Poppies Under the Lilac Tree by David Arathoon

David Arathoon: Heir of Illuminators and Artist


YEREVAN/TORONTO — Artist David Arathoon was born in India and lives in Canada. He has achieved national success with numerous solo and group exhibitions in many private and public galleries. His paintings are in numerous corporate and private collections in Canada, the US, Australia, Hong Kong and other countries. Some of the numerous showings that have recently been mounted by Aratoon’s studio were titled: “Lilac Time;” “Autumn’s Gold;” “Where the Wild Roses Grow;” “Sonnet for Spring;” “Lilies of the Field;” “Gather Ye Rose Buds;” “Forever Autumn;” “Autumn’s Palanquin;” and “The Floating World.”

His paintings are included in many homes and public locations. Some corporate collections include: Vintage Inns, Queen’s Landing Hotel Niagara on the Lake, Toronto’s Market Gallery, Holiday Inn, Toronto, Movenpick Restaurants, Board of Trade, Humber College, Sunnybrook and Wellesley Hospitals, Canadian Tire Corporation, and Bell Canada. Arathoon is represented by several well known galleries, including: Whitten Gallery, King City, Gallerie Shayne, Montreal, The Russell Gallery, Peterborough, Harbour Gallery, Port Credit and McLaren-Barnes, Oakville, Odon Wagner Gallery, Toronto, Pegasus Gallery of Canadian Art, Salt Spring Island B.C.

David, nature and particularly, flowers, seem to be your biggest inspirations. No wonder, you come from India, a country, that has various flower fests and festivals.

I mainly paint what I see and know. I do not live near palm trees, so I do not paint them. I choose the colors as that suit my palette, often exaggerating them. I do not require making any painting like a photograph, because I have a camera to take pictures if I need that kind of realism. My figure paintings are actually illustrations, much like fairy tale picture books. Some have been as large as 5 feet tall by 7 feet. I paint them mostly by custom order.

In An Ontario Autumn by David Arathoon

Canada seems to be a rather monochromic country, yet you manage to keep the colorfulness of India.

Canada is very large and wide and has four distinct seasons. Each region has its own natural beauty and color schemes. The damp West Coast is very different from the colder East Coast. My favorite seasons to paint are spring and autumn. In the spring soft colors emerge in the leaves and grasses, and there are blossoms on the trees. In autumn, we get a vast range of colors in the changing leaves, combined with the evergreens, it is spectacular to see and paint.

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Your paintings with many human figures seems to be very “Western,” while your landscapes and still-lifes are very “Oriental.” The colorfulness is very typical for most of the artists of Armenian descent, even if they have never been in Armenia. So how we could characterize you? An Armenian artist? An Indian? Or will just Canadian cover all?

I am an Armenian artist born in Calcutta, India, as were my parents and some of their ancestors, who is now a Canadian Citizen.

Charity work is a part of your life. You are the founder of the successful and popular annual fundraiser: “Message in a Bottle,” which has raised nearly $1 million for the terminally ill Home Hospice Care Programs. What kind of projects have you been involved with?

I have used my paintings to create prints for a number of charities, for palliative care, health, the arts and education. I have started another project that has raised in excess of $1 million Canadian for a local AIDS, palliative and home hospice care.

The Aratoon family is very familiar to those interested in the history of the Armenians in India and the Far East. In the 19th century Agha Hacob Arathoon and his brother established the Manuck and Arathoon Armenian School, as well as an Armenian chapel in Djakarta, Indonesia. The Arathoon family was involved with the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. And in an interview you said that among your great-grandparents were also two illuminators, the French Jean-Jacques Russau and Persian-Armenian Mirza Malkum Khan. Could you please provide us some details?

Arathoon, spelled many ways, is a well known name used both as a first and last name. Malcolm is an Anglicized surname, from Malkomian and is my maternal side, close family to Mirza Malkum Khan and his maternal ancestors of the Rousseau family, which was Swiss-French, but that is going back into the 17th century. The Arathoon cousins are from the Raffles family. Other names in my family that were at Calcutta and or Rangoon are: Manuk, Lucas, Minas/Minos, Agabob, Seth. The latter is well known as the family. Seth is a branch of the well known Apcar family of India. One cousin of my great-grandmother Mary Lucas born Calcutta 1885 was the Armenian historian, Mesrovb Jacob Seth, author of Armenians in India. It is true my family were in Indonesia and Singapore as well and some cousins are still there. DNA testing has matched my family and myself up with several long lost branches.

David Arathoon

Topics: painting

And growing up in India you managed to receive Armenian education.

I attended the Davidian Armenian school in Calcutta. David Avietic David born at New Julfa, Iran in 1858, was the founder and benefactor of Davidian Girls School, where junior aged Armenian boys and girls were sent for schooling, many would go to the Armenian College there after. It was opened in 1922 and in the entrance hall, there was a bust portrait of the founder. He is buried in the Church grounds of the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth.

In 2010 you said you would like to travel to Armenia. Have you done it or is it still pending?

I have not yet made a trip to Armenia and wish to do so when I can! When I travel to Armenia it will be in springtime. I can imagine the ancient churches and temples will blend into the natural beauty of the Landscape. Fruit trees will be in pink and white blossoms, while poppies and other wild flowers, roll down hills and valleys in red and gold. I can imagine running mountain streams beneath bright blue skies. Heavenly turquoise blue skies which bring out the best in grapes and fruit that have been cultivated there for millennia. Like the still-life compositions of Armenian artist Hovsep Pushman, a favourite artist of mine, who worked later in America, I would be delighted to gather flowering branches and fruit and old pottery vessels and rugs to paint. Also I would have an interest in the local landscape and Armenian people wearing traditional clothing and jewelry. I would be happy to paint these in Armenia.

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