NEW YORK—An exhibition of Arthur Pinajian’s abstract paintings was opened on Wed., Feb. 13 at the Antiquorum, on the fifth floor of the Fuller Building, located at 41 East 57th Street in New York. The exhibition is a revealing insight into the artistry of a painter who has been compared to Arshile Gorky. A significant part of the proceeds will support the work of the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR) in Armenia. The 34 paintings, which are available for purchase, will be on exhibition and open to the public until March 10, Tuesday through Saturday, from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Also available is a catalogue of his works, entitled Pinajian: Master of Abstraction Discovered, with essays by well-known art scholars, and edited by art scholar Peter Hastings Falk.
A unique artist
During the opening night reception, FAR official Arto Vorperian welcomed the close to 200 guests, which included museum officials, art dealers, and art lovers. Peter Hastings Falk, the catalogue editor, also spoke, revealing that Arthur Pinajian did not follow the route of current artists who employ a retinue of agents, dealers, and business people. Pinajian, in a word, “did not conform to today’s norms. He painted every day, but no one saw his art. He received no reviews and not one of his paintings or works on paper ever was shown in a New York gallery or museum.” When he died, his art, which had been stored in his garage, was left to be destroyed at his request. Fortunately, it was rescued at the last minute, as the New York Times reported.
Although there are few people today who know of his brilliant creativity, one couple at the opening reception related how they had purchased a figurative painting many years ago from the artist for a mere $100, “so that Pinajian could have money to purchase paint for his work.” Today, his abstract paintings are on sale for $3,750 to $87,000. A veteran art dealer at the exhibition predicted that in a few years, the price would shoot up to more than three or four times the amounts currently listed, as his fame spreads. It seems he was an artist one reads about in novels or sees in films—that is, the legendary starving artist who only sold paintings so that he could buy materials needed to continue his work.
Arthur Pinajian, the child of Vartanoosh, a skilled embroiderer, and her husband Hagop, who worked for a dry cleaner, was born in 1914, with the name of Ashod in Union City, N.J. However, he preferred his nickname, Archie. A precocious youngster, he excelled in school, skipping grades, and possessed a voracious desire to draw with both hands at the same time. Newly graduated from high school in 1930 at age 16, during the Great Depression, with his father and uncle out of work, he took a job as a clerk in a carpet company to support his family. With the untimely death of his mother in 1932, he moved his father and sister to a much smaller apartment in Long Island, warmed only by a pot-belly stove.
A pioneer in cartoon art
Like many around him, the young Pinajian, seeking to escape from these harsh circumstances, went to the movies; after seeing Paul Muni in “Scarface,” he started his first comic strip. While still working at the carpet firm, he was hired as a freelance cartoonist by Lud Shabazian, a reporter-illustrator at the New York Daily News, and at age 20, he was promoting himself as a commercial illustrator. Taking only the sessions he could afford at the Art Students’ League and with the aid of the G.I. Bill, he honed his skills in the medium of the modern-day comic book. Regarded as among the pioneers of this new medium, he achieved considerable success in writing and drawing for such publishers as Quality, Marvel and Centaur, and working as an illustrator for ad agencies.
Following his service in the U.S. Army in World War II, for which he was awarded a Bronze Star, he was drawn to the works of the old and modern art masters, and endlessly roamed through the Manhattan museums and art galleries. For the last 26 years of his life, he devoted his life completely to art, living in a tiny room. It was not until eight years after his death, that Pinajian’s artistic works would see the light of day. He was an artist who never used the tools of marketability, or exploited commercial connections. Never interested in fame, he was just too busy painting.
Pinajian’s art displays his emotional quest between figurative and abstract art. His representational art focused on landscapes and female nudes. Renowned art critic John Perreault writes that through Pinajian’s writings, which were scribbled in notebooks or on small bits of paper, we enter into his world of struggle and tension. “Pinajian found no easy answers. Each painting is a puzzle and a struggle, yielding light.”
The Pinajian story “is or could be the basis of a new myth, that of the secret artist,” continues Perreault. “The secret artist lives among us. He (or she) seems ordinary on the outside and gives little sign of a hidden calling. Yet out of view, the secret artist toils, producing painting after painting. The ecstasy is in the making. Looking at Pinajian’s lifetime of work, we participate in that ecstasy.”
The Fund for Armenian Relief, an organization founded following a devastating earthquake in 1988, has served hundreds of thousands of people through more than 225 relief and development programs in Armenia and Artsakh (Karabagh). It has channeled more than $290 million in humanitarian and developmental assistance by implementing a wide range of projects, including emergency relief, construction, education, medical aid, and economic development.