Member Spotlights are an on-going series of interviews with people from our community! You can learn more about becoming a member here. For this instalment we connected with Toronto-based painter, Michelle Tourikian.
Jeff Hamada: Tell me a little bit about your childhood.
Michelle Tourikian: I was a super intense kid lost in dreamland, always getting caught up in a new obsession and researching it to death. I would do projects for fun outside of school simply because I liked learning and was always very passionate about what I was interested in. I also wrote a lot, mostly poetry and a short story or two, and always loved the fantasy genre. I have been drawing a lot since a very young age and would draw other kids’ rabbits at their request during recess. I was also a hardcore music student in high school, play flute and piccolo, and miss band dearly. Some of my noted obsessions over my childhood years were rabbits, bees, dinosaurs, manatees and space.
Jeff Hamada: I also love manatees. What’s changed since then? How are you the same and how are you different?
Michelle Tourikian: I would say that I’m still pretty similar to when I was a child, but have become a lot calmer, kinder, confident and outgoing in my adult years. I still love researching tons of different things, but probably in a less intense way. So I guess basically the same, but less angsty and intense haha.
Jeff Hamada: Was there a specific moment when you realized you wanted to be an artist?
Michelle Tourikian: I remember finding something I wrote from when I was 11 that proclaimed I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. I remember wanting to be an archaeologist or a marine biologist at different points when I was young, but I think being artist has always been my main path. In my last year of high school, I was divided between going into music or art and I chose art. My family always encouraged me to go in this direction as well and I am very grateful for their support.
Jeff Hamada: You have a really distinct style, how quickly did that develop? What was the process like, finding your own voice?
Michelle Tourikian: It’s taken a long time to develop a style that feels like a good fit. I like to think that I have always had a pretty distinct approach and interests, but I do like to experiment a lot so I have flirted with a ton of different styles. Over time I discovered what I am currently doing and found it was a beautiful marriage of my interests and very enjoyable to work on. I look forward to continuing down this path and trying more new things down the road. It is important to keep switching things up a bit so you don’t get bored.
Jeff Hamada: You went to Florence as part of the program at OCAD, what do you think you learned in Italy that you wouldn’t have learned at home?
Michelle Tourikian: It’s difficult to pinpoint one thing, but living and studying in Florence was a wonderful experience and very important for my personal development. That experience helped me gain independence, confidence, a new perspective on the world and revitalized my artistic practice. Our art history professor, the late Peter Porcal, was an inspiration and gave us all a humorous look into the rich history of art in Florence. Florence is an incredible city and it was amazing being surrounded by so many famous works of art. If I never participated in the Florence program, I would have missed out on a lot of personal growth, fantastic friends, beautiful artwork, and new experiences.
Jeff Hamada: Who is inspiring you on Instagram these days? Can you give me your top 5 right now?
Michelle Tourikian: I follow way too many artists on Instagram, so my apologies to the ones I didn’t mention. You’re all amazing! Some of my favourites are: Jean Pierre Roy, Henrik Aa. Uldalen, Benjamin Garcia, Cinta Vidal, Erik Jones.
Jeff Hamada: Love all of their work! I can see how someone like Jean Pierre Roy in particular could be an influence for you. What’s your favourite album to listen to while you work?
Michelle Tourikian: I listen to podcasts, audiobooks and music while working. My musical tastes are very eclectic, and I change up what I’m listening to pretty often. This week I discovered Grizzly Bear’s “Painted Ruins”, which is excellent. Some of my favourite artists are Kimbra, Mother Mother, MGMT, and so many more.
Jeff Hamada: What are some of the themes you’re exploring in the work you’re creating right now?
Michelle Tourikian: My current work focuses on combining space imagery with statues of Greek Gods. This combination of imagery implies a connection between divinity and space, which could also be thought of as the natural world. Nature is both beautiful and merciless. Much like nature, the Greek Gods were also often volatile figures, so my work could be seen as a celebration of the magic and unpredictability of the natural world.
Jeff Hamada: Do you feel like what you’re doing now is what you were born to do?
Michelle Tourikian: Yes I think so, though I do still look forward to pushing my painting practice even further and trying out new things outside of painting. It’s never too late to learn something new and broaden your horizons.
Jeff Hamada: What are you most proud of at this point in your life? This doesn’t have to be art-related, but it could be.
Michelle Tourikian: That’s a hard call, but I’d say overcoming the crippling anxiety I experienced during my teenage years. It was horrendous to live through and I am so damn proud to be the person I am today. Life has never been better, and I feel so happy, confident and am thoroughly loving life.
Jeff Hamada: A good place to be! What’s one thing you want to accomplish this year? And what about in your lifetime?
Michelle Tourikian: This year, I would love to take some classes in jewellery fabrication. It’s a huge interest of mine and I would love to dip my toes into that world and see how much I enjoy it.
In my lifetime, my goals are to stay as healthy and active as possible, and expand my artistic practice and reach to a point where my work is very well known and highly regarded.