Armenian Jerusalem
1,001 Nights fantasy
  Ever since he was a child gamboling in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, and later in the cobblestoned alleys of Bethlehem, Jacques Sarkis Kaplanian had been fascinated by the interplay of shades and colors, shapes and gradations. While other children brandished make-believe guns and scimitars and engaged in mock battles, Jacques wielded a paint-brush and attacked canvas after canvas, in an outpouring of delightful creativity, carried away by the power it wielded in helping him create phantasmagoric ghouls and sunsets with his fertile imagination. As he grew older, and honed his skills, the fascination became full-blown, propelling him into fresh avenues of artistic expression. And as the youth matured into manhood, he would discover yet another dimension to exercise his skills with a brush - hairdressing - approaching it with the same tenacity and devotion he had manifested in his lifelong love affair with painting. But whether he is wielding a hair brush or a paint brush, Jacques remains true to his ideal: creating an object of beauty and admiration, be it a hairstyle or a canvas. A move to Amman, the capital of the Jordan, in the wake of the Arab Israeli war of 1948, proved the pivotal milestone in Jacques's life for it was not long before his skills reached the ears of Jordan's aristocratic circles and power elite. The royal command soon followed, and Jacques found himself catering to the rarefied wishes of members of the Kingdom's First Family, in particular the princesses Muna Al Hussein, Alia Al Hussein, and Serwath Al Hussein. They were heady days, but alas, all too brief. The 1970 confrontation between the Jordanian army and the Palestinian guerrillas spelled the beginning of the end of Jacques's idyll and, with a family to support, and a dream still to realize, he began seeking greener pastures elsewhere: Australia, where friends and relatives had settled before, beckoned. Jacques arrived in Sydney in 1990 and has never looked back. True, the Cadillac flying the royal Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan pennant does not call anymore, nor is there any sign of the bandoleered Bedouin hajjana (camel-riding royal guards) that used to welcome him at the entrance of the palace, but then Jacques has found something just as precious as the prestige he once enjoyed: the tranquility and security he needs to give full and unfettered rein to his creativity, now full blown, and branching out into sculpture and music. Jacques has had his share of glamour and prestige, but there have also been dark episodes of disaster and despair. "I've never given up, even in the midst of the worst calamity to befall me," he tells this interviewer. The calamity he was referring to was a night journey he undertook with his new bride, Olga, 20 years ago, through the violence swept minefields of Jericho. As he drove through the threatening night, he was stopped at a roadblock and called upon by masked gunmen to get out. Some sixth sense warned Jacques that would not be a good idea. He slammed his foot on the pedal and raced away, to the accompaniment of an angry fusillade of bullets that perforated his car, and tore out a chunk of his shoulder. But he did get away. "I mostly remember the courage of my wife, her amazing self-control, as I wrestled to control the car despite being shot," Jacques recalls. Jacques attributes his interest in the arts to the cultured and refined environment provided by his parents and the constant encouragement he received from them and from his wife. "I studied art and became well known for my detailed paintings and as always fascinated by the human form, painted caricatures and portraits of the people around me." Jacques was born in Jerusalem in 1939 but left for Bethlehem slightly before the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948. In 1960 he left Bethlehem for France, to study ladies hairdressing at the Eugene Gallia, Paris. During this time he also enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and studied under the enthusiastic guidance of Frank Postillion, and Jean Marie Nodin, receiving tuition in the Post Impressionist movement. The ladies hair-dressing salon Jacques established in Amman grew into a thriving business and acted as a stepping stone for an ambitious export drive to Iraq which ground to a halt during the Gulf War of 1991. Jacques continued to run his salon, a job he descries as very demanding and time consuming, but managed to find time to keep painting. He held his first exhibition at the Jordan Intercontinental Hotel in Amman in 1964. Following the success of that exhibition he went on to organize several more in downtown Amman. "My fondness for the human form was enhanced by my field trips into the outer reaches of Jordan to create studies of native tribes people, the spectacular Bedouin nomads of the desert. Many of these sketches still survive to this day and often form a basis to my fantasy pieces," he says. In the aftermath of the civil war in Jordan, Jacques virtually lost everything that he had worked so hard for, and had no option but to seek respite from the political travails of the region, and embarked upon a new odyssey, this time to Sydney, Australia. Ever eager to further his education, Jacques enrolled at the North Sydney Art Center where he also was given the opportunity to hold several exhibitions. But, as with a great number of migrants from the Middle East who miss the rich social life they had taken for granted, Jacques became homesick and returned to Jordan in 1976 where he established a hair cosmetics business, eventually manufacturing his own line of cosmetics products geared to the export trade. Between 1976 and 1993 he held several exhibitions in Jordan and also traveled extensively overseas, with stopovers in France, Greece, Cyprus, England, the Middle and the Far East, where he exhibited more of his paintings. But Australia beckoned once more, and Jacques packed his bags and flew back to the lucky country, opting this time to settle in Perth. In time, he became a resident artist at the Fremantle Allegretta Artists Studios and Gallery where he participated in a joint exhibition opened by the Hon Carmen Lawrence. He also exhibited at the Galleria Del Mondo in Fremantle, and in 1995 was awarded the Community Arts Certificate of Appreciation as organizer of the Gosnells Multicultural Art Forum. It was during his tenure at Fremantle that he began experiment with sculpture. "I felt that I needed the challenge of a new discipline and began working in wood, producing several beautiful fantasy pieces. This eventually led me into experimenting with clay as a medium, and this became my forte. I now specialize in creating sophisticated and detailed spectacular fantasy clay sculptures and my work has been appreciated at several galleries of note in and around Perth," he said. His three children, Sammy, Ronny and Annie are now grown up and living their own life, but every single one of them has inherited the artistic gene of their father and genteel culture of their mother. Jacques is very proud of them. "They work wonders with computers," Jacques says. Computer graphic art is one medium he is still to try. "I'll have to leave that to Annie - she's a born graphic artist," he chuckles. Jacques lives in Perth, Western Australia with his wife Olga and three children.