Dated 1982, this is one of the last works from the Armenian-American painter Stephen Sacklarian, and one of his best from that late flowering of his unique vision. Here the characteristic shapes are fainter than usual, but the laughter in them still rings out, and the tears are felt. His abstracts are never impersonal and cerebral, but, rather, autobiographical and emotional.
26.5″ x 34.5″ x 2″ deep. Oil and dry brush on canvas. Excellent condition.
Price on request.
Stephen Sacklarian (1899–1983) was an American Contemporary painter and sculptor of Bulgarian Armenian descent. Although Sacklarian never formally subscribed to any official art movement, critics consider his paintings to be Postmodern Abstractionism with elements of Cubism. Despite high success and prominence during his later lifetime, Sacklarian posthumously experienced a further surge of demand and popularity associated with the new Counterculture Movement.
Stephen Sacklarian was born in 1899 in Varna, Bulgaria and emigrated to the United States in 1911. His parents were Turkish Armenians who escaped persecution in Turkey. Not much is known about Sacklarian’s early youth, other than he grew up in poverty in Philadelphia. He was a Golden Gloves boxer during a brief period in his late youth.
Pre-art career and education
He eventually was accepted to the Wharton School of Business, where he graduated with honors Prior to full commitment to art, Sacklarian had a varied and financially successful career in industry and business as a sales engineer; and worked for General Electric amongst other companies. However, he later decided to formally and professionally pursue art, studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, the University of the Arts, the T Square Club-School for Architects, the Fleisher Memorial Art School, and ultimately in private study under sculptor Paul Manship.
During his early career from the 1930s until the late 1950s, Sacklarian painted realistically. Nude portraits, indoor stills and nature were predominant. Few of these early-period paintings are still around; he destroyed most of them. Sacklarian was relatively unknown in the art world during this time, not having yet found his unique painting style which for which he is associated.
Transition into abstractionism (1960s)
In 1966, Sacklarian began painting with acrylics, which for him opened up new possibilities, enabling different uses of color and form which culminated in the distinct Abstractionist style for which is known. As he developed his style, Sacklarian’s notoriety in the art world grew immensely. During the late 1950s and early 1960s Sacklarian produced numerous pieces of wood sculpture, ranging from 12 inches to over 8 feet tall. His sculptures are described as “sensuous and dramatic,” and with noticeable elements from African Art. Today, very few of his sculptures still exist, as he destroyed all of the known sculptures in his studio following Ayne’s death.
Wife Ayne’s death and period of destruction
Sacklarian was deeply affectionate toward his wife, Ayne Sacklarian (also an artist), and cited her as inspiration for the expressive joy behind his many works. However, Ayne died tragically and prematurely due to an Anesthesiology error during minor surgery. Sacklarian immediately fell into a deep depression, and during this time he destroyed his studio and with it a vast majority of his works. He temporarily ceased painting, not resuming until years later near the end of his life.
His later works in the late 1960s and 1970s are considered by critics and collectors to be his best and most masterfully vibrant. Nygaard Otsby, contemporary art critic, states “Rather releasing his inner sorrows onto the canvas like other artists, Sacklarian grasps even further to channel the ecstasy that [Ayne] once gave him, finding with it a virtually unparalleled creativity in his later years.”
Over a long and productive career and during extensive travel, Sacklarian visited with and was inspired by Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore, Arshile Gorky, Henri Matisse and other prominent artists of the 20th century. Sacklarian’s paintings sold at auction at Phillip’s, Sotheby’s, and Christie’s, and while Sacklarian painted exhaustively throughout his career he adamantly hoarded most of his paintings, and because of his unfortunate period of self-destruction most will never be seen. Sacklarian was an artist-in-residence at Notre Dame University in the 1970s, and guest lectured at a number of other universities across the United States. Sacklarian cites his inspiration as a difficult life and conscious choice for happiness: foremost “[His wife], both in life and death” and “centuries of Armenian oppression and wanderings” as well as his rough upbringing and brief years as a boxer, and lastly the concepts of Genesis and the ‘Reality of Unreality.’
Sacklarian’s artistic world is populated with whimsical biomorphic forms and amorphous figures that float against bright, angular backgrounds or subtle, dark fields of color. Sacklarian employs sophisticated use of perspective and composition, playing with the juxtaposition of style between his vivid biomorphic forms in the foreground and the unidentifiable geometric rooms in which they reside. Human and animal forms, limbs, faces, and abstract sexual organs hover in the foreground. The subconscious mind is a dominant threaded in Sacklarian’s work, and his paintings are notedly “vividly abstract” and dreamlike. Some are brooding, yet most are light and full of mischievous humor. Many have sly sexual references. Sacklarian’s palette varied, yet favored bright rich colors. Despite his works’ spontaneous appearance, Sacklarian claims to have at all times had the exact mental image of his desired piece prior to creation.
Critics have cited Sacklarian’s paintings as “too flamboyant,” “busy,” and “overly uninhibited.” In contrast to the stark minimalism of Postmodern Art (see: Minimalism + Postmodern art), Sacklarian’s paintings are dominantly filled with paint, color and movement up to the corners of the canvas. Some believe Sacklarian should have gone further in posing deep philosophical questions, although other supporters dismiss this claim.
Famous Art Historian David W. Scott, personal friend of Stephen Sacklarian’s and a large fan of his work, described Sacklarian’s painting forms as “emotion-charged puppets enacting dramatizations of human plights, frustrations and fears, whilst [Sacklarian] always remaining the puppeteer.” “Let the audience apply their own meaning, should they wish.” Otsby, another critic argues in reference to Sacklarian’s work and the state of Contemporary Art. Art appraiser and critic Katherine Faith Prior once described Sacklarian’s work as “Counterculture Art; deeply Freudian and shamelsessly Laissez-aller.”
As of 2014, Sacklarian’s works are in the permanent collection of over 60 museums worldwide, including The Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American Art, and The Royal Fine Arts Center in Brussels, Belgium, and amongst others.
A significant collection of paintings from 1967-1970 are on public view at George Mason University.
Death and legacy
Stephen Sacklarian died in 1983. He and Ayne had no children. His works continue to influence Counterculture Art, Modern Art, and Abstract Expressionism painting techniques, and are coveted by museums, galleries, and collectors due to their increasing rarity.