Painting the American dream
This story was featured in the August 2012 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Order the Southwest Art magazine August 2012 print edition here, or purchase the Southwest Art magazine August 2012 digital download here. Or simply click here to subscribe to Southwest Art magazine and never miss a story!
Southern California painter James Shilaimon is fond of portraying the mid-century modern homes that dot Southern California. The inspiration for this subject matter originated eight years ago, Shilaimon says, when he was driving through neighborhoods like Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. Spectacularly designed residences, often created by the famous architect Richard Neutra, caught his artistic eye.
For Shailmon the homes were reminders of how his mother always wanted him to become an architect. But unfortunately he had to work to help support his family and couldn’t even accept an art-school scholarship. “She was so disappointed. I thought about how happy she would be if I had designed such beautiful places,” he says. “That is when the idea of painting the exteriors of these houses and their interiors came about.”
Today Shilaimon is a full-time fine artist who is influenced by Renaissance masters like Michelangelo as well as contemporary painters like David Hockney. As this story was going to press, he was preparing works for two shows in California. But his path to a career in fine art was a rocky one. Shilaimon was born in Iraq, and his family was Chaldean, a Christian minority in a Muslim-dominated country. In 1976, when he was 10 years old, his father arranged passage from their Baghdad home to Greece after being warned to leave or be killed because of his religious beliefs. In Greece, the young boy didn’t attend school but worked as a carpenter to support the family—wielding heavy saws and lugging bundles of wood. When he finished at the end of the day, he rushed home to grab paper bags and pencils to draw. In 1980 the Red Cross sponsored the family to come to America, placing them in a Detroit housing project where Shilaimon was robbed and bullied. Eight months later, his father arranged for the family to board a bus to Los Angeles, where a friend awaited, and life in the ensuing years gradually improved.
“In my work today I am trying to convey the beauty of basically living the American dream,” Shilaimon says. “It’s been a struggle, but much good has come out of much bad.” —Bonnie Gangelhoff
Featured in the August 2012 issue of Southwest Art magazine–click below to purchase:
Southwest Art magazine August 2012 digital download
Southwest Art magazine August 2012 print edition
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