Growing up in Soviet Armenia, Arbe (Ara Berberyan) was son of a well-known artist and professor of art & design. Arbe had his first exhibition when he was only 12. In 1970, his paintings were sent on a two year international tour by the U.S.S.R. called “The World by Children’s Eyes,” visiting France, Italy, Canada, and the United States. Of the 65 paintings, only four returned to Armenia. The rest were sold or placed on permanent exhibition in state buildings throughout the Soviet Union.
Arbe received his Masters degree from the University of Art and Design in Yerevan, Armenia in 1981. While he was there, it was difficult to find books on the western artists he loved. However, he managed to find books on his favorite inspirations: Dalí, Picasso, Titian, Rembrandt, and especially Klimt. He began his career as a fine artist after graduation, accepting government commissions for murals at the Yerevan Airport, theatres, hotels and other government projects. Luckily enough (and rare in the Soviet Union), Arbe was always employed. At his architectural office, “Gostproect,” he designed the facades of public buildings and office complexes. These facades allowed him to bring in elements from his favorite artist, Klimt, especially regarding gold ornamentation and marbleized patterns.
When he was not painting for the State, he was working on commissions for private citizens or Government officials. He would paint anything: classical portraits, landscapes, cubism, surrealism, murals, and even signs.
“Private clients expressed their appreciation for my work”, he recalls, “and this was much more encouraging and satisfying than painting for any Institution.”
Arbe’s subjects became the beauty surrounding him – instruments (mainly violins and guitars), women, and classical and modern fusions regarding romantic dramas, love, and music. He paints in oil with a metallic texture, and occasionally gold leaf. His paintings are filled with earth tones, enticing patterns, and designs.
“When I sketch, I do it loosely without intent or design. I sit and listen to music — Mozart, Verdi, Bach. I sketch on paper, not on the canvas, and then as it changes and takes shape, I will begin to work the canvas. Sometimes I like working on just one canvas, start to finish. It is a process, when I am all involved in it, time does not exist. Other times, my mood changes and so I move to another, and start a new painting. Later I can come back to it when the mood returns.”
“I wish we could all live in harmony,” says the artist. “I know it sounds simple, but finding a good balance between the laughter and the angst we all experience, this is what is important in life, and what I try to capture in my art.”
In 1984, Arbe joined his sister in Los Angeles, immigrating to the United States. Here he met and married his wife Nazik, also from Armenia, and they had two children.