He is a fictional abstract expressionist artist who appears in the works of Kurt Vonnegut, he is loosely modeled on Barnett Newman, and also appeared in Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions as the artist of the $50,000 painting The Last Temptation of Saint Anthony. He was met with resentment by people in the book who felt that the purchase of his painting was a waste of money.
Karabekian's parents were survivors of the Armenian genocide. They moved to the United States, California to be exact, where young Rabo's talent as an artist became apparent. However, although capable of incredible photorealism, his teacher generally felt his work had no soul (that is, it failed to invoke an emotional response in the viewer).
As a young man, he joined the Army to serve in World War II and because of his artistic skills was assigned to a camouflage unit. Unfortunately, while in service near the front, his position was overrun, costing him an eye, over which he wore a patch for the rest of his life.
After the war, Karabekian became friends with many abstract expressionists, including Jackson Pollock. Karabekian was able to make some money selling paintings he had bought from civilians during the war and, unlike his friends, was able to support himself while pursuing his art. He could pay other artist's bills, and they paid their debt in art. As a result, he eventually accumulated the world's largest private collection of abstract expressionist works.
Karabekian did have major commissions of his own, including murals. Rejecting his photorealistic roots, his works tended to be abstract, consisting of a revolutionary house paint called Sateen Dura-Lux on canvas as the background, topped with coloured tape. Although he claimed the works were completely abstract, he admitted to himself that the tape represented the auras of living creatures on a landscape. Unfortunately, his choice of materials was a poor one - the not so revolutionary Sateen Dura-Lux and tape eventually fell off, essentially destroying all of his work over time. Sateen Dura-Lux turned out to be highly toxic when exposed to air, so his leftover stock sits in his basement.
As Karabekian's better known work looked very simple, many of his friends doubted he had real artistic talent. However, when he was in the mood, he could paint photographically and spent years apprenticing with Dan Gregory, an illustrator. During the preparation of one of his works, he proved his talent to a friend by caricaturing him in dust smeared on canvas.
Karabekian's "secret" in Bluebeard is held in a large old potato barn building on his estate that he never lets anyone enter.
The Last Temptation of Saint Anthony is a fictional work of art by Rabo Karabekian. The painting costs $50,000 and is solid green with one thin, vertical, yellow strip of tape. Karabekian defends the painting in the end of Breakfast of Champions as a representation of the only pure element of any person: 'their awareness'. Karabekian further describes his views in Bluebeard as seeing every person as a thin and bright neon tube representing their soul and their awareness.