SANTA FE, NM.- Paul Sarkisian, visionary American artist, husband, father and grandfather passed away on July 29, 2019. He was 90 years old.
Paul Sarkisian was a true visual auteur and unstoppable creative force throughout most of the 20th century and early part of the 21st century. He helped to define contemporary art on the West Coast as a member of the Ferus Gallerys stable of artists in the 1950s and then played an important role as a New Realist painter during the 1970s and 1980s.
Born in Chicago in 1928, Paul was given a full scholarship at age 16 to attend the prestigious Chicago Art Institute. While serving stateside during the Korean War, not even the U.S. Army could curtail Pauls creative impulse, and his regiment commander arranged for an off-base studio and after-hours furlough so that he could paint without interference. As a young painter in early 1950s Los Angeles, Paul caught the eye of maverick curator Walter Hopps, and together they began a decades-long working relationship. He was among the few artists to exhibit in all venues overseen by Hopps during his seminal Los Angeles period, including the Syndel Studio in 1954, Action Painting in 1955, Action Painting 2 in 1956, the Ferus Gallery in 1957 and the Pasadena Art Museum in 1961, 1963 and 1968. Hopps later championed Pauls work with solo shows at the Corcoran Museums Dupont Center and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC.
During the mid-1950s Paul lived in Mexico City, where he spent time at Frida Kahlos home and studied literature under Norman Mailer at Mexico City College. In the late 1950s he took a studio in Boston, where he met a beautiful young artist named Carol McPhee. The two were married and moved to the West Coast, where they thrived as artists and members of the burgeoning contemporary art scene. They founded the Aura Gallery with fellow artists George Herms and Richard Pettibone and had as friends and colleagues some of the most progressive thinkers and artists of the era, among them John Altoon, Peter Volkas, Ed Keinholtz, Dean Stockwell, Stan Brakhage and the pioneering Caltech quantum physicist Richard Feynman, to whom Paul gave drawing lessons in a go-go bar while dancing girls posed for them as life-drawing models. Whose idea that was, well never know.
The 1960s and 1970s were a prolific period for Paul. He held teaching positions at UC Berkley, the University of Southern California, the University of Oregon and the University of South Florida at Tampa. He won a Copley Foundation Grant, sat on the jury of the National Endowment for the Arts and exhibited at numerous public venues including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Newport Harbor Art Museum, the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, the 34th Corcoran Biennial, DOCUMENTA 5, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian Institution, the Chicago Arts Club and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, where Paul and Chuck Close shared a two-person show. In 1965, Pauls work was shown in the American Express Pavilion at the New York Worlds Fair, only to be taken down after the Reverend Bill Graham lobbied against its depiction of nudity. Paul loved that.
In 1965 Carol gave birth to their only child, Peter, and in 1971 the family moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Paul held a position as artist in residence at the famed Tamarind Institute. With help from lithographer Chris Cordes and other Tamarind printers, Paul produced the institutes first-ever series of lithographs to incorporate photographic source material, an innovation that later become common practice throughout the print world. While working in New Mexico Paul and Carol fell in love with the small village of Cerrillos, purchasing the towns historic school compound, which included a large gymnasium, basketball court, bleachers and stage. The family lived there throughout the 1970s, becoming good friends with artist Georgia OKeefe, who often visited them for impromptu roller skating parties in the gym. In 1980 Paul and Carol moved to Santa Fe, where they designed and built a large studio and exhibition space. They lived and worked there together for the rest of their lives, practically buried beneath seven decades of art.
Pauls repertoire and visual command as an artist was truly remarkable. He worked his way there from humble beginnings, painting almost every day for over 70 years. During that time he transitioned from Abstract Expressionism, to Assemblage, to Figurative Surrealism, to New Realism, to Color-Field Minimalism, to pure line drawing - achieving a level of mastery in each discipline that few artists ever attain in a single mode or medium.
Paul Sarkisian was a force of nature who lived in the service of beauty. Words cannot express how his passing marks the end of an era in which original thinkers shaped their own reality and set the stage for great contributions through art and action. He did it his way, putting passion before everything else, and that passion lives on in the nearly 1000 works he left behind.