Arthur Pinajian In the Studio
During the first week of March of 2013-2014, the worldwide
press reported the extraordinary discovery of Arthur Pinajian,
an important artist whose life's work had been relegated
to the garbage but rescued just in time. ABC's "Good
Morning America" featured it as "the
unlikely discovery that has rocked the art world."
Hundreds of other
news outlets around the globe ran the story. Reports included
a major piece featured in The
New York Times.
Art historians nationwide are still expressing astonishment
that works of such a high caliber could have remained
completely unknown for the better part of a century. Major
private collectors have already purchased many of the
paintings, and at least six are headed to museums. Art
historian Peter Hastings Falk, Chief Curator of the Pinajian
Estate Collection, explains that the artist was a hermit
for his entire life. Arthur Pinajian life's work had been
packed tightly into a garage since he died in 1999 at
the age of 85. Now, after being exhibited across the nation,
his much-lauded abstract landscapes are being showcased
in Lost and Found, an ongoing exhibition at Gallery 125
in Bellport, New York.
After Pinajian's death, five decades of accumulated artwork
were found stacked up in the one-car garage and attic
of the cottage he shared with his sister in Bellport.
He had left instructions for his collection to be discarded
in the town dump, but at the last minute, an artist cousin
refused to let a garbage truck haul away the paintings.
Instead, Professor William Innes Homer [1929-2012], then
Dean of American Art Historians, was asked to examine
the salvaged collection. He was stunned by what he found:
a large body of extraordinary abstract landscapes and
figurative paintings by a highly gifted artist. At Homer's
urging, Falk signed on to head the project, and soon a
team of art historians was conducting research into the
life and art of Arthur Pinajian.
As a boy growing up in
an Armenian community in West Hoboken, N.J., Pinajian
was a completely self-trained cartoonist. During the
Great Depression he became one of the pioneers in a
new medium: the comic book. In 1940 he created "Madam
Fatal," the first cross-dressing superhero, for
After World War II, he enrolled at the Art Students League
in Woodstock, N.Y. Although he knew a number of the New
York Abstract Expressionists, such as Franz Kline and
Philip Guston, he was largely reclusive. For 22 years
his life revolved around Woodstock while he passionately
pursued his painting. His admirable poetic color combinations
are reminiscent of the tonalities of his better-known
fellow Armenian, Arshile Gorky [ca.1904-1948]. Late in
life, Pinajian moved with his sister to Bellport. There,
in a tiny bedroom-studio, he strived for visual and spiritual
conclusions regarding flatness and color, paralleling
the goals of the Abstract Expressionists.
The exhibition at Gallery 125 is accompanied by a 128-page
hardcover book with essays by art historians Falk, Richard
J. Boyle, and the late William Innes Homer, art critic
John Perreault, conservator Jonathan Sherman, bestselling
author Lawrence E. Joseph, owner of the collection, and
Pinajian's artist cousin, Peter Najarian. The collective
essays present one of the most compelling discoveries
in the history of 20th century American art. Dr. Homer
writes: "Even though Pinajian was a creative force
to be reckoned with, during his lifetime he rarely exhibited
or sold his paintings. Instead, he pursued his goals in
isolation with the single-minded focus of a Gauguin or
Cézanne, refusing to give up in the face of public
indifference. In his later years he could be compared
to a lone researcher in a laboratory pursuing knowledge
for its own sake. His exhaustive diaries and art notes
make it clear that he dedicated all of his days to his
art. He was passionate and unequivocally committed."
It is interesting to note the astonishing resemblance
between Pinajian and the hero in Kurt Vonnegut's Bluebeard:
The Autobiography of Rabo Karabekian, a 1987
novel about an eccentric painter. Both Pinajian and
Karabekian, a.k.a. Bluebeard, were Armenian-Americans,
raised by parents who survived the 1915 Turkish genocide
of approximately one million men, women and children
who then made their way to the United States, where
they raised their families during the Great Depression.
Both men then served with the United States Army during
World War II in the European theater, each earning a
host of ribbons and medals, including the Bronze Star.
After the war, both abandoned their careers as illustrators
for higher artistic pursuits, joined the Art Students
League in New York, and interacted with the Abstract
Expressionists at the Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village.
Both eventually moved to Long Island's East End near
the ocean, where they kept their paintings tightly locked
away in a garage.
work reflects the soul of a flawed, yet brilliant, artistic
genius. When he hits the mark, especially in his abstractions,
he can be ranked among the best artists of his era .
. . His life is, above all, a model for those who feel
that they must follow their calling despite a lack of
public acceptance," concluded Dr. Homer.