Uncovering Mickey Paraskevas’s Dark Side at SAC’s ‘Paint Your World’

Creepy art by Mickey Paraskevas at SAC
Creepy art by Mickey Paraskevas at SAC, Photo: Oliver Peterson

Beloved illustrator, cartoonist, painter and this week’s Dan’s Papers cover artist Mickey Paraskevas is well known for his diverse body of work. This is made very clear in Paint Your World: 40 Years of Illustration, Painting, Animation and Sketchbooks, his retrospective on view through November 10 at Southampton Arts Center (SAC). Join us at Dan’s Haunted Hamptons Bash and enjoy Paraskevas’s show this Saturday, November 2 from 7–11 p.m. You also might find that many of his creations fit seamlessly with the event’s Halloween theme.

Mickey Paraskevas beast on a train painting
Spooky painting by Mickey Paraskevas, Photo: Oliver Peterson

Some of your creepier work is in the SAC show. The “Spookhouse” wall comes to mind, as does your Shamlanders characters. Can you explain more about the “Spookhouse” painting?
“Spookhouse” was my first job. I was handed the script to Harvey Fierstein’s Spookhouse, an off-Broadway play in 1983, by a family friend who was the producer. I did the painting as an exercise for my undergraduate work at the School of Visual Arts, and Harry Rigby and the crew loved it so much it became the poster. I didn’t get paid much. I’m sure that’s why they used it. The play wasn’t very successful, but there are some people who remember it. I have a photo of me standing in Times Square in the ’80s when they plastered construction walls with the poster. At the age of 22 that was pretty exciting. The painting is still hanging in my house.

Paraskevas' "Spookhouse" and Lord of the Flies works at "Paint Your World,"
Paraskevas’ “Spookhouse” flanked Lord of the Flies works and puppets at “Paint Your World,” Photo: Oliver Peterson

What about the paintings of the wild boars hanging on either side of that painting?
Those two paintings are personal favorites of mine from 1986. They’re from my original illustration portfolio and are from Lord of the Flies. My wife loves them but they aren’t going to hang in my house. They’re influenced by one of my teachers, Marshall Arisman. I’ve left my dark work behind me. I was very brooding in my younger days. I’ve lightened up.

Do you think of the Shamlanders as scary? How were they conceived?
Shamlanders was a book that I worked on with my mother, Betty. I use to paint these characters all the time. It comes from a Mexican mask that I saw in a book. I love masks like this. I just put my twist on it. I’ve been painting them for as long as I can remember. One drawing of them was used to promote Club Marakesh in Westhampton Beach in the ’80s. Go figure. They even ended up on promotional matchbooks for the club. The book Shamlanders was the actual beginning of my Nickelodeon cartoon Maggie and the Ferocious Beast. He was a side character. You can pick the book up on Alibris for you history buffs.

“Billionaires’ Moonlight Ball,” 2019 by Mickey Paraskevas
“Billionaires’ Moonlight Ball” (2019) featuring the Shamlanders by Mickey Paraskevas

Much of your work is considered “for children,” but there’s definitely a darker tone to some of it. Was this on purpose or does this just shine through in what you do? I’m thinking of “The Agent” and the “Stand-Up Devil,” but even the Donald Duck has a bit of menace to him.
I don’t think of my work for kids. I paint to make a statement and tell a story. I could have been a writer but I can’t spell. A painting is more specific for me. Writing takes me much too long. It’s easier to paint what’s in my head than write it all out. I know some people think the Duck is menacing, and he is, but I think it’s more fun than dark. It’s that mix of fun and dark that gives it the edge. I could go on but it’s better to just look at the painting and think about it. The painting of the cat rising up over the landscape is my personal favorite. I don’t know why he’s there—it just needed to be there. It’s something subliminal I guess. I’ll leave that to historians.

Fireproof Woman painting by Mickey Paraskevas
Fireproof Woman painting by Mickey Paraskevas, Photo: Oliver Peterson

And, of course, you’ve done many of Dan’s Papers’ most memorable Halloween covers. What’s your process for those?
I’ve done most of them on the computer. I try to create an image that will scare the living daylights out of children. Actually that’s not true. I’m not into gore Halloween. I like Halloween that’s just more funny-scary than that creepy clown from IT. This year’s cover goes with the masked mannequins I created for my Paint Your World retrospective. I wanted actors to wear those masks and walk around at the opening. It got complicated, so we opted for the mannequins—my wife’s idea.

We were shopping one day and she looked at me and said, “Just paint them. They’ll look terrific.” I don’t know what I’d do with out Maria. She also writes most of the funny Green Monkeys episodes now. Mine are the ones everyone can’t figure out. Green Monkeys has a long and interesting history that some day we can talk about in another article. It will take up a few pages. Green Monkeys: from Dan’s Papers to Hollywood and Back. Call me about that sometime and I’ll burn your ears.

Shamlanders characters by Mickey Paraskevas
Shamlanders characters by Mickey Paraskevas, Photo: Oliver Peterson

Are you a fan of Halloween? Will you be attending the Dan’s Haunted Hamptons Bash on November 2?​
As I said, I’m not a fan of gore at all. Unless we’re talking The Shining from Kubrick. Best scary move ever made. Don’t even bother arguing with me. Will I be attending? You’ll have to spot me under one of my masks. (Big scary laugh.)

See all of Mickey Paraskevas’s exciting work—scary and otherwise—at his Paint Your World retrospective during Dan’s Haunted Hamptons Bash tonight, Saturday, November 2 from 7–11 p.m. at Southampton Arts Center. Tickets and details are available at DansTaste.com/haunted-hamptons-bash.

Learn more about Paraskevas, including work for sale, at michaelparaskevas.com.

November 1, 2019 Dan's Papers cover art by Mickey Paraskevas
November 1, 2019 Dan’s Papers cover art by Mickey Paraskevas

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