An Artist Unearthed

To disobey a person’s wishes in the event of their death seems an inconsiderate thing to do. I know I’d be pissed if the instructions I left behind were ignored. But in some rare instances it might be wise to respectfully defy the wishes of the deceased. Such is the case of Arthur Pinajian, an Armenian-American artist who died in 1999 and whose body of works were discovered in 2007 in a dilapidated cottage in Bellport, Long Island. With no heirs or loved ones with a vested interest, Arthur Pinajian insisted that after his death his artwork be thrown in the garbage – specifically, dumped into the Brookhaven landfill. His sister, with whom he lived, knew of Arthur’s wish for the works to be discarded but allowed them to languish – paintings, drawings, and notebooks in disorderly piles, under a leaky roof, splotched with mold and mildew. After she died a few years later, two investors, Thomas Schultz and Lawrence Joseph, purchased the property with the intention of renovating it. Little did they know that the angels of fortuity would drop an enormous stash of never before seen art in their laps. Serendipity happens, folks. Believe it.

I feel a bond with this story for two reasons. One is that Pinajian was Armenian, as am I. And when a talented Armenian receives positive attention that makes me happy. The other is that I am an inveterate saver. I can’t bring myself to throw out anything that holds even an iota of value, whether it be sentimental, historical, or practical. I never would have been able to carry out Pinajian’s wishes, and how lucky we are that his discoverers couldn’t do it either. As Thomas Schultz himself explained, “I didn’t want to be the person responsible for throwing a man’s life’s work into a dumpster”.

I was thrilled to see the Pinajian exhibit when I was in East Hampton last week. Howard Shapiro, the curator at Lawrence Fine Art Gallery, was kind enough to let me take a few pictures which I’ve posted here. It’s just a miniscule sample of a breathtakingly versatile artist who, at his best, rides neck and neck alongside Picasso, Gauguin, Kline, Mondrian, and his Armenian brethren Arshile Gorky.

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While Pinajian may not have found his way into the upper echelons of the fine art world, his life and career were not at all misspent. A child of Armenian Genocide survivors, Pinajian grew up in New Jersey and became a self-taught and well-respected cartoonist. He created comic book illustrations during the 1930s and 40s. He won a Bronze Star for valor in World War II, and attended the Art Students League on the G.I. Bill. Pinajian was personally acquainted with his contemporaries, the abstract expressionists who dominated the postwar art scene, and experimented vigorously with style and color. But he was, for whatever reason, unable to break through into Pollock and de Kooning levels of acclaim.

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There is something really bittersweet about this kind of story; an artist toils away in the shadows for decades and can’t get a gallery owner to return his calls, and then after he dies is “discovered”, purely by chance, and galleries clamor to hang his work, some of which is selling for tens of thousands of dollars. My mother owns a Pinajian, a small abstract pastel of gentle colors.

Some good reads on the Arthur Pinajian journey from obscurity to posthumous recognition:

Arthur Pinajian: An art world genius lost, found, and now worth millions

Who Was Arthur Pinajian? Master of Abstraction Discovered

The Pinajian Discovery

Short video on YouTube about Arthur Pinajian

Revealing the Art of Arthur Pinajian, Armenian Weekly

Arthur Pinajian website

and the Facebook page of the Estate Collection of Arthur Pinajian

Light Years

I was going to open my birthday blog post with some “wise” and insightful quote about how aging is really a liberating, beautiful experience full of maturity and honesty or whatever, but come on . . . those quotes are all horseshit. And if anyone tells me that as a woman at 46 I am “ripening” they’re getting a knee to the groin. Ripening? What am I, a banana?

It goes without saying that I am grateful to be alive, healthy, and celebrating a birthday as opposed to, you know, NOT celebrating one. On the other hand, I can’t exactly bring myself to jump for joy either. It doesn’t help that I overheard a conversation between two guys on a crowded subway a few weeks ago. One of them was telling the other about a woman at his gym who flirts with him regularly. While he conceded that she was very nice and looked good, attractive and fit, he said he’ll never ask her out because, and I quote, “She’s old. She’s like 40!”. His friend shared in the horror by replying “Ew! That sucks.” The “ew” was a nice touch, don’t you think? There I was standing right next to these guys, trapped with no way to escape until my stop came up. The conductor’s announcement of 14th Street never sounded so good. I was outta there. What a relief.

Just a couple of New York jerks, right? Not worth getting upset over? Perhaps. But that attitude is much more prevalent than you think. Much much more. Especially in this city, which has ruthless tendencies. Yes, that attitude is hurtful, even cruel at times. Take my word for it. I have extensive firsthand experience. So today, on my 46th birthday, I feel like I have to apologize for not being Kate Upton.

My mother gave birth to me in 1968 and there’s nothing I can do to change that. Nor can I change, apparently, my habit of taking selfies on Photo Booth after knocking back a couple of Mike’s Hard Lemonades. Heck it’s my birthday. If I want to make an ass out of myself I will ;-)

4-up on 7-21-14 at 7.47 PM (compiled)

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A Brief Interlude

Hey gang. I’m gonna hit the beach in East Hampton for just a couple of days. It’s a short getaway but a welcome one. As long as the weather cooperates I’m ready to don my bikini and feel warm sand between my toes. I’ll be back very soon, and there’s plenty of blogging to come!

I was going to post a beachy, summery art image, but today was Rembrandt’s birthday so I’m going to honor him instead. Here’s one from the master, Woman in a Doorway, year 1657. Cheers everyone :-)

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O grace abounding, whereby I presumed
. .So deep the eternal light to search and sound
. .That my whole vision was therein consumed!

In that abyss I saw how love held bound
. .Into one volume all the leaves whose flight
. .Is scattered through the universe around;

How substance, accident, and mode unite
. .Fused, so to speak, together, in such wise
. .That this I tell of is one simple light.

Yea, of this complex I believe mine eyes
. .Beheld the universal form – in me,
. .Even as I speak, I feel such joy arise.

– Dante Alighieri, il Paradiso, Canto XXXIII

Wash sketches of me by Eleni Papageorge, created at Spring Studio:

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Musical Passages

Last month the jazz community, and music world at large, said goodbye to the great Horace Silver, a consummate jazz pianist and fixture on the Blue Note recording label. Silver was a founding member one of my favorite hard bop groups, The Jazz Messengers, with drummer Art Blakey. Universally admired by his fellow musicians, Horace Silver performed and composed for decades, and mentored many young jazz artists. He died of natural causes at the age of 85.

The classical music world has recently seen passages of a different sort. The New York Philharmonic has bid a fond farewell to two prominent members who have retired from the orchestra and are moving on to other things. Concertmaster and violinist Glenn Dicterow just took his last bow on the stage at Avery Fisher Hall after 34 years with the Philharmonic. Principal trumpet Phil Smith has also taken his final bow after 36 years. His retirement is a little more significant to me personally because of my father. Dad, as most of you probably know, was a professional trumpet player, and he would take our family to hear the Philharmonic on a regular basis. Smith’s pure, warm tone and solid technique was of course the highlight to Dad’s ears. Trumpet players everywhere have nothing but respect for Phil Smith, and he will be greatly missed among the Philharmonic’s faithful audience. This article in The New Yorker is an excellent read. I highly recommend it. Not only does it describe Smith the man – humble, deeply religious – but it addresses the unique nature of orchestra musicians, and trumpet players specifically. I can tell you that Glenn Dicterow’s retirement has received somewhat more fanfare in local and national media than Phil Smith’s. It is not for negligent reasons, but rather the larger popularity of violinists among the general public, thanks to performers like Joshua Bell, Itzhak Perlman, and Anne Sophie Mutter. Virtuosic trumpet players in the classical world are rarer, which makes Phil Smith an exceptional standout in a smaller, more elite circle.

We’ll conclude this week’s Music Monday with a different musical genre entirely. I was sorting through some very old CDs stashed among the junk in my house and I came across one of the many British music crushes I’ve had in my life. Robert Palmer was performing for years before his huge success in the 1980s with his “Addicted to Love” resurrection. A purveyor of what is known as “blue-eyed soul”, Palmer gave us vocals that drew on influences from reggae, R & B, rock, pop, and blues. Oh how I love cute, sexy Englishmen. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for them, and always will :-) Robert Palmer left us in 2003, dying far too soon at the age of 54. From his debut solo album in 1974, this is “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley”.

Summer in Full Swing

Helloooooo friends! It seems that I left this blog in the hands of Gaston and Isabel for the past week. And what have I been doing in the meantime? Nothing particularly interesting. A little summer reading, a little gardening, a little bike riding.

As the hot temperatures have set upon us and a hurricane pounds up the east coast this Fourth of July weekend, I’d like to offer my yearly Auntie’s brag about my niece Olivia. She just completed the 6th grade with stellar marks and, to top it off, won the end of year award for “sportsmanship in softball”. Yeah Olivia! At the age of 11 she’s already a better athlete than I’ve ever been. My brother took this picture of Olivia at the last game of the season. As you can see, she’s contemplating her strategy for her next at bat. Love this girl :-)

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Olivia is now enrolled in summer day camp and having a blast. My brother is immersed in music composing jobs, my sister-in-law is doing some renovations at the country house in the Catskills, and Mom is working on paintings for her solo art show in the fall (more on that to come). As for me? Just taking life one day at a time, anticipating a summer of afternoon sunbathing in the park, some writing, volunteering, plenty of reading, visiting friends, going to church, and, lo and behold, some art modeling! Yes I actually have gigs booked in July. I had to hustle and harass for them, but I got them all the same.

I wish everyone a fabulous weekend whether you will have rain or shine, mild breezes or stuffy humidity. Happy Fourth of July! Be safe, be joyful, be grateful. I’ll see you all very soon. Peace, friends.

Central Park, New York City, July 4th, watercolor, Maurice Prendergast, circa 1903:

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Chasing Isabel – Gaston Lachaise and his Muse

So fellas, how far would you travel to be with the woman you love? The woman who inspires you? For French-born sculptor Gaston Lachaise the distance was 3,400 miles, though we can presume he would have traveled a lot farther than that for his muse, the person who set afire both his artistic imagination and erotic passions. For an attraction that powerful, a trip across the Atlantic is a mere walk down the block.

She was Isabel Dutaud Nagle, an American woman vacationing in Paris during the early 1900s. Gaston Lachaise was still a young 20 year old art student at the Académie Nationale des Beaux-Arts when he first caught sight of her walking along the Seine. He was instantaneously captivated. There was only one problem; Isabel was married. She was also ten years his senior.

Isabel Nagle photographed in Paris, 1904:

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The son of a skilled woodcarver and cabinetmaker, Gaston Lachaise received training in the decorative arts from the age of 13. Immersed in apprenticeships and a supportive family, Gaston Lachaise was on a solid path to a life of creating art. But then, with a promising career in sculpture ready to break out, Lachaise did the unthinkable. At a time when artists from all over the world came TO Paris, often without a dollar to their name, to study and create and live in the city that was the happening, stimulating hub of vitality for artists during the 1900s  – Gaston Lachaise did the opposite. He made plans to leave Paris and follow Isabel to her home in Boston. On the surface it seemed he was going in the wrong direction. For an up and coming artist in 1904, Paris was the place to be, the heart, the “scene”. But in a choice between hobnobbing with Picasso, Modigliani, and art dealers in Montparnasse, or packing up and relocating to America to be with the woman he loved, Lachaise chose the latter.

But the logistics of such a move were not without snags. In 1903, the year Lachaise turned 21, he was was drafted into the French Army. He served an uneventful 12 months during which he could not see his beloved Isabel. It was also during this time that Isabel had to return to Boston. Her husband was a wealthy businessman who refused to grant her a divorce until their son Edward was grown and enrolled in Harvard. Isabel accepted those conditions. In the meantime, Gaston Lachaise was discharged from the army and, instead of returning to formal study, secured a steady job in the studios of René Lalique where he cast jewelry, modeled vases and other art nouveau objects that were all the rage of the day. Before long he had earned enough money to pay for his passage across the Atlantic plus $60. His girl was waiting for him.

Isabel doing a nice nude twist on the rocks:

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On December 5, 1905, Gaston Lachaise set sail for America. He arrived in Boston one month later and was reunited with his muse. He would never return to France again. Lachaise found work in the atelier of sculptor Henry Hudson Kitson and enjoyed the time he and Isabel were able to spend together. They listened to music, discussed art and books, and attended concerts. When Kitson moved to New York City, to a studio on MacDougal Street, Lachaise followed him. Isabel came soon after. By 1912, Lachaise was assistant to Paul Manship and about to enter the period of formidable personal expression in his own work, driven of course by his enchanting and inspiring muse. Of Isabel he wrote, “through her the splendor of life was uncovered for me and the road of wonder began widening.”.

Gaston Lachaise’s figurative sculptures are known for their Junoesque stature and voluptuous dimensions. Certainly Isabel was no skinny waif, but she was not quite the imposing figure of Gaston’s work either. In reality she was only 5’2″ tall and weighed around 110 pounds. But like many artists are inclined to do, Lachaise exaggerated for artistic effect, amplifying the sensuousness, strength, and vigorous force of the human form. This is one of Lachaise’s most famous works of Isabel, “Elevation”, in bronze. A fascinating sculpture that presents a full-figured torso and thick thighs in an active gesture balancing effortlessly on the tiptoes of tiny delicate feet. It looks as if she could lift off and float away, light as a feather.

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It’s hard to miss the influences of Rodin and Maillol. They along with Lachaise exalted the human form to archetypes of potency, energy, and forces of nature. Committed to his vision of “Woman” as he felt it and experienced it through Isabel, Gaston Lachaise remained faithful to his passions and his artistic vocabulary.

This is Gaston Lachaise’s “Floating Figure” at the National Gallery of Australia, also inspired by Isabel. Completed in plaster in 1927, there are seven bronze casts in existence altogether. At first glance we see an almost caricature-like exaggeration. But Lachaise is presenting us with curvaceous lines and shapes, which are inherently womanly and feminine, a disproportionately small head, and a cross-legged seated pose with outstretched arms that communicates a peculiar mixture of control, tranquility, expansiveness. An odd, original, memorable work of modern figurative sculpture:

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1917 was a banner year for Gaston Lachaise. He became a United States citizen, finally married the now-divorced Isabel, and was preparing for his solo show of sculpture and drawing at Stephan Bourgeois Galleries in New York. The next seventeen years brought more exhibitions, commissions, great success and critical acclaim, and the purchase of a summer home in Maine. In retrospect, Lachaise’s infatuation-induced decision to leave Paris for America was a wise one, however impulsive it may have been. His union with Isabel was happily made official, and his career flourished in his adopted homeland. He called America “The New World” and added that “The American soil is fresh. It is fertile. Flowers and fruit of new species will come forth from it to lighten the world.” The old adage about following your heart is exemplified by the journey of Gaston Lachaise.

And then, in 1935, Lachaise’s life and career were cut short by the sudden onset of acute leukemia. He died just months after a triumphant retrospective of his work at the Museum of Modern Art. Isabel Nagle, who left her previous husband to be with Gaston Lachaise, was now his widow. He had written 567 love letters to her and credited her as his “primary inspiration”. Isabel lived for another 25 years after Gaston’s death.

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An invaluable source of images and information for this post came from the Lachaise Foundation . Definitely check them out to learn more. Also of interest, an old art review from the New York Times