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Different paths lead to artistic union

The Sarkisian artists, father Paul and son Peter, will join their various works in a show at the Orange County Museum of Art.

April 10, 2014|By Michael Miller
  • Peter Sarkisian stands in front of his father's "Untitled #5" from 1982 during installation of “Sarkisian & Sarkisian” at the Orange County Museum of Art.
Peter Sarkisian stands in front of his father's… (Don Leach, Daily…)

He still remembers Georgia O'Keeffe on roller skates. Growing up as a painter's son in a small New Mexico town, Peter Sarkisian got a firsthand view of many of the art scene's luminaries — including the times when they set aside the brush and played party games with his family.

In the abandoned school building that his parents converted to a living space, Sarkisian sometimes felt removed from mainstream society. Still, he witnessed the business end of the arts: the collectors who stopped by the house, the shows in New York, the revenues that paid the bills for years.

In time, Sarkisian became a renowned artist himself. But when visitors attend the "Sarkisian & Sarkisian" show at the Orange County Museum of Art, some of them may wonder who the second Sarkisian is.

More than 30 years ago, Paul Sarkisian, who had won raves and drawn hefty commissions in Los Angeles and New York, walked away from the scene. While his son racked up shows worldwide, the elder Sarkisian stayed in New Mexico, honing his craft and living the speculated-about life of a J.D. Salinger or Bill Watterson.

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Was it a conscious decision to add a layer of mystique to his work? According to the younger Sarkisian, not at all.

"A lot of those guys are off the grid, but they're not really off the grid, because there's somebody there making sure that you know they're off the grid," Peter said last week at the museum, where the show was in the process of being installed. "When my dad went off the grid, he was really off the grid.

"Those guys knew exactly what they were doing. They were instrumental in their own disappearance, so to speak. My dad just kind of dropped out."

Now, the elder Sarkisian has dropped back in. Nine years ago, SITE Santa Fe put on an exhibit of his work — his first in nearly a quarter-century. The OCMA show, his first since 2005, marks a career milestone for him and Peter: It's the first time they've displayed their work together.

In some ways, it's a joyous moment for Peter. But he admits to a few pangs of regret.

His mother, who served as one of his first art teachers, won't be able to attend — she died of cancer a year and a half ago. His father, nearing his 90th birthday, has trouble staying focused at times and can no longer travel on his own; he wasn't available for an interview about the OCMA show.

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