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I recently interviewed artist Anto Patanian. Mr. Patanian admires the work of Mark Rothko and other artists who were involved with American abstract expressionism. Through the years he has embraced a form of Lyrical Minimalism. Anto has sold work to collectors in the United States, Canada, France, Austria, Lebanon and Iran.


Q.  When did you first discover that art would be an important part of your adult life?

A.  As a child, and like any other child, I started scribbling on any piece of paper I could find, and yes sometimes also on the walls, to my mother’s dismay, and never stopped scribbling since then. I remember that I chose to follow a career in art when I was seven or eight years of age, while indulging in my preferred pastime which was flipping through the pages of art books admiring the work of old and modern masters.


Q.  How has society influenced your art? Are there any social implications in your art?

A.  Art is a cultural phenomenon and develops in a social environment, whether that environment is advanced or primitive. An artist needs to approach art with a critical mind and maintain contacts with the outside world, observing, discussing, and analyzing current trends.  Even Cézanne, who was the solitary artist par excellence, maintained contacts with artists and young admirers after his final retirement in Aix. On the other hand, I do not believe in messages in art if by the term "social influences" we imply that some extrinsic meaning is attached to a work of art.  Social, philosophical or political concerns are better expressed by words rather than colors and shapes. Picasso’s Guernica, while it represents the devastation of war, cannot be defined as an anti-war pamphlet. As Maurice Denis put it over a century ago, "a painting, before being a battle horse, a nude or any other anecdote, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order." When I paint, I concentrate exclusively on that flat surface."


Q.  On average, how long does it take you to create a piece?

A.  Usually I can complete an oil painting in a day or up to a week depending on size, but that’s only for the execution phase. A painting may require several days of sketching until I arrive at a satisfactory composition. I usually start by sketching on any piece of paper, usually post-its (I have thousands of sketches done on post-its).  Once I have the desired composition, I continue by creating a digital image of it and work on proportions and color schemes on a computer. Finally I transpose that image onto a canvas and continue to work on it. Naturally, the completed work is oftentimes substantially different from all the studies I prepared for it."


Q.  Do you have any 'studio rituals'? As in, do you listen to certain types of music while working? What helps to get you in the mood for working?

A.  I work in complete silence so not to disturb the internal dialogues with myself. There could be music in the studio but my mind will block it out.


Q.  If you could pinpoint the characteristics of people who collect your art, what would they be?

A.  The collectors of my work are mostly professionals and educators.


Q.  Discuss one of your pieces. What were you thinking when you created it?

A.  Discussing a specific painting is very technical, usually unintelligible and boring for non-artists. On the other hand, accomplished artists don’t need such presentation because they would sense the thought process in a painting even if they are unable to formulate it.

Starting from the early 1990’s, I designated all my paintings as either Interspace, for works on canvas, or Innerspace, for works on paper. In reality, all my paintings are both inner and inter space at the same time.  Inner-space suggests that the work of art is not a view of the outside world but is concerned with the inner self, and more specifically, the mind that reflects on the means to populate the white flat surface before it. Inter-space is a more formalistic description of the work: it expresses the primary intent of looking not at the various shapes or planes that make up the painted canvas, but at how the gap or emptiness created between them is composed.

In 2003, I began a new series entitled Wall which, in addition to all the above, emphasizes the bi-dimensionality of the work where shapes and planes are assembled as a mason erecting a wall.

I remember that while I was working on the painting that later became Wall 1, my son asked me if my concept of "inter-space" still holds for this new painting. I answered that I intended to change the title to "wall" because this new work was a new development and represented a step forward; then I corrected myself and said that I was in fact taking a step sideways, thus the subtitle of this painting.

Early in my career in France, I was naturally attracted to the French Lyrical Abstract movement, at a time where most of its masters were still active. This movement was a reaction to geometric abstract trends that the French found too dry.  When I moved to the United States in the early 1980’s I felt affinities with Abstract Expressionism, the American counterpart of the Lyrical Abstract movement. However, my work slowly evolved into what I would designate with the paradoxical name of Lyrical Minimalism, using more simple tools of expression, simple geometric shapes without losing the freedom of the brushstrokes inherited from my early sources.


Q.  Which school of art did you attend? What can you tell us about the art department that you attended?

A.    I had formal training in the 1970’s at the National Academy of Fine-Arts in Paris, France where I studied drawing, painting and lithograph. However I believe that training for any creator in the visual arts is mainly work done outside art schools.  I benefited more from my studies at the University of Paris, first majoring in philosophy then literature and linguistics than any training in the visual arts. There is a skill in analyzing issues of artistic significance that is acquired as a direct result of general education and not necessarily from discussing artworks in fine art schools.


Q.  Why did you choose the mediums that you use?

A.    I began using oils when I was only eight or nine. At the time, using oil colors seemed to be the serious medium: this was similar to a young boy secretly smoking cigarettes to emulate what he believes adulthood is. Slowly oil colors became the medium of choice. I now use acrylic paint in conjunction with oils. The undercoat is acrylic, the final coat is oil. This system provides me the opportunity of working at a much faster pace.

In the 1970’s I began working with pastels, trying oil pastel first then shifted to dry pastel which immediately became my preferred medium for working on paper. I like the speed of execution and the range of texture it allows.


Q.  In one sentence... why do you create art?

A.    "I am addicted to art: when I don’t paint for a while, I feel withdrawal symptoms." I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Anto Patanian. Feel free to critique or discuss his work.

Brian Sherwin, (2007)



© Anto Patanian 2000 - 2010