by Karen Schaffner

If it were not for the offer of a bite of an apple by a homeless
 French painter on banks of Paris” Seine River, Topanga Canyon might not have its newest art studio.

Shahin Mojtabai, instructor and owner of the new Shishkin Art
 Studio, School of Realism on Topanga Canyon Boulevard, said it was a childhood encounter with the painter that changed his life. A self-admitted spoiled child, Mojtabai said he would not finish his meal if he thought what was on his plate looked like leftovers. He would  never accept a drink from anyone”s glass. That”s why he knows something important happened that day by the Seine.

“I stopped and watched a couple of painters at work. One of the
 painters, I remember, had a long and almost scary face. He was skinny and tall and when he approached me, he was smiling. His teeth are still fresh in my memory: long and almost gum-less,” Mojtabai said. “Then, with a half-eaten apple in his hand he reached over and without saying a word, I felt him call for me to grab it. It was like voila, the seed of my love for critical realism was planted.”

Now Mojtabai would like to do the same for his students,
 although perhaps he won”t be using an apple. Named for the Russian realist painter Ivan Shishkin, Shishkin studio will be a place where anyone can learn to paint the ordinary and observable world in a realistic and objective style, according to Mojtabai. He said talent is not a requirement.

“Talent doesn”t play such a role,” he said. “It”s the skill of life
 (that”s important). Life is about becoming more sensitive to our environment. Talent means that someone could already be more sensitive.”

Mojtabai, 43, has 14 years experience under his belt as a
 painter and teacher, and is accepting new students of almost all ages, although anyone interested should be at least 10 years old.

Sahel Javanshir of Tarzana is one of Mojtabai”s adult students.
 Although she has had other teachers, for the past three years she has been coming to Mojtabai.

“He is very expressive and he”s very artistic . . . He teaches
 everything he knows and he keeps repeating so you get it. He explains perfectly and he can nicely make his point. And of course, he”s a great painter. He”s very honest and sometimes you might not like his honesty,” she said with a laugh.

“I love teaching almost more than I love painting,” Mojtabai said.
 For him, it”s all about seeing the light go on in students” eyes when they get it. “What if you make that difference for a person that one time” It makes me feel like my existence matters.”

Shishkin Art Studio, School of Realism

8830 Farralone av west hills 91304