Hamptons.com recently had the opportunity to chat with famed illustrator and long-time children’s book author Mickey Paraskevas about his upcoming 40 years retrospective exhibit opening September 20th at the Southampton Arts Center and about his life story. He’s worked for many major magazines including, Sports Illustrated, Time, Town & Country, New York Magazine and Rolling Stone, to name but a few.
Paraskevas is colorful, expressive and full of an enthusiasm Walt Disney would understand.
When I asked Paraskevas when did he first know he had a gift for the arts, he replied he was born and raised in Roselle Park, New Jersey, and “around 11-years-old, we [Paraskevas’ family] were in a local arts supply store and I picked up a sketchbook and said to him [Paraskevas’ dad], ‘Will you buy this for me?’ I never asked my father for anything but I wanted this blue covered sketchbook. He said, ‘What do you want this for?’ And, I again said, ‘Will you buy this for me?’ It said right on the cover, My Sketch Book…and I still have it. It was then that I started drawing and keeping them right there in that book.”
Then, he explained, “From then on I really liked drawing. I didn’t want to do anything else.”
Following up, I asked Paraskevas who was his early mentor who helped encourage him instead of discourage his start into the art world? He replied, “I worked with my mother for years, but other than my mother, by the time I was twenty I had a teacher named Marshall Arisnan. One day he said, ‘You really have a lot of talent, you’re really good and I think you can have a life as an artist.”
Paraskevas illustrated and wrote 23 children’s books over the years with his mother, Betty. The two went on to create and write the animated television series Maggie and the Ferocious Beast for Nickelodeon. Two of their other books were also made into animated series: Marvin the Tap-Dancing Horse for PBS and The Kids from Room 402 for Fox Family. Betty passed away in 2010 and Mickey continues to work on animated projects for a variety of companies. He said, “My mom always believed in me.”
I asked about his first introduction to Southampton? Paraskevas chuckled and then told the story of his folks buying a place in Shinnecock Hills when he was 18-years-old and of him driving out to the beach his first day there. “I said to myself, I was by myself and I said, ‘I really don’t want to leave!’ I then said to my mother, ‘I want to stay here, I don’t want to have to go back to New Jersey, I want to stay here’ and I did stay,” he shared.
Concerning the upcoming exhibit, Paraskevas said he is nervous, “About fitting it all in, fitting everything I wanted to use for the show. I think I needed one more room, maybe two but I do have four wonderful, big rooms to fill and I’ll manage.”
I asked Paraskevas what is the one exhibit he is most excited about and his answer was instantaneous, “The giant 12-foot inflatable Ferocious Beast! It’s spectacular!”
It has been reported that Paraskevas works in acrylic, oil, watercolor or whatever the mood suits him at the moment. He also works digitally, since the demands of the current illustration market requires quickness and the ability to change things at the last minute and is always working on something. He is currently writing and drawing a weekly comic, The Green Monkeys for Dan’s Papers. He is also writing and drawing Lili and Derek, a collection of daily comics, with his wife Maria.
Paraskevas said, “My wife is the most wonderful person in the world. I used to work with my mom, we did 23 kid’s books together, but now I work with my wife, Maria. We have known each other for twenty years and got married six years ago.”
Paraskevas mentioned although the exhibit opens on the September 20th, “there is a big Ho-ha opening on the 21st with dancing afterwards.”
Paint Your World – a 40-Year Retrospective of the Work of Michael Paraskevas will be on view Friday, September 20 through Sunday, November 10. There will be a public opening reception on Saturday, September 21, from 5 to 8 p.m.
Southampton Arts Center is located at 25 Jobs Lane in Southampton. For more information, call 631-283-0967 or visit outhamptonartscenter.org.