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Gyumri Artist Samvel Galstyan: Teaching Children to Turn Pain Into Art

By Satenik Simonyan

Artist Samvel Galstyan has been living in one of the Gyumri’s Antaravan district huts for 29 years.

His apartment and studio collapsed in the 1988 Spitak earthquake. The huts were supposed to provide temporary shelter to those who lost their homes in the earthquake.

Later, he was temporarily housed at the Yerevan Youth Palace together with many other homeless people.

"After the earthquake, all I could paint was coffins and nightmares. The city was full of coffins. On the other hand, the loss of relatives and an unknown future also had their impact, as well as being surrounded by refugees who escaped the Baku massacres. I could not make myself draw anything else,” says Galstyan.

Two years after the earthquake, Galstyan was among the artists who participated in the Polish-Armenian artists symposium. 

He travelled to Poland and got a job offer for five years.  He was denied a visa because of some custom issues dealing with the transfer of his paintings.

Back in Armenia, he had neither a job nor a place to stay.

In 1992, the government granted Samvel a hut, where he hanged the only painting he had managed to save from his collapsed studio - a self-portrait. 

As a member of the former USSR Union of Artists, he also received two studios, but they were occupied by homeless people in those days. He never managed to regain possession of those studios. 

"Later on, I got a very interesting art therapy job offer at a psychological center. I worked there for around four years and saw how much good it did for the children. However, it had the opposite effect on me. Imagine the consequences of the earthquake and war, the way it affects the child's psychology. But you have to have lost your sensitivity not to take it painfully. I couldn’t stay indifferent and got some neurological disorders. However, my friends and my art helped me overcome it,” says the painter.

He headed Gyumri’s Merkurov Art School for several years. He now teaches children in his own hut. He says two of the students are planning to enroll at St. Petersburg's Repin Institute.

"I have students who lived or still live in huts. This, of course, affects their creative thinking. But there is no evil without good. When you turn the pain into art, the child begins to see the good in the bad. Hob, one of my students, is 14. He had a large exhibition in Yerevan and sold all of his pictures. He lives in a hut, but now they are going to build a house with his funds and sponsors. At that age, he is already a fairly mature artist. One should not be mediocre. I want my students to become literate artists, since the illiterate ones are not really artists,” says Galstyan.

He shows us the paintings and sketches and tells their stories. 

Galstyan recalls that many years ago he was told that one of his paintings appeared in a Leipzig museum and he was asked to provide information about himself. 

He has another painting at the Iranian Museum of Modern Art. Galstyan assumes that some of the buyers sold his works at auctions and that’s how these works reached the museums.

Galstyan says that Gyumri is his protagonist, with its old and new versions, poor hut districts, rich cultural structures, and city-specific flavor.

Photos: Ani Sargsyan

Comments (2)

Gustavo Amaral
Nice article, thanks for share this for us in english, congrats to Satenik for this amazing portrait of Galstyan's life!
Dee B
Dear Simonyan, where in Gyumri can I view Samvel Galstyan's work?

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