Albanian artist Ardian Tragaj lived through some incredibly dark and difficult times. Albania has a lengthy history of occupation, corruption, and revolt. The country was occupied by Italy during World War II, following which the Communist Party gained control until the revolts in the early 1990s. Though the current government is stable, history of revolt, corruption, and violence permanently affected Ardian and inspired his artwork.
“At first glance, my portraits look like deformed heads, but deep down they symbolize hard times and political systems. They are also artistic attempts to discover human monstrosities and their conflicts for dominance.”
Ardian has often found that his opinions regarding politics and the state of his country were the opposite of those of his friends, so he found release through his paintings. The complexity of his thoughts are much better expressed in his portraits. In addition to his painting, Ardian is a financial contributor to a number of associations in his country like the UN Program Empowering Vulnerable Local Communities, that help people in need.
How did growing up in the midst of political turmoil in Albania affect you?
My country has many legendary stories, and is also a place of wisdom and paradoxes for a foreigner. It is a place of stunning beauty and of unregulated garbage containers, of tragic songs and stunning lullabies. We brought down the dictatorship and found ourselves free, but we did not know what to do next. The right of freedom of speech and thought was won, but we started abusing it. We lost orientation and continue to wander around, shrinking, and transforming constantly as characters.
This is a tragic thing for a nation. Some of the most important codes, like freedom, human dignity, and morality were gradually replaced by greed, gratification, and self-enrichment. To us, the thirst for profit and the chaotic movement of a democracy without rules and laws, unfortunately, remains the same. I think these were the first motives that gave direction to my creativity. My art is engaged by the variety of portraits that created and alienated the so-called ‘democracy’.
I believe that the Balkan atmosphere, and especially the Albanian lifestyle, has so many elements to provide us with stories. Democracy in my country came after a savage dictatorship of 45 years and it is still very fragile. In an atmosphere where the impact of the legal state leaves much to be desired, where the law is made by the strongest people and the life of every individual is insecure and depressing, many people see self-defense and revenge as the only option.
Can you tell us a little bit about your art style and what your figures symbolize?
I did not go to art school. In formulating my portraits, I hear the inner voice of the realms where I live. That rumble is constantly within me. I have spoken to the artistic subject in my way, reaching a tacit agreement with their forms, depth and movements. I have given to them what they lacked and I have taken from them what I’ve missed. My style is the everyday language, it is the color of today and the imperfect tomorrow.
I charge my figures with ‘the duty’ to take the role of an actor on stage and to act in the hard, ugly roles of tragic and comic characters. Their wealth, greed, and unbridled power reveals to the spectator the perverse world which they tried very hard to hide. They are nothing but a miserable presence encountered everywhere, and should not be considered only Albanian portrayals, but also Balkan and international. An example is the portrait titled The Greedies or the one titled Abusive Ruler Before the Mirror. Both portraits have greed and vice written on their faces. These things make a man ugly, no matter how powerful or wealthy. My portraits carry powerful contradictions that make them interesting to the viewer. The fear that they inspire does not derive from their physical condition, but from the phenomenon which they have conceived in themselves.
What does this particular series represent? What do you want your viewers to take away from the works?
The works in this exhibition are my perception of the defamation of character and human spirit under certain circumstances. They represent the devastating effect power has on society. My art has always attempted to illustrate cosmopolitan topics where the focus remains on the fate of the individual. I would like my audience to feel anger and hatred, not for the paintings as artistic creatures, but for the roles that they have undertaken.
What does the work titled The Clintons signify?
This is a question that teases the depths of my consciousness. When you see the wild face of the portrait titled “Modern Capitalism” you feel despair and even lose hope for the human society. The artwork on Clinton family on the other hand expresses the other side. In my opinion, it expresses the human face. This is a family committed to public service, humanitarian motives, peace, and development. This is the reason I chose to paint them together. I have also left a note on the back of the painting that says “A gift for the peacemaker Bill Clinton”.
Collecting art is a highly involving and emotional experience. The artist’s process and intention are some of the factors that make one fall in love with his or her piece. Learn more about our artists’ creative methods and fascinating techniques in the Center Stage and Artist Techniques categories.
Ardian Tragaj’s work will be on view at Agora Gallery now through October 11. You can also see more of his work on his ARTmine page. If you have any questions about the artist or his process, please ask us in the comment section below!