Andrew Tavukciyan

Artist: Tavukciyan
Photographer: Electrify

A Conversation with Andrew Tavukciyan

When did you start making art?

I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. I was actually going through some really old drawings for a school project a few years ago. There’s a self-portrait dated June 21, 2000, that says, “I Wot to by artist”. It’s pretty cool to look back on that drawing now 18 years later almost to the day.
The original plan was for me to go into architecture, but I was only ever interested in the creative aspects of it. The compromise with my parents was to study industrial design, so there was a period when my focus shifted from art to design. That only lasted for the first two years of my degree, and eventually, art overcame design. I started pursuing it as a career as soon as I graduated in 2016.

Where did you study Industrial Design?

I went to Emily Carr University of Art + Design. It was cool for the first few years, but then I started losing interest in the subject matter and would spend all my free time and summers painting and drawing. I’ve always enjoyed the process of making something tangible—working in the woodshop and ceramics studios—but never really cared too much about what we were making. Also, the minimalist aesthetic that we were being shown always clashed with my desire to ornament everything. I thought, many times, about switching my degree to visual arts, but in the end, I’m glad that I stuck it out. I’ve come to realize that the design mindset and process are more in tune with my sensibilities, so it’s been cool to see how that manifests itself in my art practice.

How would you describe your art?

To me, it’s like organized chaos. Over time you develop a catalogue of parameters and elements that you can then apply and modify depending on the form, medium, etc. I like the idea of having a style that can exist and be recognizable in any form, whether it’s two-dimensional, three-dimensional, large or small. I think it’s really important to have a consistent visual language, and having those rules helps me quantify and make sense of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. As for the actual content of my work; I don’t really know how to describe it. I just try to come up with whatever feels instinctual to me.

How did you start painting murals?

I had been doing small paintings for a few years and slowly started increasing the scale, painting some small murals for some friends in town. Right after I graduated in 2016, I saw that the Vancouver Mural Festival was gearing up for its first year. I showed up to the painting sites and started helping other artists complete their murals for a few weeks. It was a really great and necessary learning experience. The following year I applied to the festival via a contest and ended up winning a wall to paint. That was my first really big piece (around 830 square feet), and it’s sort of been snowballing since. As of right now, I think I’ve done around 10 murals of varying sizes and helped with several more.

I noticed while you were painting your mural that you always had music playing. Who is on your playlist?

Music is a necessary part of the process for me. It dictates and represents my headspace, which can heavily affect and influence the work. Recently I’ve been listening to the new Kanye album, KIDS SEE GHOSTS and Nas. milo/scallops hotel is one of my favourite artists right now. The new Tropical Fuck Storm album is really good too. And safari al’s “Little Man, You’ve Had a Busy Day” is another album I have been into while working on this mural. Hip-hop is the main genre that consumes me lately.

Who are some people that inspire you?

David Choe has been a huge inspiration for me over the years. He is a Korean American artist from Los Angeles. He had this podcast a few years ago called DVDASA that I would listen to religiously. I was obsessed. It wasn’t always specifically about art, but his perspective was really influential to me. I always name him when people ask me about inspirations because he’s been a constant thread.

Do you have any advice for young people who want to be artists?

Do as much as you can. When I was 18 I added one of my favourite artists, Skinner, on Facebook. I would just message him every once in a while with questions. One time I sent him a picture of this drawing that I had been working on for like a month. I was super proud of it. So I sent it to him and was like, “I made this drawing, now how do I get people to see it so that I can start making some money?” He responded: “My advice would be to do 50 more of those drawings and then start asking for some validation.” I felt like such an idiot for asking that question. I was pretty dejected by his response, but looking back on it now, that was one of the most useful and simple pieces of advice I ever got. After that point, I would try to complete one thing a day and over the span of a year my style developed quite fast. You just have to make something, finish it, and move on to the next thing. I was always so obsessed with spending a lot of time on one thing or leaving things incomplete but that’s a really slow way to develop something. I’m not saying quality over quantity, but to get to quality in the first place you have to work through a lot of things that you’re probably going to hate. That’s the advice I would give to someone.

Was it scary painting your first big mural?

Yeah, it was terrifying. Each one has been a bigger challenge than the last, but that’s also what I like about it.

Where is it?

It’s in Vancouver on Watson St and E Broadway, on the loading bay of a new development going up.

How was your stay in Nelson? What was your favourite restaurant?

I’ve really been enjoying myself here. It feels good to get flown somewhere and paid to do something that I would do for free. It doesn’t feel like work. The people have also been really nice and seem to be receiving the mural well, so I’m happy about that.

I went to Loka like five times. I’m a big shawarma fan, and it was easy to just grab a wrap to go while I was working. I also went to Red Light Ramen, El Taco, and Vienna Cafe a few times.

What would be your dream wall for a new mural?

An old ruin in Armenia would be really cool. Like a destroyed wall or just an old building. Even though that might be seen as sacrilegious to some people, I think the contrast of a really sharp contemporary mural on an ancient wall could be interesting. Probably a real pain to paint, but I really wanna do that one day.

Do you find your Armenian background ties into your work?

There is a lot of ornamentation in Armenian art, so maybe it has influenced me in that way. My identity as an Armenian Canadian has always been kind of confusing, I grew up not really feeling like either. It’s not that I’m not proud to be either, but my location and culture have never really been at the forefront of my identity. Granted, I haven’t been to Armenia yet, so maybe that will change once I go there. My dad is really into collecting old Armenian artifacts, like rugs, paintings and ceramics from the 1800s, so it’s been cool to learn through those.

How do you navigate the art world as a young person?

I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve just been stumbling forward from one thing to the next. I applied for this festival and got in, and that’s the only thing on my mind. Once that’s done, I figure out the next move. It’s terrifying, but I’m committed at this point. All my eggs are in this basket. I think that if you want to do this, it has to be your whole life. If you’re not 100% in, then it’s probably not going to work out. Having said that, I’m extremely lucky and grateful that my parents have been so understanding and supportive of my career choice. If that wasn’t the case then I probably wouldn’t be here right now. Their support has allowed me the freedom of not having another job—even though I probably should. That freedom means I can accept opportunities like this without having to worry about asking for time off or inconveniencing other people’s schedules. I don’t take that for granted.

Interviewer: Nicola Rough – 2018


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