do we discover a worthy artist who works alone and unheralded.
Arthur Pinajian was one of them. He drew and painted in
obscurity until his death in 1999 at the age of 85. Sharing
a modest one-story cottage in the village in Bellport, New
York, with his sister Armen (d.2005), Pinajian depended
on her totally for financial and moral support.
To our knowledge, no articles were
written about Pinajian and he exhibited and sold his paintings
only rarely. Despite this neglect, he pursued his art
steadfastly and with incredible determination. The majority
of his work was found after his death stacked up in the
one-car garage and attic of his sister’s property. Along
with the art were found his journals, many letters, and
sketch books that spanned the 50 years of his creative
life. When all is said and done, this oeuvre is important
because it represents an artist’s life in its totality.
Within it is found a prize legacy that will endure for
posterity; the remainder will win the respect of
scholars as they study in depth the life of a truly original
Pinajian, the son of Armenian holocaust
survivors, was a native of Union City, New Jersey. He
started as a cartoonist in the 1930s and found considerable
success fashioning comic strips for Quality, Marvel, and
Centaur Comics. After World War II, during which he earned
the Bronze Star for valor, he rejected commercial art,
attended the Art Students League in New York, and committed
himself to the pursuit of serious painting. Prior to his
many years in Bellport with Armen, he rented a studio
in Woodstock, New York, and there and in West New York,
New Jersey, he began to wrestle with the challenges of
being a modern artist.
This meant painting in a variety of
styles ranging from the figurative to the abstract. The
word exploration sums up the nature of his quest:
he worked in the manner of Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism,
and Cubism before turning to Surrealism and various modes
of abstraction, including Abstract Expressionism. Part
of Pinajian’s learning process was to echo the styles
of well-known artists — making free copies as a means
of perfecting his visual vocabulary. In the end, however,
he forged his own style without a heavy debt to others.
He also philosophized about the creative process. Found
among his effects were numerous journals in which he wrote
down his ideas about the making of art. Issues of color,
composition, and pattern captured much of his attention.
It is noteworthy that he became a veritable
master of structural color.
What is so remarkable about Pinajian
is his wholehearted dedication to the process of painting.
He pursued his goals in isolation with the single-minded
focus of a Gauguin or Cezanne, refusing to give up in
the face of public indifference. In his later years he
could be compared to a researcher in a laboratory pursuing
knowledge for its own sake.
Pinajian’s work is uneven, but when
he hits the mark, especially in his abstractions, he can
be ranked among the best artists of his era. It is satisfying
to contemplate his more successful works, doubly so because
they capture the excitement of visual modernism and exude
a painterly integrity that is rare in our time.