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Colours of Life: An emotive sense of place and culture

Taron Simonian’s works on display are inspired by the emotions he felt during his travels to Indonesia, Zanzibar and Tanzania

By Jyoti Kalsi, Special to Weekend Review December 26, 2013 Image Credit:


Taron Simonian’s paintings are inspired by his travels around the world. The artist, who was born in Armenia and grew up in St Petersburg, immerses himself in the culture of the places he visits and tries to capture their essence in his work.


In his first solo show in Dubai, “Colours of Life”, Simonian is showcasing paintings inspired by his travels to Indonesia, Zanzibar and Tanzania. The paintings depict his emotions and experiences in these places, and reflect his deep understanding of the culture and way of life of the people.


“I spend a lot of time in one place so that I can develop a relationship with the people and understand their customs and traditions, because unless I do that I cannot depict the truth about them. And I always create the paintings on site, because it is impossible for me to recreate those feelings or colours in my studio in St Petersburg,” he says.


The majority of the paintings in this show are from a recent visit to Lesoit, a Masai village in the Kilimanjaro foothills of Tanzania. “During a trip to Zanzibar this summer, I was lucky to meet two Masai men from Lesoit who invited me to their village. It was a journey of over 1000 kilometres by bus and then motorbike.


We arrived late in the evening, and I can never forget the amazing sight of the villagers in their colorful garments and body paint, dancing around the fire in the middle of the forest. I stayed there for a month, living in a hut, dressing like them, eating their food and participating in the singing and dancing. I have never seen people having such a deep relationship with nature and living so much in harmony with their surroundings. I may be more educated than them, but I have learnt so much from these people,” he says.


Simonian’s paintings from that period depict the Masai in their colorful garments, the forest, customs such as the Full Moon ceremony, his thatched, cow-dung covered hut and Mama Yoyo — the village matriarch who looked after him. The paintings are quite abstract with just a few lines defining the figures, but they are filled with emotion.


“Life is so simple there that it was impossible to do complex paintings. I used few lines and chose to express feelings through colours and brush strokes because I wanted my paintings to be as simple and natural as the Masai,” he says.


The show also includes some oil-on-paper works depicting people and everyday scenes in Zanzibar, and a canvas covered with splashes of colours titled, “Colours of Zanzibar”.


“After a month in Lesoit and then in Zanzibar I was just so overwhelmed by the bright colours that I needed to simply play with these colours, which I just cannot get into my work when I am in Russia,” he says.


Another set of paintings are inspired by Bali, where Simonian spent six months. “The mountain village where I lived was extremely tranquil and spiritual. I have tried to capture the spirit of the place in my paintings of ancient temples, temple goers carrying offerings of fruits and flowers, religious ceremonies, fish sellers, the popular pastime of rooster fights and traditional dancers in colorful costumes,” he says.


In Bali, Simonian also had the opportunity to work on collaborative projects with local artists, and the painting “Sacral” is one of them. “We set up our canvases in the middle of the rice fields and spent the day painting outdoors. Later, when it started raining, we took shelter in a nearby temple and shared a meal of rice and curry. I filled my canvas with all of my experiences and memories of Bali and I called the painting ‘Sacral’ or ‘sacred’ because it was a deeply spiritual experience to be out there in the green fields working together with artists from another country and culture,” he says.


The show also includes a few paintings done in St Petersburg. “When I returned to my city after studying and working in Germany for a few years, I suddenly saw it with new eyes. These paintings of an area where many famous writers have lived and of a performance at a theatre are a tribute to the rich artistic and literary heritage of St Petersburg,” he says.


–Jyoti Kalsi is an arts enthusiast based in Dubai



Colours of Life will run at Baginskaya gallery, JLT until January 21, 2014.