Saturday, July 24
Pinajian : Master of Abstraction Discovered
2 pm – Gallery Talk with Peter Hastings Falk
4 – 6 pm – Opening Reception
The exhibition continues through October 10, 2010
Woodstock Artists Association and Museum
28 Tinker St, Woodstock, NY 12498, http://www.woodstockart.org, 845-679-2940
When Professor William Innes Homer, dean of American art historians, was asked to examine the life’s work of an unknown artist in 2007, he was stunned by what he found: a large body of extraordinary abstract landscape and figurative paintings by a highly gifted artist who was completely unknown in his lifetime. Soon a team of art historians was conducting research into the life and art of Arthur Pinajian [1914-1999]. The result is a book and traveling exhibition entitled, Pinajian: Master of Abstraction Discovered, opening at the Woodstock Art Association and Museum on July 24 and running through October 10. A gallery talk by Peter Hastings Falk (editor of Who Was Who in American Art, 1999 and author) will take place on Saturday, July 24 at 2 pm, followed by an opening reception from 4 to 6 pm. The exhibition will be on view at the Armenian Library and Museum of America, 65 Main Street, Watertown, Massachusetts 02472 (www.almainc.org) from December through March 2011.
The exhibition features several works created by Arthur Pinajian during his long residence in Woodstock from the late 1950s into the 1970s. Twin and Overlook Mountains, Cooper Lake, and bathers at the Big Deep were favorite subjects that Pinajian explored in dozens of sketches and finished oils, growing more and more abstract in style. Even after leaving the region, the Catskill terrain continued to be an inspiration, showing up in numerous compositions Pinajian created from memory in the last decade of his life.
The fascinating story surrounding the “discovery” of Pinajian’s work first broke in the New York Times in March 2007, in a feature article titled, “Closing on a House, and a Life’s Story, Told in Art.” After Pinajian’s death in 1999, five decades of accumulated artwork was found stacked up in the one-car garage and attic of the Bellport cottage he shared with his sister. He had left instructions for his collection to be discarded in the town dump. Fortunately for American art history, Lawrence E. Joseph, the best-selling author of Apocalypse 2012 bought the cottage and rescued the collection just in time.
The exhibition is accompanied by a 128-page hardcover book with essays by art historians, Richard J. Boyle, Peter Hastings Falk, and William Innes Homer; art critic John Perreault; conservator, Jonathan Sherman; author, Lawrence E. Joseph; and, Pinajian’s artist-cousin, Peter Najarian. The collective essays present one of the most compelling discoveries in the history of twentieth century American art. Dr. Homer wrote, “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 Armenian children, women and men, and who then made their way to the United States where they raised their families during the Great Depression. Both Pinajian and Bluebeard began their careers as illustrators in New York and had some early success. Both then served with the United States Army during World War II in the European theatre, 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 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.
As a boy growing up in an Armenian community in West Hoboken, New Jersey, 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. For twenty-two years, his life revolved around Woodstock — albeit largely reclusively — while he passionately pursued his painting. His admirable poetic color combinations are linked to the tonalities of his better-known fellow Armenian, Arshile Gorky [ca.1904-1948]. Late in life, he moved with his sister to Bellport, Long Island. There, he strived for visual and spiritual conclusions regarding flatness and color that parallel the goals of the Abstract Expressionists.
Dr. Homer concluded, “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 . . . His life is, above all, a model for those who feel that they must follow their calling despite a lack of public acceptance.”
For details about these shows and events, go to http://www.woodstockart.org or call 845 679-2940. The Woodstock Artists Association & Museum is located at 28 Tinker Street in the heart of Woodstock, New York and is open
on Friday and Saturday from 12 – 6 pm and Sunday, Monday, Thursday 12 – 5 pm. The WAAM is a not-for-profit membership organization featuring a landmark collection of regional art, contemporary artist gallery and a dynamic education program.
Exhibition and programs are supported by the WAAM Founders Circle, other individual supporters and membership.