Turkmenistan’s most celebrated painter, Durdy Bayramov, has something in common with Canada’s Group of Seven.
The artists are highly decorated in their home countries, but switch home countries and they’re relatively unknown.
It was something that Bayramov discovered when he came to Toronto and lived in the Teddington Park area in 2012. He was in the city visiting his daughter Keya, who arrived here in 2010.
“He never heard of them, and when we went to the McMichael [Art Gallery], he saw the paintings and he said, ‘Wow’. He said, ‘I never thought before that the Canadian artists were strong,” she related in June, while giving a tour of a gallery she had set up in what was Bayramov’s home during his short stay in Canada.
Bayramov died on Feb. 14, following a battle with liver cancer.
The Bayview Avenue home, which Keya had converted into a gallery for showings between June 9 and July 4, is decorated in his works, reminiscent of the aforementioned Group of Seven, as well as Mexico’s Frida Kahlo.
Brilliant red splashes mix with the earthy brown tones of his native land, and then there are the autumnal scenes from Mount Tremblanc, which inspired him much like the season did Tom Thomson or Emily Carr.
Keya shares her father’s discovery of the Group of Seven while showing the still life and portrait paintings he did in oil on canvas over five decades. She also shares anecdotes illustrating his dedication to his craft.
“I came home, he said, ‘Let’s go have tea’, at that time he was writing something,” she recalls. “When he passed away on Feb. 14, I went to his desk and I saw a note he was writing, and it said, ‘Tomorrow, buy fruits for a new still life.”
He was back in Turkmenistan when he died, and left several unfinished pieces in Toronto, including a family portrait of Keya and her husband.
Durdy, born in 1938, studied art at the Surikov Art Institute in Moscow, and had accumulated such distinguished titles as “Academic of Kyrgyzstan”, “For the Love of the Motherland” by President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow of Turkmenistan, as well as the People’s Artist of Turkmenistan in 1991 by then president Saparmurat Niyazov.
Keya says the tribute gallery was already being planned before his death.
“My father and I were planning this exhibition, and he always said, ‘Oh that would be great to have an exhibition here in Canada’,” the 39-year-old mother of three said. “Worldwide, he reached the highest titles, but he said this part of the world is far from where we come from, it’s totally different, and he said it would be nice if we could exhibit here.”
There’s trepidation in her voice, but affirms she had to organize the gallery which was visited by dignitaries from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and Kazakhstan.
Toronto city councillor Jaye Robinson, Ward 25, was in attendance on opening night.
“It also helps to heal my pain, and I’m going through a really bad time,” Keya says. “Eventually everyone will experience this, and I was never thinking it would be so hard.
“My relationship with my father was very close.”
There’s a long pause.
“My husband, who is very understanding, he’s beside me,” she adds. “I think, if he didn’t help me, I couldn’t do it all.”