Sam Tchakalian, a San Francisco artist and teacher admired for his forceful abstract paintings and revered for his passion and honesty, died Wednesday in San Francisco of complications from diabetes and leukemia. He was 75.
Mr. Tchakalian was an unwavering abstractionist best known for the big paintings he made with thick bands of color brushed or dragged with a trowel across the canvas. They had an elemental power and vitality.
"They have an immediacy, presence and an authenticity which is so lacking nowadays,'' said painter Squeak Carnwath who teaches at UC Berkeley.
"Sam's paintings were aggressive and gentle simultaneously," said Carnwath. "I liked their physicality, the generosity of the paint handling. They were in the heroic Abstract Expressionist mode, in a great, stubborn way. '' Carnwath sees suggestions of landscape in some of Mr. Tchakalian's work and likened the experience of looking at Mr. Tchakalian's big paintings to the meditative state induced by the bands of color in certain Buddhist paintings.
Bruce Conner, a San Francisco artist who came to prominence during the Beat era, called Mr. Tchakalian "one of the major lights of Bay Area Abstract Expressionist painting in the 1950s and '60s" who used mixed media at a time when other painters didn't. "And he was always a fun guy to be around,'' Conner added.
Mr. Tchakalian was born in Shanghai in 1929 and moved with his family to San Francisco after World War II. He served in the U.S. Army and received a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master of fine arts degree from San Francisco State.
He lived in and painted in the same Duboce Street studio since 1957 and taught at the San Francisco Art Institute for 35 years, retiring in 2001.
"He was a beloved teacher,'' said Carnwath, noting that Mr. Tchakalian had a reputation as a committed teacher who didn't pull his punches when it came to assessing students' work. "He could be harsh during critiques, but people learned a lot and loved it. He was in there duking it out.''
Mr. Tchakalian's work was exhibited widely in the Bay Area and is in the permanent collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Oakland Museum and the Fine Arts Museums' Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts.
Since 1985, he was represented by San Francisco's Modernism gallery, which is going ahead with plans for a large exhibition of Mr. Tchakalian's work in 2005, accompanied by the publication of a book about the painter.
Mr. Tchakalian's body will be on view from 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday at the Hogan, Sullivan and Bianco Chapel, 1266 9th Ave., and a service for him will be held at noon Tuesday at St. John's Armenian Church, 275 Olympia Way.
Mr. Tchakalian is survived by two brothers, Manuel of San Francisco and Edward of Los Angeles; and a niece and nephew, both of Los Angeles.
This article appeared on page A - 18 of the San Francisco Chronicle