Theodore Deryan started his collection in the 90s with a lithograph of Francis Bacon, acquired at a Sotheby’s auction. The Cypriot-Lebanese art collector, who has Limassol as his base, says that art is a “constant living companion stirring various deep and profound emotions.”
The cultural sector in Limassol, he believes, has an exciting future ahead and longs to see a contemporary art museum in the city.
Theodore Deryan is holding an international contemporary art exhibition in Limassol, featuring works from his collection, showcasing artists from countries such as Cyprus, Indonesia, Cuba, Armenia and the UK, from November 18 to November 20. For more information: 99675099.
What brought you to Cyprus from Lebanon?
Cyprus offered us a sanctuary in the early days of the Lebanese civil war. Through my Cypriot Armenian mother with an extended family in Limassol, we soon were able to set up roots. After further stays in Nigeria and Canada, we settled in Cyprus for the final years of my high school education. My studies further took me to the USA where I eventually settled in New York from where, as a Cypriot, I made my return to Cyprus.
How did your interest in art begin?
You can’t avoid being exposed to art while living in Manhattan, NY. I used to live a few blocks away from the famous auction house Sotheby’s, and on weekends, thanks to an auctioneer friend of mine, I was invited to pre-auction exhibitions where I could examine all kinds of art. It was an awe-inspiring experience to come up close and personal with famous artworks. In time I began to read up on art and visit and appreciate the vast array of art available in museums and galleries in NY. This was during the then height of modern and contemporary art and the hype and attention it generated were intoxicating. The peak for me was being invited in May 1990 to the private evening auction for one painting only – Renoir’s Balle du moulin de la Galette 1876. This was a truly intoxicating experience where art, beauty, history, wealth, power and hype were all intertwined.
I followed this interest with exposure to the art scene in Armenia right after her independence. I began to explore and appreciate the intertwined beauty of the marriage of ethnic influences in creating a universally harmonized art. With frequent stop-overs in Paris and further traversing the unquenchable art scene of NY, I was hooked.
When did you decide to become an art collector?
It started slowly and according to my limited budget. In the late 80s, I started acquiring some art at auctions in NY and during my travels. I then started reading and researching and began distinguishing the subjective aspects of the appeal of visual art. It also helped that I had friends and family who were artists and serious collectors.
Do you remember the first piece in your collection?
It was on a snowy cold February day in the early ’90s when I had the courage to participate and bid on an auction at Sotheby’s and acquired a Francis Bacon lithograph “The Human Body (Study For The Metropolitan Museum Of Art) 1975”. This was followed by lithographs of the French Armenian artists, Carzou and Jansem.
According to which criteria do you select works for your collection?
Isn’t captivation enough? A subjective experience. All according to budget, and more methodologically, as an investment, I look at established artists whom I follow and respect. I also take chances with up-and-coming artists who have started making waves with bold and innovative art within their own communities. It has also been a challenge to identify art which subliminally fuses both ethnic undertones to a global contemporary genre. Art as an expression of culture, ethnicity, and harmony, sometimes disturbing but juxtaposed through its universality yet with a common denominator.
If I may elaborate further, what fascinates me is the evolution of art as a two-way mirror. From the Old masters and impressionists where art was a window into the world around us to contemporary expressive art as a mirror for self-examination and awareness. Art looking at you to bring about profound emotions, and self-identification, making it more subjective with an ever-constant dialogue of awareness. A constant “living” companion stirring various deep and profound emotions.
What is your relationship with artists? Do you visit studios to familiarize yourself with their work?
Absolutely, I was lucky enough to meet several artists in NY and also spend a lot of time in the studios of famous Armenian artists during my travels there. More recently, I have been travelling extensively to Bali, Indonesia where I spend a lot of time in the homes and studios of artists, especially in the art colony/community of Ubud. I have become good friends with a few of them and knowing them personally helps bridge cultural gaps and understand the profound expressive statements and feelings projected in their art.
Do you often travel abroad to see art?
Yes, wherever I am I try and visit art museums and exhibitions. My last pre-covid specific art trip was to Paris to view the amazing Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition at the Louvre and the Francis Bacon one at the Centre George Pompidou.
Who are your favourite artists?
Where do I start? For me, a specific artist is not as important as works of art specifically ones that subjectively evoke profound expressions and captivate an emotional experience regardless of a positive or a negative one. If I had to mention a few names it would be some of the works of Francis Bacon, Jean Michelle Basquiat, George Condo, Damien Hirst, Picasso, Frida Kahlo, Roy Lichtenstein, George Roaut, Martiros Saryan, Sarkis Hamalbashyan and the Balinese artist Yoesoef Olla.
Your base is Limassol. How do you evaluate the significant development of the art sector in recent years that the city has experienced?
When I had my physical art gallery in Limassol almost 10 years ago, art was taking more of a hold and, except for seasoned collectors, more and more people were beginning to appreciate art and be bold to expand their tastes and display art in their homes. My aim was and continues to be, to provide a wide spectrum of fine art from affordable decorative ones to serious collectables. It has been an ever-rising art scene whether in visual art or otherwise, a sense of art appreciation and maturity. The next step would be to have a contemporary art museum in Limassol.
What pieces of art will people be able to view in your upcoming exhibition in November?
I will be displaying a wide spectrum of fine art, both geographic and content-wise. From mature collectables, and up-and-coming artists to decorative art. The art displayed is from distant shores in a unique style. In an attempt to instil a culture of art appreciation away from the traditional scenes, I will also provide a forum and an opportunity for decorative pieces for art appreciators.
How do you evaluate the art market in recent years, especially considering the price rally which led to some works acquiring huge value?
I have seen and lived through the boom and bust of the art market of the late 90s. With its intrinsic value both as a personal journey and a store of value, art, therefore, cannot be judged solely from a purely financial aspect. It has helped that the financial development of the art market and especially the wider acceptance of art as collateral has propelled fine art into an asset class with an intrinsic store of value. In my opinion, it is not so dis-similar to real estate where art can fluctuate in value but over time it can only appreciate. There is a lot of art and many choices available these days. This has expanded the potential collector base and has helped put a floor on price levels. However, unique art is irreplaceable, hence I leave it to the market demands and the satiety value of collectors to set its financial parameters. Let’s just enjoy the journey and appreciate the amazing and hidden provocative emotions it evokes individually in us.