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Treasure trove of work worthy of display

Works of a little-known artist once again see the light of day.

June 02, 2011|By Terri Martin

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.

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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.

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