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Edmund Yaghjian: A Retrospective
March 16 - September 16, 2007
Edmund Yaghjian was born in Armenia, but made his mark -- literally, and with a paint brush -- in America, and especially in South Carolina. A major retrospective of Yaghjian's work can be seen beginning March 16 at the South Carolina State Museum in the exhibit Edmund Yaghjian: A Retrospective. (right: Corner House for Sale" is a 1950 oil on canvas painting by distinguished South Carolina artist Edmund Yaghjian. It can be seen in the exhibit Edmund Yaghjian: A Retrospective beginning March 16 at the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia. Collection of Candy Yaghjian Waites/photo courtesy S.C. State Museum.)
Providence, R. I. was where the two-year-old Yaghjian landed with his family in 1907, and his natural talent won him a scholarship to the Rhode Island School of Design, where he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1930. Yaghjian moved to New York City after graduation to continue his studies at the famous Art Students League. "He became friends with instructor John Sloan, who was an integral part of the Ashcan School of Painting, and painter Stuart Davis, who proved to be some of the most significant influences in Yaghjian's work," concentrating on depicting natural scenes of the city, says Curator of Art Paul Matheny. "He emphasized commonplace, everyday activity and the vitality and distinctiveness of urban life in the 1930s."
A number of paintings in the exhibit are from this period, such as "Subway at 57th St." and "42nd St. West of Broadway." His style is realistic to portray the feel of places he was living, which later included Ossining, N.Y., Danby, Vt. and Columbia, Mo.
Yaghjian's influence on South Carolina began when he moved to the Palmetto State in 1945 and became the first head of the art department at the University of South Carolina. "Yaghjian was one of the teachers, along with Augusta Witowsky and Catherine Rembert, to bring a level of professionalism to the department and encouraged the development of the arts in the community and across the state that, with the possible exception of Charleston during its 'renaissance' of the 1920s, had not previously existed," says Matheny.
In Columbia the artist continued to paint scenes of vernacular culture and local life, as in "Night at the Fair," "Barnwell St. Below Gervais," "College St. Living Room" and "Morning on Huger Street." He even painted the personal, in "Self Portrait" and "Candy and Mother Waiting for the Mail," which depicted his daughter and wife.
Moving South had its price, however. While living in the North, Yaghjian's early New York paintings were seen in important exhibitions, such as the "Portrait of America" show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1944 and the "Painting in the United States" exhibit at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh in 1945. (right: Edmund Yaghjian was the first head of the art department at the University of South Carolina in 1945. After retiring in the mid-1960s, he continued to teach and paint. "Night at the Fair" is a 1970 acrylic on board work from the collection of the South Carolina State Museum. It can be seen, along with nearly 100 other paintings and drawings by Yaghjian and the distinguished artists he taught and influenced, in the State Museum's new exhibit Edmund Yaghjian: A Retrospective. Photo courtesy S.C. State Museum.)
"However, as his name in South Carolina blossomed, his national reputation began to fade," says Matheny. "Nonetheless, his importance as an artist is still recognized nationally, and he is one of the most influential artists and art educators from South Carolina."
Yaghjian painted his surroundings throughout his life, but over time his style shifted from realism to stylized abstraction to abstract work, says the curator.
Yaghjian's influence in the state has continued through his students, a list of which reads like a "Who's Who" of prominent South Carolina artists, including J. Bardin, Jasper Johns, Warren Johnson (aka Blue Sky), Sigmund Abeles, David Van Hook and Bill Buggle, among others.
The approximately 100 paintings and sketches in the exhibit will be supplemented with work by others whom Yaghjian influenced, Matheny says. The exhibit can be seen in the museum's Lipscomb Gallery through Sept.16.
The South Carolina State Museum provides exhibits for museums and comparable facilities in South Carolina. Exhibits range from large exhibitions designed for major museums to smaller, South Carolina-specific exhibits for local museums and galleries. Subjects range from the turbulent history of Native Americans in South Carolina to fine art. Edmund Yaghjian: A Retrospective is available to other museums starting in December, 2007. The exhibit contains approximately 80 paintings and drawings.
The following is from the museum's traveling exhibit catalog.
The South Carolina State Museum is located at 301 Gervais Street, beside the historic Gervais St. Bridge and just a few blocks west of the State Capitol in downtown Columbia. Museum hours and applicable fees available on museum's website.
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