University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


  • Apo Torosyan : Interview

    Apo Torosyan Interview

    Interview conducted with Apo Torosyan on June 3, 1998 regarding the "Bread Series."

    Q: When did you start the "Bread Series" and what prompted you to do it?

    A: The notion for the "Bread Series" started in 1976, and I have been developing the actual works since 1992. In the "Bread Series", I use a variety of textural elements on the canvas, including bread, either burned or not burned, which is chemically preserved into an immortal durability in a monthlong process, as well as fibers, earth, wire mesh, modeling paste, acrylic paints, photographs, and other found objects to create a textural and symbolic metaphor. The works have a threedimensional sculptural quality, because the materials I use extend two to three inches off the surface of the canvas.

    Q: What are you trying to express with your "Bread Series"?

    A: In my recent show at Endicott College, I put a pile of earth, about six feet in diameter, and almost four feet in height in the middle of the floor. I put the "Bread Series" of paintings on canvas on the surrounding walls. The students and faculty members were watching me building up that little mound of earth with topsoil. This was a physical ordealĀ  it was about 900 pounds of soil. Some of them would go by and say, "Why dirt?" "Is dirt art?" They would walk by, and watch what I was doing. Finally, one of the students came over, and asked me very courteously, "Why dirt?". I said, "That's not dirt." He said, "What is it?". I said, "That's you!". He took one step back, and said, "Am I dirt?". I replied "Of course not. This is earth, and that is what you are." He paused, and started thinking. I told him, "Whatever is in this earth, you have it. When your life is finished, that is what you become."

    That gave the student a different perspective, an almost 180 degree change of vision about what I was trying to say. I use bread, which is an organic material, that originates in earth. I use earth, and some other found objects in my works. My "Bread Series" is related to life itself. How else could I describe or paint life, except within my vision? By taking an ordinary object, which gives us life, and immortalizing it on a canvas, a monthlong process of petrifying that material, with some other materials, it becomes a painting.

    Q: What are your installations all about?

    A: Just imagine! A floor partially covered with earth. Viewers walk through a clear pathway in between. Newspapers from different countries with loaves of bread on them lie scattered on the earth. In the background is the soundtrack of bare hands making dough. On the walls hang the "Bread Series" of paintings on canvas. I choose bread today because it includes all three elements of my statement: texture, symbolism, and the ordinary object. Texture symbolizes time, and bread and soil symbolize life and the ordinary object.

    The story of this installation is immigration. The location could be any place. The environment provides a cultural shock value akin to what an immigrant would face. The newspaper represents the tablecloth of the poor man, and indicates the time during which the audience shares their meal.

    The viewers walk into an environment where, finding earth, they familiarize themselves with their previous environment, their "homeland", the outside world. In one area are bread, wine, and olives, to be eaten by viewers sharing this earthy event and creating memories. Then by finding the bread and sharing it with others the viewers create their new home, their new settlement. They become the new immigrants.

    The newspaper is symbolic. It represents time, the date, and recording history. When viewers walk through the installation to examine the paintings, they go to the corner where the logs are, to the logs that say "Let Us Talk". The pillows are made to sit on. Of course, the wording of "Let Us Talk" is quite expressive by itself. You can dissect that phrase, and make several combinations, such as "Let Us.", "Let U.S. Talk", "Let Us Talk", "Talk, U.S." and so on. When the viewers go to that corner, they find wine, bread, and cheese to be shared. They sit down and start talking to others, about their experiences with daily life, the show, their opinions. They share moments with each other, and end up creating new memories. They become the new immigrants, by sharing this event with each other.

    Q: How is the "Bread Series" related to the concept of "Immigration"?

    A: The "Bread" itself, in my vision, has three directions. It is textural, it is an ordinary object, and it represents life. In the "Immigration" installation, the bread itself is the common staple that has been used throughout the Western world for survival. By sharing bread, after entering into the installation, a bond is created between people.

    Q: Is there an element of the primitive in your work?

    A: I use primitive forms, but not in every kind of work I do. The repetitive forms I use are taken from a primitivist conceptĀ  the heartbeat, the rhythm, which creates a message by repetition.

    Q: How is form used in your work?

    A: The use of forms is one of the most important parts of my work. I take the bread and deform or slice it into a shape that is very expressive and exciting. I burn the bread in a way that becomes sculptural. That is my approach with the bread, which I do not use merely as a slice of bread on the canvas. I work with the forms I create, not merely with the conceptual idea of bread.

    Q: But, some of your works from the "Bread Series" do use actual slices of bread.

    A: I have used slices of toast on canvas to represent industrialization and the alienation of modern society. When I recently returned to the city I came from, Istanbul, after 27 years, I discovered people using industrial, prefabricated sliced toast instead of a homebaked loaf of bread. This was supposed to be a sign of progress.

    Q: Are you repeating yourself by continuing to work in the "Bread Series"?

    A: No, it is just the opposite. I find more possibilities of growth in the "Bread Series", the more I work with it. By using the "Bread Series" again and again, I find it very creative. If anybody follows my works, I do not repeat myself, there is a great difference between "Bread #4" and "Bread #55". The "Bread Series" is the name of the works, but in some of the paintings, you cannot even visualize that it is made with bread. My goal is not only focused on showing the bread itself, but also on working with the material and the form to create new horizons and concepts.

    Q: What new directions will you be exploring next with the "Bread Series"?

    A: One of the new directions I discovered, is to create my own forms. I work together with my baker, to create very unusual sizes and shapes. I am also working with metal leafs, such as gold, silver, and copper. I oxidize the surface. I also use earth, bread crumbs, and other materials on the canvas. I am recreating the concept of paint, without using paint. I am exploring combining this with some new installation ideas I am working on.

    Q: What has been the reaction to your installation?

    A: At Vermont College, and at Endicott College, in Massachusetts, I had very positive reactions. I also had negative reactions, which is normal. When we feel we do not understand a subject, we have a tendency to ridicule instead of trying to comprehend the message. Unfortunately, some viewers do not give enough time to try to comprehend what an artist is trying to do.

    In general, however, the reaction I got was the involvement of the public. People walked in, wandered around, and read my statement. At the show opening, people sat down with me, and we talked about bread, life, their lives, and other things. The concept of immigration worked during that process. In some cases, the most beautiful reaction was from children, with their innocent, open minds. They were delighted. Some children were counting the number of slices of bread I had on the wall. The students that had a chance to listen to a discussion of my concept had a very positive reaction, and wrote beautiful notes in my guest book.

    Q: How do you use the theme of time in your works?

    A: Time is a very important element of my concept. By taking bread, burning it in different ways, aging it, deforming it, sometimes covering it with metal sheets, then oxidizing it, I am doing things related to time. Time is repetitious, but it is always new. I try to capture time. If I could just cut a slice of my own time, and show that to the future, I would feel very lucky and accomplished.

    We live a fast paced life, but we all have time to observe, comprehend, and appreciate what we have, instead of looking for what we do not have.

    Q: How do you react to negative reactions from the public?

    A: Of course, I will get some negative reactions, because the message I am trying to give is new, and has not been done before. The first reaction is to reject or laugh at something new, throughout history. As a human being, of course, I get hurt. I cannot help it. However, I consider myself as an educator. I have a message to deliver. By talking about my art, which some artists refuse to do, I explain what I do. Of course, I cannot explain my subconscious motivations, or my total environmental influence, or the influence of my cultural background. But, I believe, if I can comprehend what I am doing, and explain it to others, I am halfway done in my battle. The other half will be time, which is my major concept.

    Q: Is there an element of irony in your work?

    A: There is a humorous part in some of my works. When they see two hundred fourteen slices of burnt toast on a canvas, people laugh. Possibly they are laughing at themselves. There is a satirical aspect to that humor. I try to make people laugh at their society. Possibly out of this some good can come, and some changes can be made.

    Q: Are you making a social commentary with your works, by using bread as a medium?

    A: I do not emphasize that. Number one, I am a painter. I think in forms, shapes, textures, colors, and composition. Of course, using bread as a medium creates a statement, but that is not my primary purpose. Details of interpretation come up afterwards, but making a social or personal commentary is not my goal. I do not believe in narrowing my vision, but I like to think in the artistic universe.

    Q: What is your goal?

    A: My goal is to make people feel and think in a different language. If they can give a little bit of time and effort, then my language, which I hope is universal, can be used in their own way. I do not wish to indoctrinate with my vision. My art should be shared, and I hope it will touch peoples' hearts, souls, and minds. I hope to give people a tool, a new vision which they can use on their own.

    Q: Why bread?

    A: That is a question I have been asked several times. Why paint? Why brush? Why clay? Why marble? Those are all media, tools, bridges that get you into a dimension where you want to be. So, I choose bread today. Who knows what tomorrow will bring!

    Q: Do you have any personal stories related to bread?

    A: My artwork has my personal history, which is similar to many others under similar circumstances. The bread, which is the staff of life, was taken away from my ancestors. It represents victims of oppression. They died in starvation, including my grandparents. I immortalize the bread within my concepts. It is an organic metaphor. It is the cycle of life.

    The form is expressive. If you look closely, you can never find one single slice of bread similar to another. This accelerates one's imagination.

    I use my ethnic background as a source of my creativity. The Byzantine, the Armenian culture, the formation of a manuscript, the historic texture of the walls of the city where I was born. In the Orthodox and Gregorian Church, the Holy Book is immortalized with gold or silver. I do the same thing with my "Bread Series" of paintings.

    What I try to do with the "Bread Series" is to picture the life cycle itself within my interpretation. The found object I use is bread, which is symbolic, textural, and ordinary. The earth is part of the organic cycle, which represents peace and life.

    If my work remains in someone's mind, and touches someone's heart and soul, my statement is complete. I am grateful for the opportunity to share my work with you.