Meaning in Color/Expression in Line: Arman Manookian's Modernism

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    Arman T. Manookian, Red Sails, 1928, Oil on Canvas, Courtesy of John and Patty Dilks

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    Arman T. Manookian, Hawaiian Boy and Girl, 1928, Oil on Canvas, Courtesy of John and Patty Dilks

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November 04, 2010 - April 24, 2011
John Dominis and Patches Damon Holt Gallery

Exhibition Overview

Arman Manookian’s Red Sails and Hawaiian Boy and Girl (both 1928)—two landmarks of Hawaiian modernism that until last spring hung at the Hotel Hana-Maui—are now on long-term loan to the Academy thanks to the generosity of collectors John and Patty Dilks.  To celebrate their arrival, these magnificent paintings join a selection of Manookian’s works from the Academy’s holdings and from private collections in a tightly focused exhibition that demonstrates the artist’s skillful handling of modernism’s vivid palette and evocative line. 

Often referred to as Hawaii’s van Gogh, Manookian’s short life was filled with hardship and tragedy before his death by suicide in 1931 at the age of 27. Born in Turkey in 1904, he was a survivor of the Armenian Genocide, and he immigrated to the United States in 1920 at the age of 16. He studied illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design and took classes at the Art Students League in New York City, before enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1923. As a Marine, he was clerk to Major Edwin North McClellan, a writer and historian who soon had the young artist doing illustrations for his own historical publications and for Leatherneck: Magazine for the Marines. When McClellan was sent to Pearl Harbor in 1925, Manookian accompanied him. 

In 1927, Manookian was discharged from service, but he stayed on in Honolulu and came into his own as an artist, creating flamboyant fantasies of ancient Hawai‘i that enlivened public spaces and private homes alike. A contemporary of Arshile Gorky—another Armenian-American artist and a profound influence on the New York School—Manookian, too, developed a singular mode of abstraction rooted in French fin-de-siècle painting and theory, particularly that of the Symbolist Paul Gauguin. Echoing Gauguin’s directive to “derive…abstraction from nature while dreaming before it,” Manookian described his own compositions as “certain arrangements of forms and colors quite independent of objective nature [and] capable of producing a sensation much more pleasing, satisfying, lasting and profound than any representative painting will ever achieve.” Indeed, like Gauguin in Tahiti, Manookian’s theory of abstraction freed him to re-imagine Hawaii, and to picture it as a dazzling earthly paradise far removed from the corruption and sorrows of contemporary society.—Theresa Papanikolas, Curator of European and American Art