Jean Boghossian is an artist on a mission to make the world a better place

“Fire is my language,” says Jean Boghossian, an artist to whom blow torches have as great a potential as painter’s brushes. His focus on using the power of flames to create art is something that deeply inspires him to continue being. “It is something that has been done by many artists, but it’s not controlled as much as I control it,” he explains. “It’s about control of a medium that is uncontrollable.”
Books, chairs, paintings and other items have been transformed through Boghossian’s diverse techniques that manipulate fire, flame and smoke. Among many things, he is currently working on a movie of a building that he owns being burned. His work with fire has also been selected to represent Armenia, his ancestral homeland, at the Armenian Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale. “The Venice Biennale is a great challenge. Something happens and you’ve never even dreamt of it happening and all of a sudden it unfolds and you have a chance to be there,” he says.
In fact, Boghossian is much more than an artist; he is a sculptor, painter, jeweller and president of the Boghossian Foundation, founded in 1992. Of all his activities, his art is what he strives to focus on most. As a child, he began by learning jewellery design. It was only in his late 30s that he began experimenting as an artist, after he began using a painting set he bought for his son, which his son never used. Art lessons and years at two art academies followed, but it was an invitation from a Lebanese friend in the 1990s that moved his art to the next level.

“She told me I have a space to exhibit and I’m going to exhibit my art. Come and exhibit with me,” he recalls. Boghossian gave her six paintings for one of the four walls in the space at the Jacob Centre in New York. When the exhibition was over, Boghossian’s friend called him from New York to relay the information that the only art to sell had been his. Having found his stride, he made what he refers to as a leap into abstraction, which for him felt like liberation. One intriguing aspect that perhaps places Boghossian apart from many artists is that he is not interested in whether his art sells. “This is why people ask me, ‘Why do you paint so big?’ I say so that people don’t have walls to hang it, so I can keep it with me,” he says.

Much like the artist that heads it, the Boghossian Foundation also sets itself apart. Such a foundation, Boghossian believes, could only have been launched by an artist, using art as its only language, but at the service of humanity. “This is where we differ between the people who show their collections and the museums, because museums are also a eulogy to the artist and to the art, whereas we use art with the purpose which we think is necessary,” he says. “We believe art is a different approach. We believe art can change the world.”
This humanitarian approach takes many guises, a recent example of which was an auction where art was collected to raise money for Syrian refugees in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley and in Aleppo. Although art is Boghossian’s passion and priority, his purpose, he says, is the message of the foundation and its contribution to the world.
“We think art can help new visions, discussions and approach, which religion doesn’t and politics doesn’t,” he says. “And so my purpose today is that this foundation is sustained, remains, and goes beyond me and my brother and my children and my grandchildren.”
Jean Boghossian will be showing with Ayyam Gallery at Art Dubai 2018 and is currently representing Armenia at the 57th Venice Biennale.

Interview by Rima Nasser

A version of this article appeared in print in Selections, The Biennial & Museum Acquisitions #41, pages 36-39.