Summer 1999 (7.2)
The Enchanting World of Dreams and Color
by Gunduz Alizade
I would never have thought that one day I would get the chance to share my memories of one of the brightest pearls of Azerbaijan's fine arts - Toghrul Narimanbeyov. I can't really remember when I first learned about him. I just remember that our family had an old photo album and a picture of his famous painting of three musicians called "Mugam" [pronounced moo-GAHM] (1965) was at the top of one of the pages of this album. This work is now 35 years old.
Toghrul as Instructor
I personally became acquainted with Toghrul in 1979. I was a second-year student at the Azerbaijan State Art Institute at the time. I remember the situation as clearly as if it were yesterday. We were in class and everyone was very busy. Suddenly, the door opened and the dean walked in with Toghrul Muallim (Teacher Toghrul). The dean addressed us, "Fellows, from now on, Toghrul Muallim will be giving you drawing lessons."
I was so surprised that the brush slipped out of my hand. I didn't realize what had happened until I saw everyone looking at me. When I bent down to pick it up, I accidentally bumped the palette in front of me and it fell down, too. Everyone burst out laughing, including Toghrul Muallim. And thus our first acquaintance became deeply embedded in my memory. Afterwards, every time that I met or stumbled into him, we couldn't help laughing about the incident.
The Mugam Composition
Toghrul had hs own way of teaching by entertaining the class with stories about art. He would point out mistakes to the students, correcting them one by one. One of his main features was his ability to sense the inner states of other people-perhaps, a type of telepathy. Once Toghrul was having tea with one of his close friends. Another man entered the tea room and ordered tea for himself. Toghrul inquired of his friend, "Do you know who that guy is, sitting over there?"
Left: Toghrul Narimanbeyov, "Mugham", 184 x 215 cm, oil on canvas, 1965.
His friend shrugged his shoulders and said nothing. Shortly afterwards, the stranger got up and left and Toghrul felt sorry that he left. "He reminded me of Jabbar* [a famous Azerbaijani Mugam singer]. I don't know who this guy is, but somehow I think he must be a singer. I think he must have a strong voice."
His friend figured that Toghrul was somehow absorbed in his own world and didn't want to discuss the matter further. After awhile, they also got up and left the tea room. Outside, they began hearing wedding music and a wonderful voice. A wedding celebration was going on nearby.
Toghrul and his friend got interested and decided to drop in and see what was happening. When they entered the banquet room, they couldn't believe their eyes. The singer turned out to be the same guy who had been sitting in the tea room earlier. Toghrul was very satisfied that his perception had once again proved right.
It was after that incident that he created his famous work "Mugam". Against a rich deep blue background, three musicians with tar, kamanche and the singer with his daf improvise on a modal tune. In the lower left-hand corner, a small child offers up a deep red pomegranate as a gift.
Left: Toghrul Narimanbeyov, "Sleeping Asmar", 120 x 100 cm, oil on canvas, 1963. Asmar is a girl's name.
Toghrul's fondness for nature gave life to many works, such as "The Panorama of Old Nakhchivan," "In the Summer Pasture," "The Way Leading to Zagatala" and "In Goychay Gardens." He also created design sets for ballets like Faraj Garayev's "Gobustan Shadows," Gara Garayev's "Seven Beauties" and Fikrat Amirov's "Nasimi," and "Arabian Nights." He also worked on both the film (1975) and book (1988) for "Dada Gorgud", a national epic whose materials date back at least to the 7th century. His most famous murals grace the walls of the National Baku Puppet Theater on Neftchilar Avenue.
Secret of Great Works
There's one more memory that stands out so vividly in my mind when I think of Toghrul. Once he gave me some advice that turned out to be of tremendous value. It happened when I was in my last year of school. Toghrul had a way of standing behind us and watching while we worked. It was autumn and we were working on a still life-an arrangement abundant with fruit.
Left: Toghrul Narimanbeyov, "Mama", 120x80cm, oil on canvas, 1963.
He was standing behind us and watching us work with a sense of gratification. I could feel his eyes concentrated on me. And then he came up to me and put his hand on my shoulder. I sensed both pleasure and concern in his face.
"Look here," he told me. "Everything is precisely right and correct about the execution of your work. There's no need to speak about your competence, you know what I think about it. But there's something lacking in your work. Do you know what it is?"
I looked at him with questioning eyes.
"It's love. Love is lacking in your work," he told me earnestly. "Gunduz, it doesn't matter if the object you are painting is animate or not, you have to imagine it before you-not as a canvas but rather as a beautiful woman. And you have to love this canvas and these colors with passion and intensity, just as you would love that woman. Only then can you create a real work of art." His words are still ringing in my ears.
Toghrul Narimanbeyov lives in Paris and frequently visits Baku.
Gunduz Alizade, who shared his impressions, studied under Toghrul and is now a political cartoonist whose works have been featured in Azerbaijan International in Autumn 1998 (AI 6.3) and Spring 1999 (AI 7.1).
From Azerbaijan International (7.2) Summer 1999.
© Azerbaijan International 1999. All rights reserved.