Rarely do we discover
a worthy artist who works alone and unheralded. Arthur
Pinajian was one of them. He drew and painted in obscurity
until his death in 1999 at the age of 85. Sharing a modest
one-story cottage in the village in Bellport, New York,
with his sister Armen (d.2005), Pinajian depended on her
totally for financial and moral support.
To our knowledge, no articles
were written about Pinajian and he exhibited and sold
his paintings only rarely. Despite this neglect, he
pursued his art steadfastly and with incredible determination.
The majority of his work was found after his death stacked
up in the one-car garage and attic of his sister’s property.
Along with the art were found his journals, many letters,
and sketch books that spanned the 50 years of his creative
life. When all is said and done, this oeuvre is important
because it represents an artist’s life in its totality.
Within it is found a prize legacy that will endure for
posterity; the remainder will win the respect of scholars
as they study in depth the life of a truly original
Pinajian, the son of Armenian holocaust survivors, was
a native of Union City, New Jersey. He started as a
cartoonist in the 1930s and found considerable success
fashioning comic strips for Quality, Marvel, and Centaur
After World War II,
during which he earned the Bronze Star for valor, he
rejected commercial art, attended the Art Students League
in New York, and committed himself to the pursuit of
serious painting. Prior to his many years in Bellport
with Armen, he rented a studio in Woodstock, New York,
and there and in West New York, New Jersey, he began
to wrestle with the challenges of being a modern artist.
This meant painting
in a variety of styles ranging from the figurative to
the abstract. The word exploration sums up the nature
of his quest: he worked in the manner of Impressionism,
Fauvism, Expressionism, and Cubism before turning to Surrealism
and various modes of abstraction, including Abstract Expressionism.
Part of Pinajian’s learning process was to echo the styles
of well-known artists — making free copies as a means
of perfecting his visual vocabulary. In the end, however,
he forged his own style without a heavy debt to others.
He also philosophized about the creative process. Found
among his effects were numerous journals in which he wrote
down his ideas about the making of art. Issues of color,
composition, and pattern captured much of his attention.
A late sketch
It is noteworthy that he became a veritable master of
What is so remarkable about Pinajian is his wholehearted
dedication to the process of painting. He pursued his
goals in isolation with the single-minded focus of a Gauguin
or Cezanne, refusing to give up in the face of public
indifference. In his later years he could be compared
to a researcher in a laboratory pursuing knowledge for
its own sake.
Pinajian’s work is uneven,
but when he hits the mark, especially in his abstractions,
he can be ranked among the best artists of his era.
It is satisfying to contemplate his more successful
works, doubly so because they capture the excitement
of visual modernism and exude a painterly integrity
that is rare in our time.