we live in the world of technology, but the disadvantage is that it moves us away from naturalness. For example, today, when I ask children to sketch, they take photos in order to do it at home. But this is unacceptable in art. What about the shadows, colors that the camera distorts?! I always frankly tell my students that I do not see the enthusiasm and ability, so that they do not waste time. Creativity does not live without love."
"Is the role of academic education important?"
"Sometimes it even hampers the development. By putting you in a frame, it distorts your vision and changes your innate technique."
"What about those who create what is fashionable?"
"We have many museums, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is run by our wonderful friend Altay Sadikhzade. People who come to us want to feel our origins, understand our colors, so they are interested in everything national. They can see abstraction and other modern trends at home. This is familiar to them and therefore they will not be surprised. I have never tried to refute any kind of art, but I believe that it should be associated with the people and their way of life. After all, you can convey better thanks to the environment you are living in. There are areas of art that are in no way part of our nature. When an artist is insincere, when he is trying to simply imitate, it will be something temporary. Even the most mediocre artist can attract the viewer if he is sincere. I don't always create what I am asked to do."
"Have you tried making portraits?"
"Yes, I made a portrait of my granddaughter. When she was one year old, I promised myself that until the age of 18 I would portray her every year. Today I have collected eight portraits of her. That's all I can give her."
"In your miniatures you reflect the ancient philosophy of Azerbaijan. If you had to create a miniature of today, what would you portray?"
"The 15th-16th centuries. Shah Ismail gathered poets and artists and created a powerful Tabriz school of miniatures, which included Soltan, Muhammad, Behzad and many others. A year after the beginning of their activities, the power collapsed, and they all left the country. But this school has survived to this day. The national motive is closer to folklore and history. I paid special attention to this direction and am addicted to all things national. That’s why I like to display precisely ancient philosophy. And I tried to teach my son Orkhan Huseynov to this. Although today we create in completely different styles, I still tried to put the correct perception into his foundation."
"What did your father teach you?"
"I looked very much like my father (shows a photo in the book). He was a primary school teacher. I still have my father's book, where he wrote his gazelles. He was fond of poetry. Skipping through the pages, I found an image of a girl with a mole on her face. The writing on the photo read "May 1943". This was the year I was born. Although Orkhan was born among paints and paintings, which explains his passion for art, this little drawing with my father's handwriting predetermined my fate..."
"Arif-muallim, thank you for your sincerity, optimism and creativity."
"Thank you for your attention to my works and thank God for my passion to create! (smiles)."