Raffi Tokatlian, who was born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1957, was raised in a family of artists. His grandfather, the only member of his Armenian family to survive the Armenian genocide of 1915, had emigrated to Lebanon. Tokatlian grew up with his grandfather’s stories of the genocide and his escape from Armenia, and they formed the emotional core of his sculptural work. His grandfather was an artist, as was his father, and he recalls that, “Everyday the three of us were painting or drawing, side by side.”
Part of Tokatlian’s education as an artist was reading the stories of mythology, which lead him to look at the mural of Pompeii, and to absorb the classical tradition of Greece and Rome. He was attracted to the art of the Italian Renaissance, particularly the sculptures of Donatello, with their sensuous curving forms. Among the artists Tokatlian notes as inspiring him are the15th century painter of dream-like visions Heironymous Bosch, and a range of Surrealist artists. In Rodin, and Giacometti, Tokatlian found artists who used human form to especially expressive ends. He has described his style as “Surrealmythoclassical”, indicating the personal amalgam formed by all of his influences.
After completing his university studies in Beruit, in 1981 Tokatlian moved to Paris and spent two years at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. There he concentrated on both fine arts and interior design. During his early years in Europe, he supplemented his studies with visits to artist’s studios in France, as well as in Italy, Spain, Austria, and Greece. His travels for these projects have constantly brought him into touch with art, both ancient and contemporary, that has affected his work. For instance, traveling to Egypt, brought him in contact with pharonic sculpture that proved to be important.
Tokatlian found himself especially excited by sculpture, and learned a range of techniques. After returning to Lebanon from Paris, he trained and learned more about the lost wax method of bronze casting and creating patinas. Since childhood, drawing has been a central part of Tokatlian’s art and the way he develops ideas for his sculptures. Since 2000, Tokatlian has created more than 60 bronze sculptures in his studio in Beruit. They combine tragic aspects of his family’s history, with a strong feeling for the existential challenges and spiritual yearnings of humanity.