“My life is art, art is my life”

The first time I saw Mount Ararat was when I was thirteen years old. I was just standing and couldn’t stop the tears from falling. I realized that I had to draw it, but didn’t have paper. I had the book “David of Sasun” with me, which I was reading at the time, and decided to draw on the blank pages of that book. That drawing has been with me for a long time and now hangs on the wall in my studio in Sydney, which is surrounded by eucalyptic trees. I love sitting in the patio and trying to feel the nature. Can you imagine that one morning I noticed that the branches of the eucalyptic tree were crooked in a way that they portrayed the real Masis and Sis that I had seen? It was very amazing…”this was the “confession” that well-known Australian-Armenian painter Milanda de Mont made during one of her interviews.

These days the well-known painter is in Armenia and is creating a new series to be showcased in September. The painter voiced hope that Armenians would appreciate her work and encourage her. “Hayern Aysor”’s correspondent met with the painter and sat down for an interview.

Milanda de Mont (Gregorian) has been painting since she was 5 years old and has had over 60 exhibitions in different countries around the world, including the United States, Germany, Great Britain, Holland, Japan and elsewhere.

“I am of Armenian origin. I was born in Iran and have been living in Australia since the age of 8. I have received three gold medals at the Iranian young painters competition and brought them with me to Australia, and the Australian government has given me the opporutnity to study and improve as an artist. I have been traveling since I was a child and have lived in different cities around the world. Traveling has taught me many things.

“Hayern Aysor”: When was your last visit to Armenia?

M. M: I hadn’t visited Armenia for the past two years and had a quench for the homeland. That is how Diaspora Armenians come to Armenia, which is like a light for them. I am a crane, I come and go. In 2006, I held my painting exhibition at the National Gallery of Armenia and donated one of my paintings called “Sevan Reflection” to the gallery.

“Hayern Aysor”: What do you “seek” in Armenia?
M. M.: I seek warmth, the most typical kindness of mankind, a sincere, pleasant conversation with a taxi driver, the wind in Armenia that blows on my face…I feel special, profound safety that is connected to my roots. You won’t find me in cafes or restaurants, but with writers and painters.
“Hayern Aysor”: Your paintings are showcased in the world’s best galleries and are part of the best private collections. You have also received a number of awards and there have been many books about you.
M. M.: My paintings are highly popular across the globe, and I am invited to the most notable exhibitions. The Giote Institute has granted me the German government’s Scholarship Award twice, and that was exactly when I established my connection with the professors at the Art Academy in Dusseldorf.
Foreigners were the first to acknowledge me. I feel proud that they like my paintings. My works have helped them recognize me and my homeland. Language is not the most important thing for being Armenian, but what an Armenian feels. Armenians can speak in foreign languages, but the important thing is for them to feel Armenian deep down inside. I don’t need to show how Armenian I am since my name is written everywhere. My wish is to organize a retrospective showing in Armenia. It is my desire to have memories in the land of my ancestors and to be able to transmit my “visions” to my people.

“Hayern Aysor”: Who supports you?

M. M.: My German husband, Peter de Mont, who is also my manager. Most importantly, he is the first person who has always been by my side. He is an official, but also understands and worships art. He loves culture and encourages me, understands my desires and helps me preserve my identity.

“Hayern Aysor”: You have traveled a lot and have gotten in touch with many cultures. What have you learned and what have you received?

M. M.: The first thing is love. Everything is empty without love-love toward people, the family, the country and life. Love for life is the most important. I am truly in love with life. It’s not that I haven’t seen bad days. I have seen hardships, and my mother’s death was my greatest sorrow. However, despite everything, it is very important for one to have faith and believe in life and be confident that life is full of colors, forms and compositions. I see them by looking at myself.

I have been a Realist, an Impressionist and an Expressionist, but that is all in the past. I have freed myself from those styles. For the past 20 years, I have been an abstract painter and don’t think that I will ever change my style.

“Hayern Aysor”: You are also involved in Performance Art. Could you tell us about that? 

M. M.: I have always been interested in music and have danced as well. I made an attempt to mix painting, music and dance, which form the triangle of art. I have performed in Australia, Japan, Germany and Armenia and have collaborated with professional dancers and musicians.

“Hayern Aysor”: Who has played an important role in your life?

M. M.: Armenian painters Grigor Khanjyan and Christian Bernard, who has undergone his first heart transplant. I met Bernard when I was 12 years old. At 17, I met well-known Australian writer Judith Wright, who taught me many things and introduced me to writers in Australia. I have worked with Margaret Woodward, who was a famous art critic, and Joseph Beuys’s most famous student, Barbara Heinisch has given me master’s classes.

I have had close ties with Arshak and Sofi Golsten, who are the most famous individuals of the Armenian-Australian community. Arshak Golsten was an artistic man and laid the foundation for the Armenian-Australian community with his Golsten School. We will start collaboration soon. I would like to share my experience with the youth and have them acknowledge my art. The older we get, the more we slant like trees whose branches touch the ground. I’m slanting as I go and am touching the ground, my roots so that my people recognize me and understand what my heart feels.

“Hayern Aysor”: Through your paintings?

M. M.: I hope…

There are two kinds of people-those who look and judge with their eyes, and those who look and judge with their hearts. I look with my heart. That is why I am an artist and my works are acknowledged. I have always been sincere in art. My painting must attract me first. If it doesn’t, it won’t attract others.

Those paintings are my light, my bridge. I am in dialogue with myself 24 hours a day. Everything, every moment creates something for me and I see everything. I try to understand everything. I never criticize and don’t like criticism. Every person makes an attempt in his life, and that attempt becomes the love of life.

“Hayern Aysor”: Can that attempt turn into a painting? 

M. M.: I can’t describe or explain. Like music, you can’t explain a painting. People understand it, and they understand because they feel. If you feel it, you understand. What is realism? Isn’t it easier to take a camera and tape, say, a tree or a person’s face? But God created trees through land and air. The universe is already invented, and I can only invent something new. I can see and enjoy the universe. The universe has taught how to forget it. I am approaching the universe, which has no beginning or end. Nobody can say when a person is born and when he dies. Nobody can say how God works in his mystical ways. Nobody can penetrate into that. Creation is like man.

“Hayern Aysor”: Do creations recognize nations? 

M. M.: Picasso is not French or Spanish-his works recognize no nations. Each person has his mission to create something that will become the beginning of something else. I represent just one branch of art. Art is like an atom, energy. Dega said: “I lived 92 years and only created a part.” Another artist after me will continue all this and lead it somewhere else. Everything develops in stages, just like schools follow one another. We have had Sezan, Picasso, and we are all hermits of the church.

“Hayern Aysor”: What do your paintings convey to people? 

M. M.: My paintings give people happiness, faith, love, positive emotions, hope and courage. Not all painters dare, and not all people in art are daring. I “hear” the courage within me every day. That voice has been with me since I was a child, and that is why I know what I’m doing.

“Hayern Aysor”: Mrs. Milanda, tell us about the colors you use when painting. 

M. M.: Many have asked me about the colors that I use and they think there are many colors on my palette. As strange as it sounds, I only work with black, white and red, which turn into 1,000 colors and shades. A true painter is one that uses few colors and manages to portray all colors of the world. My colors represent power, feelings and engage in a dialogue.

“Hayern Aysor’: How are your creations born? 

M. M.: I work seven days a week. When I create, I don’t “live”. I detach myself from my body and see that my painting turned into an image throughout the process. I leave it at my studio and leave to try to get away from it all. If the painting “speaks” to me the next day, it becomes my best painting that I accept. I burn the paintings that I dislike. But before burning, I take a photo of the given painting so that it can stay in my memory.

“Hayern Aysor”: Memory is precious. It’s interesting to know where your roots trace back to. 

M. M.: My ancestors were from Tehran and Julfa, and most of my relatives are artists. Vigen Terterian is my mother’s uncle’s son. Unfortunately, Armenians didn’t appreciate Vigen. However, he was the first jazz singer in Iran who changed Iranian music and introduced a new style that became the basis of contemporary songs. Nikol Alvandi is my mother’s uncle and Iran’s first jazz musician. Vigen’s brother, Karo Terterian is a well-known writer. My grandfather from my father’s side, Sargis Gregorian was a well-known sculptor in Julfa and had his own studio. My brother, Ronald Gregorian is a fashion designer and also lives in Australia.

“Hayern Aysor”: Mrs. Milanda, you have been invited to participate in the Florence Biennale to take place on 3-11 December 2011. Participating in an international modern art exhibition is a great honor for any artist. 

M. M.: This year began with exhibitions. I had an exhibition in Nice in February and now I am in Armenia. On October 14-28, I will hold an exhibition in Naples, after which my paintings will be showcased at the Florence Biennale to be held at Fortezza da Basso where over 650 painters from 84 countries will showcase over 2,500 paintings. I will be presenting my two great paintings called “Sensorial” and “Formation”.

The Biennale is organized by the European Parliament, the Italian government, the Italian Ministry of Culture and Florence Municipality with the UN as an official partner. When I received the invitation to participate in the Biennale, I was asked which country I wanted to represent, and I replied Armenia and Australia. I will become Armenia’s ambassador to Florence.

Interview by Lusine Abrahamyan