Thumbnail Image Arnold Chanin



Arnold CHANIN was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1934 and lived in Oakland, an area within walking distance of the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute of Technology, the Syria Mosque and the great Carnegie Institute with its enormous library, concert hail, museum of fine arts, halls of Greco-Roman sculpture and museum of natural history. As with the recently deceased playwright, August Wilson, "he credited Carnegie Library in Oakland as his university." (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, October 3, 2005)

[He and Andrew Warhola lived on the same street, attended the same elementary, high school and an institute but were six years apart: Holmes Elementary School, Catherine Metz, art instructor; Schenley High School, Joseph Fitzpatrick, art instructor; Carnegie Institute, Department of Painting and Design.

As a boy he visited this huge Carnegie complex which comprised a vital part of the cultural life of the city. In the early fifties, he also began to frequent the Carnegie Art Museum, particularly during the showing of the international contemporary art exhibits held every two years. Here he was introduced to the works of Robert Motherwell, Ben Nicholson, Stuart Davis, Arshile Gorky, Georgia OKeeffe, Jackson Poflock, Franz Kline and others who were just getting established in the contemporary are world. Even though these exhibits were often the subject of harsh criticism in the local papers {eg. a cartoon drawing ridiculing Ben Nicholson's 1952 prize winning painting), he related to the new works immediately and even copied a Motherwell "Elegy" in stark black and white to hang on his wall, a "radical" step for the fifties.

In the late 1940s, when quality cameras again became available after the war, the enterprising young man, still only a teenager, developed a major interest in photography. Reading everything available at the Carnegie's extensive photography library, he set up his own darkroom and did all his own processing and enlarging, using a Leitz Photomat , the first 35mm enlarger. In his work, he strove to capture the extensive changes which were taking place in the various sections of Pittsburgh during the post-war boom, using a Kodak Retina I camera which had no range-finder or meter. These photos of Pittsburgh (1950) are in the collection of The Historical Society Western Pennsylvania and the Orange County Museum of Art, The Orange County Museum of Art, and The Huntington Museum. His interest in photography continued through college, graduate and medical school, including a five-year period working with Telecolor of Hollywood, a portrait studio doing in-home family portraits. He also photographed all his own paintings, jewelry and sculpture at Antioch and graduate school.

In 1951 Arnold made his first trip to New York City where his uncle, Abraham Chanin, was a writer, lecturer and docent at the Museum of Modern Art. The artists of the New York School were just coming to the forefront at that time, abstract expressionism was on the rise, and the great black and white photographers of the 20s, 30s and 40s (Walker Evans, Edward Weston, Dorothea Lange, Paul Strand, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen and W. Eugene Smith) were being exhibited and had begun to be taken seriously. The original Family Of Man exhibit at MoMA in 1955 added to their luster and Arnold saw it many times. These various influences created a determination to become an artist and designer, continuing with photography which, of course, became a lifelong passion.

He enrolled in Carnegie Institute's (now Carnegie-Mellon), department of painting and design in 1952, but after one year transferred to Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. There he combined the fields of art and education, embarking on a career of teaching. He also taught silver work, copper enameling and design at Antioch, Eastern Michigan College, National Music Camp at Interlochen, Michigan, Pembroke School in Kansas City, Missouri (where he met Thomas Hart Benton and his family). Upon graduation from Antioch, he started a graduate teaching assistantship at Southern Illinois University (1957-58). This was the year Buckminister Fuller, Nadia Boulanger and the Bauhaus-trained ceramic artist, Marguerite Wildenhain were there to conduct graduate seminars, which he attended and met the guests.

After completing most of his work towards an M.F.A., he moved to Los Angeles and worked in the field of jewelry design, adult an education and portrait photography. Soon finding it less and less rewarding, however, he decided to complete his master's program and take the requisite two years of biological sciences to pursue a career in medicine. In 1965 he received both his M.D. and M.F.A. degrees, both in Los Angeles.

Chanin then became a physician-captain in the U.S.A.F. between 1966 and 1968, stationed in Dover, Delaware. He completed over one hundred oils and watercolors in those two years and had three solo exhibits. In one of them, at Wesley College, the critic Otto Dekom wrote, "One can fervently hope that Chanin's optimism is warranted. We are in an era when the phony and contrived in art is much the fashion He brings to art the physician's opposition to human imperfection, the drive to eliminate, to cure such imperfections." While in Dover, he served on the Delaware State Arts Committee and and judged several exhibits. He and his wife were also was able to vist the art museums of Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York.

Returning to Los Angeles in 1968, ChanIn soon met Hans Burkhardt, who became his teacher, mentor and close friend during their twenty-five year relationship. He took life classes with Burkhardt at the MGM Studios, began collecting his works, invited his perceptive criticism and analysis, learning as well his techniques of oil painting and canvas preparation. As a result, Chanin's oils and pastels of the 70s reflected a strong Burkhardt/abstract expressionist influence. His belief in basic craftsmanship was reinforced by this association, regardless of the medium: painting, pastel, collage, mixed media, designing and printing his own poetry books, or compiling portfolios of photographs.

Starting with Hans Burkhardt in 1969, he began photographing the artists of So. California. He used a Minolta, 2 1/4 twin-lens reflex camera which allowed conversation with the subject while taking the photographs. This project gave him the opportunity not only to photograph the artists, but collect and study their works and, in many cases, form lasting friendships. Some artists and their families became his patients and exchanged art works for medical care.

Bloch coverIn the 1980s a series of Chanin's string quartet paintings were used by Laurel Records as covers for their Ernest Bloch chamber music series. This came about as a result of staying with Bloch's daughter, Lucienne Bloch Dimitroff (in Gualala, CA), a noted muralist who worked with Diego Rivera on the Rockefeller Center mural in New York City. She liked the oils so much that she called Hershel Gilbert, then president of Laurel Records, and gave permission for their use on the LP record series in the 12 X 12" format (used before the advent of CDs when the artwork became miniaturized. Some of his paintings appear on CD covers also.)

Chanin continued the artist-photography project for almost ten years. Then, on the suggestion of Fidel Danieli, sent the photographs to West Coast Regional director, Paul Karlstrom at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, then located in San Francisco. They have been a part of that collection for over thirty years. The fifty "best" photographs from that series were compiled and printed on archival paper by Steve Cohen in Santa Monica and are a part of the photography collection of the Orange County Museum of Art. Some were also selected for the collection of the Huntington Art Collection. He also reprinted the series of black and white photos of Pittsburgh, New York City and Philadelphia from the fifties for the Orange County Museum of Art.

A series of portraits of Dr. Israel and Abraham Chanin from the sixties were presented to the Philadelphia Jewish Archives to coincide with the recent recognition each of their achievements in the fields of medicine, art criticism and Jewish History. Abraham was also one of Albert Barnes' early students and disciples, lecturing frequently at the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Penna. When Abraham Chanin spoke there, Dr. Barnes would send a limousine to "Strawberry Mansion" to bring his parents (Dr. Arnold Chanin's grandparents) to the lecture. This was during the years when access to Barnes' collection was restricted to personal invitation only.

Chanin is currently working on color and black and white works as well as reprinting photographs from the fifties and sixties, utilizing newer papers and printing techniques. These will be donated to a number of repositories including the Archives of American Art, the Orange Country Museum of Art and currently The Huntington Library and Art Collection in San Marino, CA. Each series of photographs has a theme and is an attempt to synthesize his extensive experience in the visual arts. The series for the Huntington will consist of ten portfolios, from 2004-2014. Each portfolio also contains and expanded artist's statement as well as an analysis of the current work contained therein.

[Arnold Chanin with the kind assistance of Marian Yoshiki and Phil Kovinick]

Archives of American Art, West at The Huntington, San Marino, CA 2003-06

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