Javad Mirjavadov rarely put his thoughts and feelings on paper with words. Usually, they were blazoned across canvases in passionate hues which he drew from the sun. Today, his paintings brighten museum walls in Baku, Moscow, Paris, Rome, and London, as well as the private homes of such celebrated thinkers as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Arthur Miller and Chinguiz Aytmatov (Kirghiz writer).
Published here for the first time in English are excerpts from his diary which provide provocative insight into his character and the evolution of his work.
Excerpts from Mirjavadov’s Diary
Heart Attack. January. It seems to me that all the winds, blowing in the Absheron Peninsula, sift through the cracks in the walls and windows in this hospital ward. At night the cold wind howls like a ghost outside my window. It was on such a night accompanied by such wailful sounds that my birthday arrived: sixty.
My eyes won’t close in sleep. Thousands of thoughts race through my mind. I have no visitors. The whole world seems to have forgotten me. No one needs me. Only my wife-the most pitiful and miserable creature in the world-is standing day and night over my head, guarding me from death’s grasp.
I’ve died a thousand times in my paintings and now to die one more time seems so easy. Here I am, lying in the filth of this ward…I’m not complaining and criticizing anyone-I’ve been a happy man. Dying was sure to happen sooner or later. It’s destiny. The most important thing is that I’ve never betrayed my conscience. And I never will. I’ve lived just as I’ve liked.
I’ve spent almost all my life out in nature, enjoying and loving everything created by God. I’ve drawn my colors from the sun and copied the blazing splash of these colors on my canvases. I’ve mixed it with the spirit of my heart and soul . . .
I must have been living with all those senses inside me since my childhood, when I used to walk barefoot in my grandfather’s garden in Fatmayi-a village near Baku. It was then that those senses crept into my blood from the scorching soil through the hot summer sun’s rays and awakened my spirit. Those senses grew together with me and matured. I carried them through my youth up until today. Nothing can smother those senses inside me. They have given me strength, bursting my brain . . .
And now, look at me, my feet are hardly able to support me. I pray to God, beseeching Him to give me time to accomplish my last works. Is there another life beyond this one? A world, ruled by wisdom or manifested in some other shape? Do other worlds exist? Everything is relative in life-the world which we can see, and the world which we cannot see. Maybe, we return to this world after our death and when it sometimes seems that we act against our will, in fact, it is our memories ruling and directing us . . .
A painter is someone who can foresee the future. A painter ranks art, his creative activity, higher than life itself. Art always precedes science. It opens up broad horizons for thinking and assists people in understanding themselves and their surroundings. It helps them see realities, which escape a normal glimpse, a naked eye. An artist is a prophet. Painting is not a profession, it is a gift, conferred by God…
We start crawling on a carpet. It is then that the rich variety of colors and ornaments of carpets get engraved on our minds leaving their traces there. And who knows, maybe, our way of thinking as an artist starts getting shaped from that time onward . . .
Painting teaches me to realize the essence of life. Painting is insanity and will power at the same time. These two notions, of course, contradict each other-but only at first sight.
One more thing-a painter needs a long life, but that’s an absurd idea because an artist spends out his life, bit by bit, in his works. He gradually comes to realize certain realities, and, thus, expends his life on his paintings, living in them. The flames in the painter’s heart, his gradual burning-lightens the world which, in turn, surrounds him.
The Influence of Cezanne
Cezanne led me by the hand to great art. I found well-constructed color, form, and space in his system. With his analytical style, he made the world more real. No, he didn’t substantiate matter, he personified it. He gave breath to it by revealing its structure. He could take a common object…penetrate its essence and reveal its relation to life. Cezanne’s constructivism proceeded from the Renaissance classics’ multiform perspective. His color modulations, as Van Gogh put it, were like Wagner’s rich palette of sound.
During those years in the museums of the Soviet Union, they never exhibited the Impressionists. So, I went to the Director of the Hermitage and told him that if he didn’t allow me to look at Cezanne’s’ works, I would kill him. And so, he showed them to me.
Thirty years passed when I met B. Piotrovsky in Baku who knew about that incident. As he didn’t have enough time to visit my studio, I showed him photos of my paintings. He went into raptures and exclaimed! “Babylon! Babylon! It’s great art! It’s as great as the pyramids of Egypt. It wasn’t in vain that you aggravated the entire Hermitage!” The incident-like a page in our lives-made us laugh when we remembered it.
The Influence of African Art
It was in 1955 when I first saw a reproduction of African sculpture. Such plasticity I had never seen before-measuring systems opposing each other, outbursts of feelings, strange combinations of different materials-wood, wisps of grass, natural hair, glass, bone and fabric . . .
The aesthetics of this extraordinary form of art shook me and dwarfed all that I had learned from classic European art.
To become more familiar with the African culture, I frequented the public library in Moscow and read many books on African culture. Finally, I arranged to go to Leningrad (St. Petersburg) and visit the Museum of World Ethnography. There I saw Negroes’ figures, carved from wood, Benin’s bronze “heads”, women’s faces, plainer than reality, and women’s eyes-wide-open in amazement or horror.
It was behind the prominence of those eyes that I saw man’s passionate eagerness to burst forth beyond his physical shape to free himself and merge with space. There I also saw the stone statues of Oceanic countries, Siberian masks, rituals of Shamans, Burmese figures, Indonesian paintings, and Tibetan icons.
About the same time there was an exhibition in Moscow of Mexican art. I grew deeply interested in their ancient stone sculpture and was captivated by some of their modern painters. At last, I had found myself in a mysterious world of colors, which I had been longing for thousands of years.
Break with European Tradition
When I returned to Baku, I decided to totally break with European tradition. It couldn’t satisfy me with its dry emaciation any more. I started destroying my paintings. When I was finished, not a single canvas was left . . . I was 35 at the time. I’m not sorry for destroying them. I only regret that I had also destroyed a different style that I had created.
I remember thinking that when Van Gogh had been my age, he had already created all his works. He had already died. But I had done nothing yet and it frightened me. I became very depressed…
Deep passions were desperately tearing my inner world and all this process was effecting my psyche. I remember walking around like a crazy man in those days. I grew into an impossible person to get along with. Van Gogh himself says, “An artist is a saint, but at the same time, he is somewhat of a rabid dog.” This process-or metamorphosis–or conversion must be familiar in every creative man…
Journey to His Own Roots
For me, personally, the Absheron Peninsula, especially the part known as Gobustan is sacred-not because it is where I first opened my eyes to see the sky and not because in this small area, you can find sea, mountains, deserts, volcanoes, temples rising from the depth of centuries and ancient graveyards harmonizing with antique Mexican art . . . and it’s not because primitive man has lived here and left us pictures he had drawn for us to remember him by. The most important thing about this land is its unconquerable spirit.
I’ve roamed about and know every inch of this land. It is this land that has made me an artist and conferred on me patience, fortitude and security. It is this land that has forged me into the artist I have become.
I remember one summer in my childhood, my grandfather, my brother, and I were walking along to a village. The weather was very hot. The gray vacant lots around us stretched endlessly. Though we caught a glimpse of a cart in the distance, it soon disappeared behind the hills. We had walked a long way under the red, hot, scorching sun, when, suddenly, we saw some watermelons in the middle of the road. We were puzzled. How did these melons, enveloped in what seemed to be a flaming light, appear there when all around us there was throbbing heat? My grandfather said the cart owner must have had something to do with it-that it was his handiwork, and that seeing us in the distance, he must have left them on the road just to make the children happy.
I will never forget the warmth, the color, and the taste of those watermelon slices that my grandfather cut for us. Nor will I ever forget that cart owner-though I have never seen his face.