Design of the Times: armenia.jpg founder Michael Srourian discusses culture, clothing and communication

Michael Srourian at an armenia.jpg pop up event (Photo: Cha Cha Studio)

Fusing the old with the new was easy for Michael Srourian. All he needed was the means to showcase it to the world. That was when Armenia.jpg — stylized as armenia.jpg — came to fruition. “An image of the Armenian Diaspora expressed through contemporary art, product design and streetwear,” Srourian stumbled upon the name by accident. 

“It’s a funny story, actually. I was on Instagram one day, looking up different account usernames and noticed that ‘armenia.jpg’ was not taken. I was so shocked that no one claimed it,” says Srourian. “As soon as I saw it, as a branding person, I instantly thought to myself, ‘This is such a perfect opportunity to create something.’”

Srourian was studying design at Los Angeles Valley College and concurrently working as a graphic designer at his brother’s marketing agency, Starmen Design Group. As his design career began to progress, Srourian made the strategic decision to study business and marketing at Woodbury University. After graduation, he became a creative director and manager for Starmen Design Group’s creative department.

“I immediately stepped back into the design world, working full-time managing other designers, as well as the creative resources needed to produce the projects we were putting out,” explained Srourian.

Despite the rewarding work he was doing at Starmen, Srourian still loved being hyper-involved in the creative process. He recognized that it was almost a necessity for him to create a space to produce his own work without any guidelines, limitations or rules. 

“I just wanted to make things just to make them,” laughs Srourian. “In the back of my mind, I always wanted to launch my own brand, given my experience in the design and branding world, for what’s been eight years now. As soon as I made that Instagram account for armenia.jpg, I started making Armenian-inspired art. It’s always been something I’ve loved looking at, so I figured I can create it too.”

There wasn’t anything planned when it first started. Srourian wanted to keep it a fluid concept to see where it would go. Then, things began to take shape. His first post was a redesign of the classic, black-and-white William Saroyan poster, which ultimately received positive feedback from friends and family. 

“After the William Saroyan piece, I began creating other graphic Armenian art with colors and typography that isn’t the most traditional or true to our culture,” details Srourian. “I’ve always been a huge fan of contemporary art museums and how far they can push the boundaries of the most traditional and simple concepts. I love how it gives you a different lens of how you can view something.” 

That is exactly what Srourian has done with armenia.jpg. Harmoniously combining aspects of Armenian culture with a modern, Diasporan twist, Srourian has taken the best of both worlds and introduced it to an audience in a neatly-wrapped package. With inspirations ranging from time-honored Armenian art and music to American fashion companies like Aviator Nation, Srourian truly has found the perfect balance that appeals to all. 

“Eventually, as I was creating and putting out new content, the one post that really garnered a lot of attention and jump-started the page was a pop-art piece I did of Harout Pamboukjian. It ended up getting reshared to his son by a friend of mine,” says Srourian. “I was actually sitting next to my friend that day and he turns to me, hands me his phone, and says, ‘Hey, this is Harout’s son. He’s on the phone. Oh, and also, Harout’s on the phone, too.’ And I turn around and go, ‘What? Like, right now?’ Harout goes like ‘Michael jan, es inch sirun ban es arel. (Michael dear, the art you created is so beautiful.)’ It was such a funny response. I was starstruck. I let him know that he has always been a huge inspiration for me.”

 

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It wasn’t long before the page started to gain traction. When Srourian realized that he had built up a sizable collection, he devised a plan to create art prints and apparel for his audience as his first line of products. His apparel designs were inspired by the luxury Italian fashion label Off-White.

“I love how they bring a contemporary art feel to their clothing. Each piece that they produce is so meticulously made, and the attention to detail is unparalleled. Each of their products are a statement piece; they’re very loud. It’s not for everyone,” explains Srourian. “I wanted to follow that similar mentality. I know the design isn’t going to resonate with everyone because they can be very ‘in your face.’ Honestly, I didn’t mind that. I knew I was going into this with a super niche audience. It is a collection of people who really appreciate that work.”

It is important for modern spaces of art and design to be developed within the Armenian community, especially when it comes to new and budding creatives. armenia.jpg allows for young Armenians to pay homage to their culture and build upon it. 

“My advice is just go for it. Put stuff out. Whatever feels right at the time, feels right for a reason. There shouldn’t be a reason to be so picky about your work. As soon as you do something and are excited, don’t wait for complete perfection,” says Srourian. “One thing leads to another, so try not to keep everything to yourself and just put yourself out there. Start and figure it out as you go.”

Melody Seraydarian

Melody Seraydarian

Melody Seraydarian is a writer from Los Angeles, California. She is an active member of the AYF Hollywood “Musa Ler” Chapter. Melody also interns for the Armenian Bar Association and volunteers for various political causes and campaigns, while working on other writing and design projects.

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