Rare Paintings by Arthur Pinajian on Display at Saint Illuminator’s Cathedral

Proceeds to Benefit The Armenian Relief Society of Eastern USA Educational Fund; March 31–April 2

NEW YORK—The Armenian Relief Society (ARS) of Eastern USA has announced a special exhibition of Arthur Pinajian’s (1914-1999) art. The limited run exhibition will open on March 31 and close on April 2, at the Saint Illuminator’s Cathedral, located at 221 East 27th Street New York, N.Y. 10016.

No. 3722, 1973. Oil on canvas, 24 x 35 inches.

The exhibition of rare works on paper and canvas will feature the artist’s mid-century abstracts and late lyrical landscapes. A portion of proceeds will benefit the ARS of Eastern USA, which will host an evening reception on April 1 from 7- 10 p.m. Public viewing hours are:   March 31, 4-10 p.m.; April 1, 12-4 and 7-10 p.m.; and April 2, 1-4 p.m. Private viewings are available upon request.

Thirty rarely seen pieces will be exhibited, providing the public and collectors an opportunity to view and acquire important paintings by a man who died in obscurity but who—through fortuitous circumstances— has been rediscovered and reclaimed by the art world. After Pinajian’s death in 1999, five decades of accumulated artwork were found stacked up in a Bellport, Long Island, cottage he shared with his sister, Armen. Pinajian had implored his sister simply to “throw it all away” upon his death, but, fortunately, at the last moment, this massive body of work was rescued by a cousin, Pete Najarian, an artist who has since authored a book about Pinajian’s life and work.

In 2007, the late Dr. William Innes Homer, once the dean of American art historians, agreed to study the collection and was stunned by what he found: an almost bewildering array of extraordinary abstract landscape and figurative paintings by a gifted artist who was completely unknown in his lifetime.

Pinajian in 1960

Homer concluded that Arthur Pinajian represented one of the most compelling discoveries in the history of 20th century American art. “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… Ultimately, Pinajian’s 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,” Homer said.

In March 2013, in a story heard round the world, hundreds of news outlets reported the extraordinary value experts had placed on the Arthur Pinajian collection. This extraordinary cache required years of cleaning, archiving, and scholarship to be prepared for exhibition.  ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America” featured the story as “the unlikely discovery that rocked the art world;” ABC’s ”20/20” reported that “Art experts decree Pinajian deserved to be called one of the great undiscovered geniuses of the Modern Art Movement.” The New York Times devoted two lengthy articles to Pinajian, including coverage of the first, very successful, exhibit in New York City in March 2013.

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 Crack Comics. After World War II, he enrolled at the Art Students League in Woodstock, N.Y. Although he associated with a number of the New York Abstract Expressionists, such as Franz Kline and Philip Guston, Pinajian was largely reclusive. For 22 years his life revolved around Woodstock, NY while he passionately pursued his painting.  His admirably poetic color combinations are linked to the tonalities of his better-known fellow Armenian, Arshile Gorky.

Arthur Pinajian (far R) with other artists

Late in life, he moved with his sister to Bellport, Long Island. There, in a tiny bedroom-studio he strived for visual and spiritual conclusions regarding flatness and color, goals paralleling those of the Abstract Expressionist movement.

The exhibition is accompanied by a 128-page hardcover book with essays by art historians Peter Falk, Richard J. Boyle, 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, Pete Najarian. These essays collectively present one of the most compelling discoveries in the history of 20th-century American art.


An Intriguing Literary Connection

There is an 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 Armenian Genocide, and made their way to the U.S. where they raised families during the Great Depression. Both men then served with the United States Army during World War II in the European theater, each earning the Bronze Star for valor. After the war, both abandoned their careers as illustrators for higher artistic pursuits, joined the Art Students League in New York, and hung out 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.

Breaking Vonnegut’s character mold, Pinajian has now burst into the public eye, inciting a publicity storm with his arrival. His extraordinary artistic gifts have attracted the attention of art lovers and news outlets all over the world. Finally, the artist has found his audience.

The upcoming exhibition comes on the heels of news that Pinajian’s artwork has been chosen by the United States Department of State for an exhibition of American artists of Armenian heritage in the American Ambassador’s Residence in Yerevan, Armenia.

For more information, contact the ARS of Eastern USA at arseastus@gmail.com, 1(617)926-3801.

Guest Contributor

Guest Contributor

Guest contributions to the Armenian Weekly are informative articles or press releases written and submitted by members of the community.

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