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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Hovsep Pushman

By Clara Bell

( Article orginally published September 1944 )

"Born in the Orient, loving Oriental legends, I try to convey my emotions on canvas with color, design and tone, elegance of form and grace of movement. I have been much fascinated by the legend of the awakening. The girl first awakens as she crosses the life between girlhood and womanhood.

"In the beginning of creation the female was created in white-as a lily, a white lotus-floating in the waters of innocence. A day came in which she awakened, she moved, she blushed and the delicate color of life flooded her being.

"In this painting I have recorded the harmony in silver, blue and black and in the background there appears faintly the first creation as the Orient accepts it-warm in colors of yellow, green and vermilion."

In this way Hovsep Pushman, describes his "Awakening" which portrays a white porcelain nude delicately draped before an open fan. To the left, a tiny vase of ancient iridescent glass and, in the background, faintly perceptible, the god Shiva in embrace.

The "God of Eternal Spring," exhibited at the Grand Central Art Galleries in 1932 depicts the figure of a Buddha, an upright plate banked by a tiny figurine and a peeping sprig of bayberry. In the background painted suggestively is the Prince of Darkness. And the legend connected with this painting is related to us by Pushman: "This painting is symbolical of the spiritual legend of life, which has attracted artists from earliest times having a suggested power of right over wrong.

"In the light of Oriental eyes, the good spirit is represented by Buddha, who is here depicted as with the serenity, courage and philosophy capable of resisting evil and the seething discords originated by the Devil which tend to break down the eternal harmony. This perpetuates the idea that sickness, disease, etc. are necessarily the emanation of an evil spirit, as it is impossible to attribute that to the good Buddha. In this way life began and continues in the light of an everlasting conflict.

"In the background the Prince of Darkness, as he is often called in art, is shown as a beast in black riding a wild horse in his path of destruction, but held forever in check by the Buddha who maintains the principles of the God of Eternal Spring.

"The color chords echoing these sentiments run through the picture. The God in the foreground is associated with the objects of symbolism and dominating notes of the sacred green and gold, but in the background the positive quality becomes indefinite as the evil spirit gathers all he can in the shadows."

Arthur Millier said of this artist a few years ago, in the Los Angeles Times, that he creates a "dream world in which, amid mysterious lights and shadows, the blossoms of time fade at the feet of the gods eternal". And earlier in the century Antony Anderson wrote an appreciation in the International Studio (1917) saying that Pushman was continually in "search for recondite meanings in color. No picture is complete if it does not interpret the dream when it states the reality."

This dream world happens to be locked up within the walls of Mr. Pushman's Carnegie Hall studio. Here he has gathered from all corners of the world, especially the Orient, ancient glass, figurines of clay and wood excavated from the tombs of important personages of yore, beauteous old pottery and textiles, all treasures which hold fascinating secrets from the ages. Secrets such as these our artist tries to recapture in various arrangements of these, mere symbols of the realities that have been-and live again for us.

Born in Armenia May 9, 1877, Pushman moved with his family to Constantinople when he was eleven years old. He entered the Ecole des Beaux Arts as one of the youngest students through a competitive examination and studied under an Italian master. He won his first prize at the age of fourteen at the Royal Academy in both painting and sculpture classes. After wandering in China he joined his family and came to Chicago, entering the Art Academy (now the Art Institute of Chicago), first as a pupil, then as a teacher. Then to Paris, where, under Dechenaud,, he found his Armenian heritage. On his second trip to Paris, in 1921, he remained there for several years before returning to America to make New York his home this time. He is the recipient of several awards, two of which are from Paris.

His first appearance before the Chicago public, at the Institute, was an exhibit of twenty-one portraits in which he already showed himself a supreme colorist. His colors symbolize various feelings: purple and black for mourning and grief; yellow and white for purity and joy; green, the restful color; blue, the cool, quiet color, and red, the exciting. In the portrait of his wife is told the sombre story of her race with the blacks, purples and rich reds. The Daughter of the Sheykh, now in possession of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and exhibited at the Grand Central Art Galleries in 1926 and 1932, was awarded a medal at the Salon des Artistes Francais in 1921. The portrait is radiant with the child's bright purple dress, her black hair and eyes, the jade beads, opalescent vase, against a seagreen background. Remarkable, too, is the black opalesque skin of the child.

Pushman has won the acclaim in his lifetime that other artists of note have won only after their death and through long years of struggle. His paintings are highly priced, on the average of $5,000 to $6,000, and have, even at auctions, reached the $7,500 mark. A notable occurrence took place in his exhibit teen paintings at the Grand Central Art Galleries of 1932. On the opening day the entire lot of paintings was sold! Mr. Erwin Barrie, director of the Galleries, said it was the first time he had witnessed such a miracle in the twenty-five years of his art dealings. These Galleries still hold a treasury of Pushmans, all of them exquisite in taste and color and feeling, some adorned with the long forsaken touch of gilt.

The painting illustrated here was done on wood and has a soft glow about it. Its composition closely resembles his "Return to Yesterday"'. The color of his objects cannot be adequately captured in words, but he enhances the quality of his color with a special brush technique which sharply differentiates the frayed book page from the porcelain figurine, from the textile background, from the withered rose.

Owned by many private collectors, Pushman has also found his way into the leading museums of the country, among which some are: Boston Museum of Fine Arts; Art Association, Dallas, Texas; Milwaukee Art Institute; Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Montclair- Art Museum, and Amherst College, Mass.

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