Armenian Heritage Sends Artist-Engineer In New Direction
When Flushing resident Chris Gasparian was studying mechanical engineering at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, he enrolled in two painting courses in between his demanding engineering classes. As it turned out for Gasparian, the two classes were just enough to spark his interest in art.
But while he began gravitating towards art near the end of college, it would take another four years––and a trip to Armenia ––for Gasparian to truly embrace his passion for art.
“I felt something I had never felt before,” he said. “I had an amazing teacher who brought something out in me. I surprised myself that I did well in the classes.”
After graduating from Lehigh, Gasparian was doing consulting work in New York City, but didn’t leave his love for art behind. He set up an easel in a corner of his kitchen and continued painting, although he had not quite mastered his technique yet.
Born and raised on Long Island, Gasparian said his family’s exposure to Armenian culture was limited but he had a thirst to learn more about his heritage.
“Being Armenian always spoke to me, and after college, I wanted to get more into the community and I did, but I still felt something was missing,” he said.
At the age of 25, Gasparian realized that, although he was in the middle of a solid career, he wasn’t fulfilled and looked into a long-term volunteering opportunity with Birthright Armenia and the Armenia Volunteer Corps, two programs that enable Diasporan Armenians to volunteer in their homeland. Gasparian took a four-month leave of absence from work and left the U.S. to move to Armenia in April 2008.
Living in Armenia for close to a year, Gasparian strengthened his ties with his homeland while pursuing his passion for art for the first time in his life. He split his time between volunteering for Aquatics Armenia, a non-profit, Boston-based company with the goal of building public swimming pools throughout the country, and at the Armenian Open University, the Fine Arts Department of the National Center of Aesthetics in Yerevan. After three months, Gasparian fulfilled his volunteering commitment and enrolled as an independent student at the art university where he had volunteered.
It was at the university that he met his teacher and mentor, Samvel Baghdasaryan.
“We had an instant rapport, although I couldn’t speak Armenian and he couldn’t speak much English,” Gasparian, who served as an assistant in classes, and held English-speaking workshops, said.
Soon Gasparian was at the university six days a week, sculpting under Baghdasaryan’s guidance and improving his technique.
“Sculpting opened up a whole new world for me,” said Gasparian, who also took art history courses.
Month after month kept passing by and Gasparian realized his four-month leave of absence was not enough time for him in Armenia.” I didn’t want to leave Armenia until I found a new direction in my life. Looking back, I know I didn’t have the spiritual fulfillment I do now through art,” he said.
Gasparian continued working on his art. His technique opened up on his fourth sculpture, a man made entirely from twisted and shaped metal wire rising up from within a welded sphere. Today, most of his work relies on this medium, which he often combines with plaster to create expressionistic compositions based on the human form. One of his sculptures titled “Breaking Through” depicts a male figure trying to emerge from a tangled web of wire. It was shown at last year’s Armenian Students Association Artists Ball in New York.
Gasparian focused on creating a portfolio while in Armenia, and was able to fulfill this goal by working on his art for seven months straight. While in Armenia, Gasparian not only improved his art, but also volunteered in the country, immersed himself in Armenian culture and learned the Armenian language. Never having spoken a word of Armenian before he left New York for his ancestral homeland, Gasparian improved his Armenian language skills through Birthright Armenia’s language classes and his constant interaction with locals.
Gasparian and Baghdasaryan remained in touch even after Gasparian returned to the U.S. in February 2009. To this day, Baghdasaryan encourages and advises Gasparian with his artwork. When Gasparian found that Baghdasaryan, who is in his mid-fifties and has progressive diabetes, needed surgery and would be immobile for two months, he started fundraising to send money back to Armenia. Setting up a Pay Pal account and promoting it through the New York Armenian Students Association, Gasparian was able to raise funds to help contribute towards Baghdasaryan’s expenses.
After returning to the states, Gasparian took on a job as a New York City construction project manager. Working from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., he works on his sculptures during what remains of the day and at night.
Gasparian has participated in a collaborative art project titled “Gaza Rebirth: Artists in Solidarity”, two group shows with Armenian artists and two juried exhibitions in the past year. He has also continued his involvement in the Armenian community in New York as a member of the Social Planning Committee of the New York Armenian Students Association and a member of the Birthright Alumni Committee.
Currently, Gasparian is participating in a commemorative exhibition at the University of Rhode Island titled “The Armenian Genocide – 95 Years Later, In Remembrance”. The exhibit runs throughout the month of April and features 47 professional artists and more than 100 works of school-age children. The exhibition event is scheduled for Saturday, April 17. For more information, visit www.armeniangenocide95years.com.
Gasparian will be returning to Armenia this summer to visit friends and to continue working on his art.
“I’m always looking for a way to give back to Armenia. It was there that I was transformed into a different person,” Gasparian declared.
For more information about Gasparian and his artwork, visit christophergasparian.com.