Edmund Yaghjian's contributions to the arts in South Carolina are immeasureable. As chair of the University of South Carolina’s Department of Fine Arts for more than twenty years, he mentored Jasper Johns, Sigmund Abeles, and the mural artist Blue Sky, among others. As was his approach in New York City, Yaghjian viewed his hometown as a source of intriguing subject matter, capturing the streets of Columbia in vibrantly colored and increasingly modernist urban landscapes that successfully blend vernacular and abstract elements.
The son of Armenian immigrants, Yaghjian received a scholarship to the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design. Following his 1930 graduation from RISD, Yaghjian enrolled at New York’s Art Students League. There, he studied with leading American painters, including John Sloan and Stuart Davis. These instructors and the influence of the Ashcan school led Yaghjian to abandon portraiture in order to pursue realistic portrayals of the people and places he experienced in the city. From 1938 to 1942, Yaghjian taught drawing and composition at the Art Students League before moving on to brief teaching stints in New Hampshire, Connecticut, Missouri, and, finally, South Carolina.
Yaghjian's distinguished career was filled with notable awards and exhibitions at such important museums as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, National Academy of Design, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Butler Institute of Art and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Credited with being a catalyst in arts awareness in South Carolina, Yaghjian once noted: “I call myself a painter; only time will tell if I am an artist.”
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