Raffi Tokatlian, born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1957, was raised in a family of artists. His grandfather, the only member of his Armenian family to survive the Armenian genocide of 1915, had emigrated to Lebanon. Tokatlian grew up with his grandfather’s stories of the genocide and his escape from Armenia, and they formed the emotional core of his sculptural work. His grandfather was an artist, as was his father, and he recalls that, “Everyday the three of us were painting or drawing, side by side.”
Part of Tokatlian’s education as an artist was reading stories of mythology, which lead him to look at the mural of Pompeii and to absorb the classical tradition of Greece and Rome. He was attracted to the art of the Italian Renaissance, particularly the sculptures of Donatello, with their sensuous curving forms. Among the artists Tokatlian notes as inspiring him are the15th century painter of dream-like visions Heironymous Bosch, and a range of Surrealist artists. In Rodin and Giacometti, Tokatlian found artists who used human form to especially expressive ends. He has described his style as “Surrealmythoclassical”, indicating the personal amalgam formed by all of his influences.
After completing his university studies in Beirut in 1981, Tokatlian moved to Paris and spent two years at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. There, he concentrated on both fine arts and interior design. During his early years in Europe, he supplemented his studies with visits to artists' studios in France, Italy, Spain, Austria, and Greece. His travels have constantly brought him into touch with art, both ancient and contemporary, that has affected his work. For instance, traveling to Egypt brought him in contact with pharaonic sculpture that proved to be important.
Tokatlian found himself especially excited by sculpting, and learned a range of techniques. After returning to Lebanon, he trained and learned more about the lost wax method of bronze casting and creating patinas. Since childhood, drawing has been a central part of Tokatlian’s art, and today it is the way he develops ideas for his sculptures. Since 2000, Tokatlian has created more than 60 bronze sculptures in his studio in Beirut. They combine tragic aspects of his family’s history, with a strong feeling for the existential challenges and spiritual yearnings of humanity.