Walter Paul Bebirian has been creating art since 1958. His last physical piece was created in 2001, when he discovered his severe allergic reaction to paint and pigment. Since then he has worked only in the digital media. He was born and raised in Forest Hills, where he still resides. He attended P.S. 144 in Forest Hills, as well as Russell Sage Jr. H.S. and Brooklyn Technical H.S. He graduated from Queens College with a degree in psychology and English. He is an avid photographer and artist, combining his love of both in his work. Bebirian views any available resources as a means to enhance one’s innate abilities. He has developed a plethora of articles that explore these ideas and keeps a blog of his work and thoughts at: www.waltersrandomthoughts.blogspot.com. In his own words, “Nowhere else than in the human mind lays the power to take the thoughts that come to them and transform the worlds that they inhabit – to invent – to create – to transform, as well as to totally reshape the environment that humans inhabit to accommodate the environment to their liking to make things more pleasant and to allow them to better function and continue on further in their ability with their minds to create even more powerful and greater amounts of energy.”
NB: When did you first embrace the title artist? What makes an artist an artist?
WB: Great question – although I have been photographing for a long time – I did not even begin to think of myself as an artist photographically or otherwise until I began doing exhibitions in college and did a centerfold in the Queens College literary magazine, Whereas. Having my art being published there and other places meant a great deal for me and were encouraging. I also, during that period, won a first prize in an art fair competition in Trumbull, Connecticut and that was encouraging as well, since I had only brought one image to that fair on the MetroNorth that day and won the prize with that one submission.
It is also important to remember (for me) that during the earlier part of my life there was a great deal of discussion about whether or not photographers were artists or not – and there has been for a while now some of the same type of discussion as to whether people creating art on computers, iPhones and iPads are artists or are even creating art – but all of this is eventually washed away by time.
NB: Can you give an example of what a typical workday is like for you?
WB: I can get up at any time after going to sleep any time – perhaps I get exhausted at 9 p.m. and I might rise at 11:30 p.m. the same night to continue working, then I might go back to sleep at 1:30 a.m. and awake at 3 a.m. and get right back on the computer. I can continue like this during most of my day.
Many days I will stop at 11 a.m. and leave for Manhattan to give out my cards and usually return around 3 p.m. to have a bite of lunch and return to creating and uploading my images.
The only thing that changes such a routine is an assignment to photograph someone or their products or an assignment to photograph an event that I might have to travel to, such as a wedding or a party or a corporate event.
NB: You stopped creating physical art pieces in 2001 when you discovered your severe allergic reaction to paint and instead began creating digital art. How did you discover your allergy?
WB: Well the allergies and the reactions to different materials had been building up for years – even before that period and I became very sensitive, especially when I was even near a room that had paints in them and so I had for years transferred my efforts over to colored pencil on both Japanese Rice board (which was my last official physical piece) and just plain paper – whatever I could get my hands on. I had even gotten some clients who sat me down in a diner and paid me as I sat there and created hundreds of new drawings right in front of them – that was pretty exciting and I was not getting a lot for each of the drawings, but it was a fantastic experience to know that there were people who wanted my work to that extent!
NB: How does digital art compare to physical art? Are they different because a different medium is used for each? What do you prefer to create? What do you prefer to consume/view?
WB: Well I have spent so much time and energy and effort working with pure energy in digital media that I can see now that I have gained a greater understanding of what is possible and the different opportunities to go in many many many directions that I absolutely love the digital world that I live in and look forward to many many years of working with this pure energy and –
I do not foresee ever stopping –
I can go on like this forever –
Plus there is always the opportunity as well to continue photography and combine the photographs with the the purely digital images in collages and fragments and oh in so many different ways.
NB: Do you find that more people are photographers these days because of Instagram and iPhones? Like the artist question I asked, does the same thing apply to photography – is a photographer anyone who takes photos? Or is expertise needed? Or is passion all that matters? Are classifications themselves the issue here and anyone can be anything they believe they are?
WB: I am not qualified now, or will I ever be, to judge anyone else’s feelings or even their work. Each person has their own understanding and intentions whatever they are doing in any line of work and the classifications or labels that others put on anyone doing anything – to me do not matter at all.
I know for example that the very first photograph that I took with my very first camera, which was a Kodak Brownie Camera, was to me as good, if not better than any other image that I have taken since. That is my feeling and the intention with which I took that photograph and created that image back then, when I was eight years old. I actually remember doing it and afterwards (a few moments later) wondering if anyone in the world was going to ever be able to see that image.
Thankfully there is digitization of negatives and slides and the Internet and I can show you and everybody that very image right now with a link to it in my art galleries, www.bebirianart.com and http://www.imagekind.com/2-1-2010B_art?IMID=cbf1bfcb-011e-40d2-9b6e-ff7c...
Now that was with the Brownie – but I also get great enjoyment at pulling out my iPhone and creating an image with that and then incorporating that in many of my different abstract images.
There are also some other abstracts collaged onto the iPad image as well that were created in my main computer.
The possibilities and experiments go on and on and are endless and become more and more interesting every day. There are things that I am doing that I could never imagine anyone doing outside of a computer – they are just too intricate.
NB: Who is your favorite artist, living or dead?
WB: I pretty much appreciate everyone and their work no matter what style of work they created – the Egyptians, Francis Bacon, DeKooning, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Arshile Gorky – all of them that I have heard of and I am sure that there will be more dead ones that I will discover and like as time goes on. I only just recently discovered Francis Bacon (for example) and became intrigued by different concepts that he worked with, both with materials and his painting style by watching video interviews that he did. And then, before I knew it, his paintings were auctioned off for the highest prices ever – that is pretty interesting.
I have spent a great deal of time studying the works and the interviews done about or with each and every one of the artists that I could find and I discovered more and more what I like about each one of the artists and what they were trying to say and express – this search to discover what they were about is not over, and it never will be – there is always more to learn and even in my own work I see more and more that is going on in my own images the more I look back on what I have created already and what I can create, using past images all of the time.
As far as living artists – there are just so many that I have only seen a small fraction of them – but each individual artist, as far as I am concerned, has something valuable to add to the conversation and it is absolutely wonderful that we are able – each one of us – to be exposed to each other’s art on the Internet.
NB: Why do you personally create art? Is there a driving force involved?
WB: I am absolutely fascinated at what I am creating each and every moment and I am in no way interested in stopping the flow of what I am able to do – the love, enjoyment, amazement, admiration, intensity and so many more feelings that I have for what I am doing just keeps on growing with each and every new second.
These feelings did begin back when I took my first photograph and even before that, when I was always gazing at everyone else’s images in Life Magazine and Look Magazine and, of course, National Geographic and later on the photo magazines, art books and the museums that I got to go to any time in Manhattan. I do not recall exactly, but I do remember my father both photographing and doing videos and the results that he got must have influenced me in some way as well.
NB: How important do you think arts education is? Should it be more focused on in schools?
WB: I do not think that education is all that important to have students doing the art in class as much as to expose them to the work of others in museums and textbooks – after that exposure (from my recollection of things) the doing of the art happened when I was outside of the school day’s structure – off on my own and free to do as I pleased.
NB: What do you love most about creating art?
WB: Everything – thinking about what I want to do – doing it and seeing the results.
NB: Is there an underlying theme or message to your art?
WB: Not really – I think that I am basically exploring the infinite possibilities that are achievable with pure energy – and getting more and more excited as mankind (and womankind) move closer and closer to achieving greater and greater things in all areas of life.
NB: If you could have viewers of your work take away one word from what they saw, what would it be?
WB: Wow – that might be a word or any number of infinite possibilities of words that might make them remember a slight fraction of what they have seen.
But the feeling (that is different than just simply a word) that I want them to get is “more”. And then for them to be flooded with ideas, inspired, invigorated, energized and stimulated by whatever they have seen.
NB: Where can we view your digital work?
The Bebirian Art Collection is at www.bebirianart.com, and the entire collection is only available on line – there is a small sample that a person can see at the artnet.com site: http://www.artnet.com/galleries/the-bebirian-art-collection/about/
In order to interest the art collectors that clamor to that site to see art from all over the world – and a few blogs and other sites but it is easiest to go directly to the collection and get right into the meat of things.
NB: Is there any person or object you want as a subject of your art or photography or both?
I am honored and enjoy photographing every single individual that comes to me to be photographed and they are each and every one amazing human beings and exquisite subjects.