Monday, May 15, 2017

Birth of Arman Manookian (May 15, 1904)

The Hawaiian scenes of Arman Manookian, an Armenian-American painter with a premature and tragic end, have been rediscovered in the last years.



The elder of three siblings, he was born Tateos Manookian in Constantinople on May 15, 1904. His father Arshag was a printer and publisher of an Armenian newspaper. 


Tateos was a student at the St. Gregory the Illuminator school in Constantinople, whose principal was poet Taniel Varoujan. On the fatidic night of April 24, 1915, Varoujan was arrested (he would be killed on the road of exile months later), and Arshag Manookian and his brother-in-law hid in the family’s print shop to save their lives. Young Tateos’ father somehow fled the Ottoman Empire, only to die in France two years later during the epidemic of the Spanish flu. The Armenians of Constantinople lived in an atmosphere of terror until the end of World War I, with arrests, executions, partial exiles, and rumors and threats of general deportation hanging over their heads. The future painter would spend some time in Egypt during those years. His mother managed to sell the print shop and gave a large amount of money to her sixteen-year-old son, allowing him to leave for the United States.

Tateos Manookian arrived at Ellis Island in April 1920. He went to live with a relative of his mother in Providence, where he studied at the Rhode Island College of Design from 1920-1922. His talent was already apparent, as a state scholarship paid for his tuition to take classes in drawing. In 1923 he enlisted in the Marine Corps with a new name, Arman Theodore Manookian, and claimed American citizenship, which he actually did not have. 

In 1924 Private Manookian was assigned as a clerk to Major Edwin North McClellan, a Marine historian, who had worked for the previous five years preparing a history of the Marine Corps during World War I. History of U. S. Marines and Origin of Sea Soldiers, never published (the only extant complete copy is kept at the New York Public Library), would be eventually completed with more than a thousand pages of text and eight hundred pages of notes, and over a hundred illustrations by Manookian, who also started publishing some of his work in magazines. 

In 1925 McClellan, who was a mentor of sorts during their time together, was dispatched to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and took his talented clerk with him. The archipelago fired Manookian’s creativity, who transformed himself from an illustrator into an artist. His approach to Hawaiian culture was bound with idealization—“no more intriguing artists’ paradise than these mid-Pacific gardens of the Gods,” he stated in 1927—as shown in the historical and mythological images that he created to accompany McClellan’s pieces.

“Hawaiian Boy and Girl” (collection of John and Patsy Dilks)
In 1927 Manookian was honorably discharged as a corporal and decided to stay in Honolulu, while McClellan was called to the mainland and then to Nicaragua. The painter had found work as an illustrator with the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, and would continue working with the magazine Paradise of the Pacific. In the almost six years that he lived in Honolulu he produced paintings, magazine illustrations and, most impressively, murals that “were completely unlike anything that Honolulu audiences had previously seen,” in the words of art historian David Forbes. His use of color was particularly original. Another art historian, John Seed, who has researched Manookian’s life and art in depth, has noted: “His bond with Hawaii suggests a deep longing to be connected to a place and culture, perhaps as a replacement for what had been lost.”
"Men in an Outrigger Canoe Headed for Shore"


After the stock market crash of 1929, the Hawaiian economy declined, with tourism and construction slowing down. Manookian’s workload also went down. In late 1930 he met Cyril Lemmon, a young architect who dabbled in painting. They started working together, and Manookian moved to the home of his new friend, who had recently married.

He continued working until the end of his life, but he was emotionally fragile. The years of terror during the genocide and his uprootedness, as well as his separation from his mother and siblings, who had been able to move to Switzerland in the late 1920s, took its toll. On May 10, 1931, while the Lemmons and a few friends were playing the parlor game “Murder,” Arman Manookian drank poison and stumbled in the kitchen, never to regain consciousness.

A memorial exhibit for the unfortunate painter was held at the Honolulu Academy in the fall of 1933. Manookian’s works are held in several museums, and only 31 of his oil paintings are known to exist. They have become very valuable in the last few years, with several exhibitions held in Hawaii, where he was acknowledged as “Hawaii’s Van Gogh” in the House of Representatives resolution that recognized the Armenian Genocide.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Death of Martiros Sarian (May 5, 1972)

Martiros Sarian, one of the two names of Soviet Armenian culture who earned the title of Varbed (Վարպետ “Master”), was the founder of a modern Armenian national school of painting. 


He was born into an Armenian family in Nakhichevan-on-Don (now part of Rostov-on-Don, Russia) on February 28, 1880. In 1895, aged 15, he completed the Nakhichevan school. He received training in painting at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture (1897–1903) and then worked in the studios of the noted painters Konstantin Korovin and Valentin Serov. Soon Sarian became a member of a group of Moscow symbolist artists, and he began exhibiting his brightly colored paintings. He had works shown at the Blue Rose Exhibit in Moscow.


He first traveled to Armenia in 1901, visiting the regions of Lori and Shirak, the convents of Etchmiadzin, Haghpat, and Sanahin, Yerevan, and Lake Sevan. His first landscapes depicting Armenia (1902-1903) were highly praised in the Moscow press.

In 1904-1907 Sarian created the watercolor series "Fairy Tales and Dreams." Some pieces of this cycle were exhibited first at the Crimson Rose exposition in 1904 in Saratov and later at the sensational Blue Rose exposition in 1907 in Moscow. Starting from 1908, Sarian completely replaced watercolor with tempera. During this period, he took an active part in the exhibitions organized by the magazine Zolotoye Runo

From 1910 to 1914 he traveled extensively in Turkey, Egypt, northwestern Armenia, and Persia. These trips inspired a series of large, fresco-like works in which he attempted to communicate the sensuousness of the Middle Eastern landscapes. He also incorporated into a number of his paintings the Persian motifs he had seen in the Middle East. Like many Russian artists of the early decades of the 20th century, Sarian was greatly influenced by impressionism. He was also interested in the paintings of Henri Matisse and Paul Gauguin, as can be seen in his use of areas of flat, simplified color.

In 1915 he went to Etchmiadzin to help refugees who had fled from the Armenian Genocide. In 1916 he settled in Tiflis (now Tbilisi) where he founded the Society of Armenian Artists with fellow painters Yeghishe Tateosian, Vardges Sureniants, and Panos Terlemezian. 

He married Lusik Aghayan, daughter of writer Ghazaros Aghayan, in 1917. The newly married couple moved to Nor Nakhichevan, where Sarian continued painting. In 1920 he became director of the museum of Armenian Folklore in Rostov. In 1921 he moved to Yerevan with his wife and two children, Sarkis (future literary scholar) and Ghazar (future composer). He organized and became director of the museum of archaeology, ethnography, and fine arts (now the National Gallery of Armenia). He also participated in the establishment of the Yerevan Art College and the Artists Union of Armenia. In 1922 Sarian designed the coat-of-arms and the flag of Soviet Armenia, as well as the curtain of the First Drama Theater in Yerevan. In 1924 his works participated in the 14th Bienale of Venice. He was awarded the title of People’s Artist of Armenia in 1925.

 From 1926–1928 he lived and worked in Paris, but 40 paintings, most of his work from this period, were destroyed in a fire on board the boat on which he returned to Armenia, where he lived until his death. He spent most of his career painting scenes, especially landscapes of the homeland, often employing the impressionist technique of vivid, dappled color to capture the effects of light. He also painted many floral still lifes, as well as portraits.

In the difficult years of the 1930s, he was criticized as a formalist, since his work did not fit the state-sponsored artistic ideology of socialist realism. Sarian’s creative work was removed from the context of world modern art. A dozen of his portraits, which represented figures who were victims of the Stalinist purges, were destroyed in 1937. His famous portrait of Yeghishe Charents, however, survived. Nevertheless, he managed to continue his work and come out of this period unscathed. In 1941 he won the State Prize for his design of Alexander Spendiarian’s opera, Almast. 

Portrait of Yeghishe Charents, by Martiros Sarian


His work was subjected to new official criticism after World War II. Nevertheless, artistic freedom was more or less regained after the death of Stalin (1953), and Sarian returned to his traditional themes. His series of landscapes “My Homeland” won the State Prize in 1961. His 85th birthday was widely marked, and a documentary on his life and work was released in 1966, when he also obtained the State Prize of Armenia for the third time. The Martiros Sarian house-museum was opened in 1967, when his memoirs were also published. He was also elected as a deputy to the USSR Supreme Soviet several times and awarded the Order of Lenin three times, as well as other awards and medals. He was a member of the USSR Art Academy (1974) and the Armenian Academy of Sciences (1956).

Sarian continued his creative work almost until the end of his days. He passed away in Yerevan on May 5, 1972. He was buried at the Gomidas Pantheon, next to Gomidas Vartabed.