By Terri Martin
1:16 PM PDT, June 2, 2011
In the art world, treasure can be defined as a trove of never-before seen artworks, journals written in the hand of the artist, and links to other great artists already on the art-world radar, all found in one cache. From one such find are 54 paintings and sketches by Arthur Pinajian (1914-1999) currently on exhibition at St. Leon Armenian Cathedral-Zorayan Museum in Burbank.
The discovery was made by Larry Joseph, a writer living in California, when he bought a run-down cottage in Bellport, N.Y., on the south end of Long Island. Pinajian and his sister had lived in the cottage for decades while he pursued his painting career in hope of becoming the next great contributor to the scope of painting movements that became so competitive in the 20th century.
Thousands of canvases, drawings, and journals, in varying stages of decay, stored in a porous garage and a drafty attic, were included as part of the sale. They were collectively a novel about a pretty good artist, a decorated World War II soldier, his sacrifices and successes — but just a few of the latter.
The story isn’t so much that he was or was not a great painter. History is full of brilliant painters who were never recognized, and of plenty of average artists who made it because they were supported and marketed by benefactors with a stake in their success and an altruistic penchant for the arts. Pinajian’s patron was his sister, who could do little more than provide food, shelter and the opportunity for him to develop his skills.
Pinajian began his professional life in the 1930s as a cartoonist. World War II interrupted his career and drastically altered his perspective on life. After serving and being decorated for valor by the military, Pinajian studied fine art at the Art Students League in New York. He studied the work of modern-art pioneers and there is some evidence that he associated with the 20th century intelligentsia that gathered at the Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village, where such luminaries as Constantin Brancusi, Willem De Kooning, Jackson Pollack, Isamu Noguchi and Buckminster Fuller gathered to support, inspire and compete with one another.
Pinajian’s body of work reflects this influence as he copied techniques and methods on his way to defining his own artistic thumbprint. He gradually became more reclusive, like many artists of his era, in order to ensure that his creative product was truly his own, without the influence of those who were already successfully exposed.
The exhibition at the Zorayan is curated by Peter Hastings Falk, who expertly juxtaposed several of Pinajian’s landscape paintings of the same view of Overlook Mountain in Woodstock, N.Y., which effectively demonstrates the artist’s range. Definitive twin peaks are rendered in various abstractions, different granular scales, palates and artistic modes.
One of the most brilliantly devised abstractions of Overlook Mountain (1959) could be described as a shattered piece of blue glass, through which one can peek at the peaks, with a palette of primary, secondary, black and brown. Another untitled Overlook Mountain rendering (1960) is more impressionistic, with an organic palette.
A third untitled experiment (1959) is depicted in cool granite and green colors, very angular but with natural rock-like cleavages. They are obviously the same perspective and subject matter with such skillfully varied techniques that the artist’s ability and creativity are pronounced.
The overall Pinajian exhibition is a little inconsistent, typical for an artistic narrative of personal discovery, but parts of the artist’s work are memorable and worthy of recognition. Stephanie’s Art Gallery in Burbank has been charged with managing the collection, something for which it is well known, and will serve as the link to Pinajian patrons who might elevate him for his great authentic efforts. Best of luck. I’d love to see a happy ending.
Terri Martin is an artist, art historian and art critic.
What: Arthur Pinajian; American/Armenian Artist
Where: St. Leon Armenian Cathedral’s Zorayan Museum, 3325 N. Glenoaks Blvd., Burbank
When: 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday until June 19
Contact: (818) 558-7474, for private viewing contact Linda Stephanian (818) 790-4905 or www.PinajianArt.com