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The Big Escape: Narek Barseghyan's Month of Painting and Exploration in Brussels

Visual artist and 2023 East-West Resident explores Brussels and his creative identity during his stay at the iconic Villa Empain 

March 14, 2024  |  by Creative Armenia


Narek Barseghyan, 2023 East-West Resident

Feeling trapped in the monotony of daily life, visual artist Narek Barseghyan sought an escape from his routine. He found it at Villa Empain in Brussels. Throughout his one-month creative residency, he engaged with art he only read about in books and met inspiring creators from different walks of life, recharging his creative batteries. Upon completing the residency, he emerged as a transformed artist, equipped with a wider scope of vision and ready to give his ambitious projects the attention they deserve upon returning to Yerevan.


Discover the explorations of our East-West Resident, Narek Barseghyan, as he shares his philosophy and makes unexpected revelations in our exclusive interview with the artist.

You completed your East-West Residency at the Villa Empain in Brussels. Tell us about the highlights of your experience. 

From the very beginning everything was new for me, thus the impact of the residency was enormous. This program was vital for me as an artist in observing, analyzing, and self-evaluating myself from the side in a comparative setting. 


It was like fresh air for a "suffocating" person and a wonderful opportunity to become more awake. It was a great month for silence, slow living, and thinking all at the same time. This experience was especially meaningful in our ever-rushing reality.


One month, for sure, was too short for me to completely adapt and get fully involved in the work. I wanted to study, see, and feel so many things at the same time, especially the works of art that I saw only in books. It was interesting to discover them, feel them, touch them. It is hard to describe this experience in words. Meeting and communicating with wonderful people was also very inspiring. If I generalize, you can say this trip found a special place in me.

"I think it's crucial to emphasize that new things, interactions, and visual and sensory experiences are immensely helpful to me in not staying in one place."

During your stay, was there a specific experience, idea, or moment that left a lasting impression on you? How has that particular impression affected your creative process or the project you were working on?

First of all, I want to emphasize the city itself. However simple it may sound, the sidewalks that make you walk more slowly, buildings that have preserved their original appearance, public places, parks, and transportation. I am impressed by Brussels. Even if not directly the city had a deep impact on my unconsciousness and influenced me, therefore, my work. 

The meeting with my artist friend and the advice he gave was also a special moment.

While staying at the Villa Empain, you focused on your new series of portraits titled “The Image of Armenian Youth,” portraying young people from Armenia’s border villages. What motivated you to work on this series? What progress have you made on the projects during your stay?

Usually, when I start a series, it takes its natural and long course. It happened so that I had already started this series of mine. I had a great desire not to leave it unfinished and to continue working on it in Belgium as well. I have been working on this series for more than a year. It requires a continuous caring approach and effort. This work takes me back to my roots and it has a journey it needs to complete before coming to life.

Hrant Matevosyan was once asked why he only writes about rural life. He answered: "Any person from Tsmakut village in Armenia has a Shakespearean tragedy, a Schillerian brokenness, a Tolstoic purity. So why should I invent a new person?" 

I am haunted by this idea of Hrant and I lead with it through my way of hopefully finding the key to my search for identity. Indeed, as much as it was possible, I painted a piece of my work during my stay at the Villa Empain. 

Moments from Narek Barseghyan's East-West Residency 

As an artist, you have explored diverse materials, techniques, and media to portray the contemporary realities in Armenia. Did you find new artists, works, or practices in Brussels that you’d like to introduce in Armenian visual arts through your future work? 

I look for new practices and discoveries not by going to the center of the world, but by visiting a distant village. Only then – only after going through that process – I can firmly say, “I am here, listen to me.” But this does not devalue my trip to Brussels at all. With this program, I had the opportunity to look at myself from the side and stop for a moment, for which I am deeply grateful.

I think it's crucial to emphasize that new things, interactions, and visual and sensory experiences are immensely helpful to me in not staying in one place. New experiences helped me grow, and thanks to the residency, I had them to a great extent.

Seeing the original works of the great masters also helped me gain a clearer understanding of different techniques and revise my own.

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