By Annette Hinkle
It’s fair to say that Michael “Mickey” Paraskevas’s mind doesn’t work in the same way most people’s do.
For example, as an artist, he’ll offer a straight forward, lovely, realistic landscape rendering of an Iowa cornfield. Then he’ll push it over the edge by plopping down a giant figure of Mickey Mouse right in the middle of it all.
“I just couldn’t help myself,” said Paraskevas by way of defense in a recent phone interview. “I like a story — even if it’s about a lonely road.”
In fact, Paraskevas and his wife, Maria, who live in Southampton, have explored lots of lonely midwestern roads, having visited Iowa three times in recent years on research trips for a book.
“The closest Starbucks was 90 minutes away,” he said. “Maria said, let’s just buy a house there. It was an interesting place.”
The results of Paraskevas’s trips to Iowa can be seen on his website where his sketchbook featuring those images — both fanciful and realistic — can be viewed. Placid farms, drawings of adorable piglets, spectacular sunsets and many a rural road are all well represented in the travelogue.
Looking through the work, it soon becomes evident that, as an artist, Paraskevas notices everything about the world around him … and has a propensity for making up the rest. After four decades creating more than two dozen children’s books, animated kids series, and countless illustrations and paintings for top magazines, Paraskevas is ready to celebrate. He’s doing exactly that in the coming weeks at the Southampton Arts Center (SAC) where a retrospective exhibition of his paintings, sketches, animation, illustration, cartoons and more goes on view beginning September 20.
Paraskevas has been an illustrator since earning a degree from the School of Visual Arts in 1984, where he also earned an MFA in 1986. Much of the work Paraskevas created for the benefit of children was in partnership with his mother, Betty Paraskevas. Prior to her death in 2010, the mother/son duo illustrated and wrote 24 children’s books and created and wrote three animated television series — “Maggie and the Ferocious Beast” for Nickelodeon, “Marvin the Tap-Dancing Horse” for PBS, and “Kids from Room 402” for Fox Family.
Since his mother’s passing, Paraskevas has done 10 more children’s books on his own, and in conjunction with the SAC show, is releasing a limited run of his newest book, “Paint Your World.”
“It’s about a cow who gets bored and figures out a way to paint,” he explained. “She found an outlet for her creativity.”
Apparently, at SAC Paraskevas has also found an outlet for his creativity. It’s not just his colorful illustrations that will take over the walls at SAC. He has also made a giant 12-foot inflatable Ferocious Beast out of vinyl and even bought a cow statue which he has painted to look like the cover of his new book.
When asked how the retrospective exhibition came about, Paraskevas pointed to another artist who had an exhibition at SAC back in 2017.
“I thought this would be the best place for sure,” he said. “I saw art Donovan’s steampunk show and realized in a year and a half, it would be my 40th year out here.
“If I want to do a retrospective, here would be the place.”
So Paraskevas wrote a proposal and invited SAC’s artistic director Amy Kirwin and executive director Tom Dunn to visit the studio to see what he had to offer by way of an exhibition.
“Their mouths dropped open and they said, ‘This is what you want to do?’” he recalled. “I had sketchbooks, children’s book art, and upstairs, there was even more.”
As an artist and illustrator, Paraskevas moves fluidly from realism to the most fanciful figures and scenes imaginable. He feels that by seeing all his work in one place at SAC, viewers will be able to understand his thought process and how his inspiration explores to both ends of the continuum.
“It’s all about storytelling, as opposed to all being stylistically the same,” he explained.
To help put the work that he’s created over the past 40 years into context, Paraskevas will be offering two walking tours of the exhibition during its run, the first on Sunday, September 22 during opening weekend, and the second on Sunday, November 10 just before the exhibition closes.
Of course, a large part of Paraskevas’s inspiration over the years came from his mother, with whom he worked closely on their many projects. Redefining his new creative life without her has been an adjustment.
“I took off after my mom died in 2010 and went to L.A. for six months,” he said. “She really wrote and I learned a lot about writing from her. Her scripts from Maggie is where she shined. She knew how to write dialogue and tell a story … when you see her scripts, I think that’s what she was the best at.
“She was a good writer, but a bad technician on the computer,” he added. “I learned to write dialogue by retyping her scripts … then I started writing scripts and I ended up writing a couple for the show.”
Episodes of “Maggie and the Ferocious Beast” will be screened at SAC during the exhibition. Also on view will be examples of Paraskevas’s local work — not just the many cartoons and covers he did for Dan’s Papers over the years, but pieces of memorabilia from local clubs, including sketches he created for Danceteria in Water Mill, which burned down back in the late 1980s.
“I have all these pictures of me standing in the rubble,” Paraskevas said. “I went there and was pulling stuff out, including a melted turntable. It’s a piece of art.”
Such is the imagination of Michael Paraskevas.
“Paint Your World — a 40-Year Retrospective of the Work of Michael Paraskevas” will be on view at the Southampton Arts Center, 25 Jobs Lane, from Friday, September 20 to Sunday, November 10. His newest children’s book, “Paint Your World,” is inspired by and features Southampton Arts Center, and will be available for purchase during the exhibition. The opening reception for the show is Saturday, September 21, from 5 to 8 p.m. and will be followed by the return of the Silent Disco Outdoor Dance Party on the West Lawn from 8 to 11 p.m. Two DJ’s will be spinning ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and ’00s hits and today’s hottest dance music on three channels. Headphones will be provided free of charge, first come first served. Beverages will be available for purchase.
Other “Paint Your World” programs at Southampton Arts Center:
- Artist-Led Gallery Tours with Michael Paraskevas
Sundays, September 22 and November 10, 12:30 p.m. Free. Closing day tour on November 10 followed by a celebratory champagne toast.
- Stories with Mickey
Sundays, September 29 and October 20, 3 p.m. Free.
- Paint Your World Illustrated Talk with Michael Paraskevas
Thursday, October 17, 6 p.m. Free.