YENOVK dER HAGOPIAN
Yenovk der Hagopian was a 20th century Armenian American artist. The early works of this painter, sculptor and musician boldly embraced, the experimental ethos of modern art, during the late 1920’s and 30’s. However, it was the haunting images witnessed as a survivor of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, which served as the basis for most of his creations. Through his work, Yenovk gives his audience a firsthand account of Armenian culture.
Born on May 24, 1900 in Ishkhanikom, Western Armenia, Yenovk der Hagopian was the son of an ordained minister and lifelong friend of the “Father of Abstract Expressionism”, Arshile Gorky. His days of playing along the ancient architecture with Gorky as well as his travels throughout the country with his father, left landscape and the culture of the Armenian people etched in his mind. One of Yenovk’s talents was his ability to replicate the structures of the churches in his sculptures and cravings, the emotions of the people in his paintings and the hearts of all through his recordings.
Yenovk’s father, Hagop, an ordained priest at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, taught Yenonk sacred ballads that would later launch his music career. Yenovk, singing notes once performed by Savat Nova, was later praised, in America, as the only living Armenian singer to recreate by rote authentic Armenian folk songs. This rare talent was captured in several recordings under his own Ashoogh Records label. This feat later led to a performance at Carnegie Hall in 1947.
After the Siege of Van in 1915 Yenovk and his family fled toward Yerevan. Witness to the horrors of genocide and the death of his parents, these harrowing scenes were engrained in his memory forever, later to emerge in many of his paintings and carvings. Yenovk studied art in Tiflis in 1916, and soon after found employment with the Near East Relief Foundation, as director of two orphanages in Nor Bayazid and Yerevan between the years 1918-1923. He also served in the military and during the “February Uprising” of 1921, Yenovk was shot in the leg while defending Yerevan from the Bolshevik Communists. Yenovk walked with a limp his entire life, still carrying the bullet in his leg; a painful reminder of so much that was endured.
On November 1, 1923 Yenovk immigrated to Ellis Island in New York. Soon after he was reunited with Gorky in Watertown, Massachusetts who found him a job at the Hood Rubber Factory. In 1926 Yenovk enrolled in night courses at the Massachusetts Normal Art School studying painting and drawing. Subsequent group exhibits and solo shows followed throughout Boston during the 1930’s. While living in Watertown, Yenovk was employed by the Works Progress Administration in 1939 and produced the carving, “Night in Exile” - a scene depicting the plight of an Armenian family. He reproduced a similar image also entitled, “Night in Exile” in one of his paintings.
Friend and fellow artist Hyman Bloom introduced Yenovk to legendary composer Alan Hovhaness in 1942 who was so moved by Yenovk’s mellifluous voice and profound knowledge of traditional Armenian folk music, he set about recording the catalog of Yenovk’s music, finally, to paper. A lifelong friendship ensued inspiring Hovhaness’ Opus 176, #2 entitled, “Yenovk (The Troubadour)”. In 2011, at the centennial celebration of Hovhaness’ birthday, internationally acclaimed pianist Sahan Arzruni performed the world premiere of “Yenovk (The Troubadour)” in Berkeley, California.
In 1943 Yenovk released his first album, which contained eight folk songs. That winter, he moved to Fresno, California where he continued painting and carving in a studio in Sanger. There, he befriended Academy Award and Pulitzer Prize winning author and dramatist, William Saroyan. A brief marriage to Pailatzoo Michigian ended in 1946 and Yenovk moved back east releasing a second album that December.
A mutual friend introduced Nevart Kalarchian, a young widow with three boys, to Yenovk and they married on August 28, 1948. They moved from the Bronx to a house they purchased in Yonkers, NY where they lived for nearly fifteen years. In their backyard, Yenovk sculpted scenes from his memory of home: a large stone replica of Mt. Ararat, Lakes Van and Sevan. Tourists flocked to view the display.
Ever yearning for home, Yenovk constructed seven large wooden replicas of ancient Armenian churches – each several feet high. These were to be a part of a larger installation on a four-acre parcel of land Yenovk and Nevart bought in Cornwall Bridge, CT. A house and studio were erected on the rural terrain that reminded him of Van. On March 15, 1966, one week before they were to move, Yenovk passed away from a heart attack. The seventh church, a model of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, certainly the most beloved of the group, was never finished.
In 1985, one of Yenovk’s most impressive carvings, “In Memory to the Countless Armenian Martyrs of 1915”, a large wooden khatchkar depicting images of Van, his parents and his experiences in Armenia was displayed at Arlington Cemetery during services commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
YENOVK der HAGOPIAN