Sam Tchakalian Biography

Sam Tchakalian




Sam Tchakalian, painter, printmaker, and teacher, was born in Shanghai, China in 1929. His father was one of three Armenian brothers who ran a chain of French-style bakeries in Shanghai. After the death of her mother, he and his brothers were raised by their Chinese stepmother. His family relocated to California in 1947 and Tchakalian enrolled at San Francisco State College where he earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1952.

During the Korean War, Tchakalian served as an intelligence officer in the United States Army between 1952 and 1954. After his discharge, he used his G.I. benefits to return to San Francisco State College where he studied paintings and art education. He set up his live/work studio on Duboce Street in San Francisco in 1957 and received his master’s degree in 1958.

Tchakalian began teaching in the late 1950s and he held a variety of teaching jobs. He was a guest lecturer in painting at the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1962-1963, and he taught painting at the College of San Mateo in 1964. He joined the faculty of the San Francisco Art Institute in 1966 and taught there for thirty-five years. Scott Greene, a former student, described Tchakalian: “He was a force of nature, or a cannonball barreling down the halls, and always with an entourage following him everywhere.”

His work was included in the annual exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art between 1958 and 1965; and were included in Recent Developments in Bay Area Art, San Francisco Museum of Art, 1964; Painters Behind Painters, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, 1967; The West Coast Now, Portland Art Museum, 1968; 40 Now California Painters, Tampa Bay Art Center, 1968; Contemporary American Painting, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1969; and Twentieth Century American Paintings, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, 1969. Tchakalian’s first solo exhibition was at the Dilexi Gallery in San Francisco in 1960 and, in 1978, a twenty-year retrospective was mounted at the Oakland Museum.

Tchakalian’s work is represented in the collections of the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois; the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana; the San José Museum of Art, California; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California; the San Francisco International Airport, California; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Oakland Museum of California Art; and the Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts.

Sam Tchakalian died in San Francisco, California on 21 January 2004.

“Sam Tchakalian was a painter whose work....has an authenticity which is so lacking nowadays...Sam’s paintings were aggressive and gentle simultaneously...He was a beloved teacher. He could be harsh during critiques, but people learned a lot and loved it. He was in there duking it out.”-painter Squeak Carnwath.