By Claudio Parentela
Tell me something about yourself….What’s your background…?
I was born in Beirut Lebanon in 1955. My father was a draftsman and being a prominent member of the Armenian community, was always busy with meetings and cultural events. My mother was almost 20 years younger than my dad, and she was like an older sister, always encouraging me and helping me with my first attempts in painting. I think my mother could have been a fascinating painter if she was given the chance. I left Beirut when I was 17 years old. I was a hippy. I travelled all over Europe, hitch-hiking and living in communes. Right after returning home, the Lebanese civil war broke out and I had to leave Beirut one more time. I stayed in Cyprus for a short time, then lived in Canada for about a year, then moved to Los Angeles where I have been based the past 30 years.
When growing what was the greatest force pushing you towards art?
I grew up in an apartment which was full of thousands of books. Both my parents were bibliophiles and they read incessantly. I fell in love with the magical world of letters and images at a very early age. I still have notebooks from my childhood where I have made attempts to create my own books by telling a story on one page and illustrating on the other – just in case people didn’t understand what I was writing about.
Were you inspired/encouraged by any one person to pursue your craft?
Both my parents appreciated the arts, but my main source of encouragement was my mother. She used to read to me for hours, bought me my first guitar, and was always there when I needed help with my drawings.
How would you describe your art to someone who could not see it?
The closest that I can come to labelling my work would be calling it abstract expressionism. My paintings are mostly abstract, with hints of figures, forms and writings. The process is very immediate and spontaneous. Under each painting there are many different layers which give texture and history to the piece. I believe that art is a series of mistakes and painting is more about erasing and eliminating than adding. This is why my work has a minimalist feel to it.
Are there certain colours, shapes that you’re drawn to?
I use a lot of different shades of whites, blacks and oxidized pastels. Fish, umbrellas, bicycle wheels, letters, dripping paint and different body parts appear frequently in my works, however texture remains the dominant fixture.
What other talent would you like most to have?
All my life writing and acting have been integral part of my creative life. I have numerous plays (a number of them produced here in the US and abroad), three novels (two of them published), half a dozen scripts and hundreds of articles on films, theatre and art. I have been based in Los Angeles for almost 30 years now, however, I travel all over the world performing my monologues. One of my biggest regrets is that I did not pursue my music and stopped singing and playing the guitar in my early 20s.
What’s your favourite mediums to work in/on?
I love working with acrylic, its immediate, it dries very fast and it suits my temperament. I also use sticks of pastel, wax and oil based pencils and whatever I get my hands on at that specific moment. I paint mostly on stretched canvases and wood panels. Every once in a while I also use paper.
What artists influence or have influenced you(these need not be visual artists)and how have they done so?
In my early years I was very much in awe of Francis Bacon, however, the more abstract my work became, the more I began to feel a kinship with Cy Twombly and Antoni Tapies.
What non-visual art interest you and does this have an impact on your art?
Literature has always had a profound influence on me and my work. I read incessantly. But when I paint, music is what keeps me going. My taste in music is very eclectic. I always have my music full blast in my studio and I can listen to Mozart in one second and Rammstein in the next.
What do you think about artists using the Internet as a forum for sharing their work?
I am not too much into internet. I think there’s nothing wrong with using the internet as a forum and sharing ones work, but in general I am not a technology savvy person and without my assistant I would be completely lost.
What is your favourite toy, game or other artefact from your youth(and do you still own it)?
I don’t have much of anything left from my childhood. Changing countries of residences robs you of many of the relics of your past.
Got any new projects planned?
At the moment I am working on a new series of paintings for a show that might go to a few cities on the East Coast. Also, I have a solo exhibition scheduled in early 2008.
What advice can you give to other artists to help them improve their chances of survival in this global village we call our home?
Perseverance is the key. In my younger days I used to think that someone would discover me and put me on the map. It took me a while to realize that before you’re discovered you have to have something to show. If you’re good, sooner or later you will attract attention, the key is to keep at it, to persevere. I have seen too many mediocrities succeed by the sheer power of their audacity and will power.
One of my favourite living authors is Umberto Eco. I think he is the most important novelist of the 20th century. I also enjoy reading writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Milan Kundera, Jonathan Franzen, Amin Maalouf , Gunter Grass and others.
I enjoy listening to a lot of ethnic music, also anything that has the ability to energize me, from Clash to Gogol Bodello to Tom Waits and Lhasa.
What do you fear most?
On a very personal level, what I fear most is getting too old, becoming dependant on others and overstaying my welcome. I guess I should say the physical humiliation that sometimes comes with old age.