Chingiz Abassov: A Global Ambassador of Azerbaijani Fine Art

Embracing the Call of Art

I was born in Baku on May 3, 1963, and now resides in Finland. From an early age, I showed a strong passion for art. My parents wholeheartedly supported my artistic inclinations, providing me with all available resources.

From my earliest memories, painting brought me immense joy. More than a hobby, I always felt an undeniable calling to pursue it.

My parents encouraged my interest and sought advice from a professor of fine arts at the Baku Polytechnic Institute. The professor, impressed by my skills, insisted that my nascent talent should be developed. Thus, I began taking painting lessons.

Navigating a Changing Landscape

Upon completing my secondary education, I enrolled in the Azim Azimzade Art School, named after the renowned master of Azerbaijani fine art. Later, I moved to St. Petersburg to study at the Stieglitz State Academy of Art and Design, where I graduated with a Master in Monumental Art degree.

Despite the excellence of education, the artistic environment within the USSR lacked a crucial component — the freedom to choose. Artists were confined to state-sponsored work, often creating murals glorifying Soviet leaders and communist ideals. I, however, envisioned a different purpose for my artistic expression.

Achieving Freedom Through Art

In 1991, I received an opportunity that would change the course of my career. A Finnish gallery expressed interest in exhibiting my paintings. Transporting large-scale canvases from Baku posed a challenge, thus I had to continue my work in St. Petersburg. I added 20 new paintings to the seven I had already completed and, having collected all the numerous documents required at the time to travel abroad, I took a bus to Finland. The exhibition was visited by many people, and all the paintings were sold out. Unlike the Soviet state, where everything, including art, was regulated, the West impressed me with its freedom of expression.

Continuation of the Journey

The success of my exhibition led to an invitation to return and collaborate further. The second trip to Finland also marked a personal milestone for me, as I married a woman working at the Finnish consulate in the United States.

We got married in Baku. It was late autumn, and when we landed in Los Angeles, I couldn’t help but be surprised at how warm and sunny it was. I admired the state’s nature for a long time, getting used to the richness of its colors, and was very surprised to learn that it does not snow in Los Angeles in winter.

Arriving in the U.S. and having no necessary contacts, I faced the challenge of finding a job. Finally things changed when I got a message from a gallery owner who invited me to showcase my paintings. Some time later, I discovered that the gallery was featuring works from several artists simultaneously, ultimately choosing to sign a contract with me as the best-selling artist. It became the beginning of fruitful collaboration that eventually led to a permanent residence permit in the U.S.

Around the same time, my family got bigger with the arrival of a baby boy and a baby girl. To celebrate this, I had my first solo art exhibition in Laguna Beach, California, and named it “Twins” after my two children.

Large-Scale Art

Over time, my acquaintances expanded, and my name became known in the U.S. and Finland. In 1995, I participated in the “Mural in a Day” project in Lompoc, California. Later the same year, I received a commission from the American corporation Duell for four large-size paintings for the Italian pavilion at a theme park in South Korea.

Working on a wall is different from working on a canvas in the comfort of a studio. My background in monumental art gave me an understanding of how to work with such large surfaces. For the project in Lompoc, my friends and I depicted one of the city’s founders. As for the Italian pavilion, I decided to create the illusion of colorful frescoes.

My latest monumental art project is “Qarabağ: 30 Years and 44 Days”. Completed in 2021, the 9.7×4 meter painting is dedicated to Azerbaijan’s victory in the Second Karabakh War.

Uniting Cultures through Creativity

Upon my return to Finland, I received a lot of commissions from public figures and businesses. Orders also flowed in from Azerbaijan, including portraits of politicians and a bas-relief for the Azerbaijan state oil company’s headquarters in Tbilisi, Georgia.

One day in 2008, I received an invitation to dinner from the then President of Finland, Tarja Halonen. It was a meeting in honor of the first official visit of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva to Finland. That evening, apart from them, I was the only Azerbaijani representing our culture. It made a great impression on me.

Soon I was commissioned to paint portraits of prominent figures, including the heads of state of Azerbaijan and Finland, sports figures, and presidents of international companies and banks.

I believe that portrait painting involves conveying not only the person being depicted but also the emotions the artist experiences while working. Art gives us the tools to convey human feelings, and the ability to do so is the true magic of art.

National and Universal in Art 

In 2013, I published “Magnificent Baku,” a coffee table book featuring 102 works depicting my beloved city.

Unfortunately, people in the West know too little about Azerbaijani culture. The book is my contribution to ensuring that Baku is known and admired globally, just like Paris or New York. This is my mission as an artist.

My art, born from my Azerbaijani roots, evolved over time. From national motifs in my early works to more universal themes like love and motherhood, my art retained the essence of Azerbaijani culture.

For my graduation project at the Academy of Arts, I created a mural inspired by vibrant images from my homeland’s fairy tales. The rich cultural motifs of Azerbaijan have consistently fueled my creativity. Even when I worked on a series of paintings depicting Rio, I drew inspiration from the lively colors I was used to seeing since I was a child. Through them, I aimed to capture the life-affirming energy embodied by women wearing colorful carnival costumes.

I hold a deep fascination for art history, particularly the Renaissance era, and find Michelangelo to be a pivotal figure. Michelangelo’s unparalleled talent for expressing emotions through body movements has had a profound influence on my art.

My works are held in numerous private and public collections, including the Kunsthalle Würth in Germany and several presidential collections. As a member of the Artists’ Union of Azerbaijan and the Hämeenlinna Artists’ Association in Finland, I continue to showcase my feelings, passions, and Azerbaijani roots through my art.

My journey, marked by love, cultural representation, and artistic exploration, is an example of the transformative power of art and an enduring connection to my roots.

Twilight in Kyiv

In July of 2023, I organized an exhibition featuring nineteen Finnish artists in Kyiv. Our aim was to show support for the Ukrainian people during these challenging times. The exhibition took place in the main gallery of the State Art Union, marking us as the first and only foreign artists to hold an exhibition in Ukraine during the war, as stated by the head of the union. The event garnered significant interest from Kyiv residents, leading to invitations to showcase our work in other venues, including the museum of Maria Zankovetska. It was during this time that I conceived the idea for a series of paintings titled “Twilight in Kyiv,” capturing the mood and expressions of a mysterious female amidst the city’s dusk in moments of struggle of Good and Evil.

In “Twilight in Kyiv,” I aimed to encapsulate the essence of the city’s charm, drawing inspiration from its rich history and vibrant energy in such difficult times. Through subtle nuances of light and shadow, I sought to evoke a sense of intrigue and allure, inviting viewers to immerse themselves in the enigmatic beauty of Kyiv’s twilight no matter what.