Canadian-Armenian Artist Picks the Brush Again

Amanda Storey, Novella, 21 October 2015

Gerard Paraghamian lives high up in a condo overlooking the Toronto Harbour, the Islands and the dots of people rushing around just south of the downtown core. On a bright mid-autumn afternoon, I stand next to him by an open window overlooking the scene as he chats on about his old place — a 3,000 square-foot home in the Bayview and Eglingon area. Scanning the scape far below us, I can’t help but notice how much it all looks like one of his paintings: a bustling collage of colours, lines and movement, like watercolour spilling over solid black lines to create beautifully composed chaos. (“I call it mixed media,” he says of his famously unique style. “I haven’t thrown the kitchen sink in there yet.”)

The walls of the iconic Canadian artist’s two-storey apartment are literally caked in paintings like these. It’s like a world tour in one room, with places like Venice, Times Square and Paraghamian’s own hometown of Nice, France beckoning me from inside their frames.

Amanda Storey, Novella, 21 October 2015

Gerard Paraghamian lives high up in a condo overlooking the Toronto Harbour, the Islands and the dots of people rushing around just south of the downtown core. On a bright mid-autumn afternoon, I stand next to him by an open window overlooking the scene as he chats on about his old place — a 3,000 square-foot home in the Bayview and Eglingon area. Scanning the scape far below us, I can’t help but notice how much it all looks like one of his paintings: a bustling collage of colours, lines and movement, like watercolour spilling over solid black lines to create beautifully composed chaos. (“I call it mixed media,” he says of his famously unique style. “I haven’t thrown the kitchen sink in there yet.”)

The walls of the iconic Canadian artist’s two-storey apartment are literally caked in paintings like these. It’s like a world tour in one room, with places like Venice, Times Square and Paraghamian’s own hometown of Nice, France beckoning me from inside their frames.

“I moved from a 3,000 sq. ft. house to a space that’s less than half that,” says Paraghamian. “And I plastered all my paintings on the walls, everywhere, and there’s still about 75 of them in the storage. And I’m freaking out — originals in storage!”

Stepping away from the window, Paraghamian walks with difficulty over to the couch. He’s one of the most decorated Canadian artists of the modern age, having been the official artist for some of the country’s biggest names and brands — among them Expo ’86 and the SkyDome (back when it was actually the SkyDome) — and he’s even been nominated for the Order of Canada. But since March of 2014, he’s been out of commission.

As we settle in in his bright den, his many paintings keeping us company, Paraghamian tells me what happened two springs ago. It was the final snowstorm of the season, and he was driving to his photographer’s house with some paintings to shoot when a family of raccoons appeared in the middle of the road. He swerved, the raccoons got away unscathed, but Paraghamian’s car slipped off the road and crashed.

“My vintage Corvette left me,” he jokes, although the artist himself was severely concussed in the accident. “I didn’t think it would last this long. I’m in pain everywhere, but I’m handling it. Just, as a result, I can’t really paint too much.”

Paraghamian hands me a large book from his coffee table: a four-and-a-half pound, 385-page collection of his personal favourite works he’s done over the years. As I flip through the chapters — categorized as Canada, the U.S., the Mediterranean, the south of France — Paraghamian divulges that he plans on releasing the book this fall. It’ll be like his “greatest hits:” a visual exploration of a Canadian icon’s most cherished works. And hopefully, he says, it will push him to slowly segue back into painting.

In the meantime, Paraghamian and his wife fills his schedule with “little travels” — while he couldn’t, say, backpack up Mount Kilimanjaro like he used to, he can still go back home to Nice, France, or take a leisurely trip somewhere warm.

“I just lay low. I don’t do heavy-duty trips, since I couldn’t walk all day anymore. I couldn’t climb mountains. But in a sense it’s okay, because I’ve done it all in the past. I went around the world.”

Paraghamian caught the travel bug when he was fresh out of the Ontario College of Art (today OCAD). He landed a job as an artistic director at the second-largest advertising agency in Canada and that job had him jet-setting everywhere. It wasn’t until 15 years later that he finally decided to abandon his career for his true passion: creating art, not directing it.

Apparently it was a solid move, since he’s now, well, Gerard Paraghamian. And after a long, well-deserved hiatus, he’s just about ready to step back into that role. Upon asking what his plans are for the rest of the year, Paraghamian tells me he plans to pick up his paintbrush again.

“Whether it’s easy or not, I’m planning on starting to paint,” he says, taking the book in his hands and flipping through his life’s work. “I plan on doing some more traveling and, if I feel better, I’d like to do a whole slew of new paintings. And I think it’s really going to be something.”

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