“A painter should begin every canvas with a wash of black, because all things in nature are dark except where exposed by the light.”   ― Leonardo da Vinci

Smoke, created from extinguished flame, carries remnants of light, of life. Smoke is the lingering connection between the living and the dead, between the past and the present, between the tangible and the elusive. Smoke is ethereal- delicate and other worldly. 

Watching smoke, studying smoke, I am mesmerized. It pulls me into its fragile yet compelling grasp and guides me away from convention, from our limiting reality, into a space where everything is possible. 

Leonardo’s comments on darkness and light reflect my artistic transition to exclusively study and create images in smoke. In an academic setting, I teach different styles and encourage exploration. I want artists to develop the skills that enable them to present and share how they see the world, how they feel.  Personally, about six years ago, I began to concentrate on the beauty of the image and the hidden fragility of a concrete shape, rather than the colors of an object. Starting with a black canvas, I honor nature’s darkness and light’s significance in exposing truth.  Painting smoke images builds a connection from the artist and the viewer to another world, another life.  

Some people close to me say they have seen the soul leave a loved one’s body, through the mouth, at the time of passing. Mimicking smoke, the delicate, yet strong and powerful, soul drifts through the air toward the heavens.  Like this soul floating toward eternity, we do not know when a smoke trail will end. I hope that my art helps the viewer to connect with the delicate, yet strong and powerful, world we cannot see.  

Using oil, I work on black canvases of varying size. I find that an intimate image can be conveyed on large and small canvases. Some of my larger works are 8 ft x 26 ft, like 9/11 and The Last Supper.  9/11 is dedicated to the victims of one of America’s darkest chapters. I painted 2,977 candles to represent each innocent soul lost on that tragic day. Amongst the smoke is the light of hope and remembrance for the victims of 9/11 and the great city of New York. The Last Supper was a personal project in which I referenced numerous iconic paintings within one depiction.  Honoring past artists and art works relates to my use of smoke because I am acknowledging a connection to the past while also interpreting it. I rearranged the order of the apostles, for example, to physically tie Judas Iscariot with the image of Christ’s crucifixion.  

Smoke is a reminder of how fragile life is. In this fragility, there is a gift.  Remembering that life is precious, delicate, and elusive will help us appreciate loved ones, new acquaintances, and experiences.  I hope that my paintings allow you, the audience, to stay connected to this world and the one beyond, even if just through a grey trail of light, of life.  

 

                                                                                                   Mher Khachatryan