Arshile Gorky

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Considered by many to be the father of abstract expressionism, Arshile Gorky is credited for bridging the gap between Surrealism and abstract expressionism. His name is taken in the same leagues as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Rothko as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. His paintings often depict the suffering and loss he endured due to the Armenian genocide; he is also hailed as one of the most powerful Armenian artists of all times. His troubling life was filled with many tragedies due to which Gorky was never settled mentally. His paintings always expressed emotions of loneliness, emptiness and deep melancholia due to the loss of his Armenian heritage and family. His mental instability coupled with one tragedy after another (including a cancer scare, paralysis) drove him to suicide, which was a shame and a loss for the art world considering he was, at that time, the greatest painter in America.

He was born as Vostanik Manoug Adoian, in 1904 in Khorogam, Armenia. Gorky’s father immigrated to the United States in order to avoid being drafted into the Turkish war. Five years later, due to the Armenian genocide Gorky’s family followed him albeit in a different tragic manner. Due to starvation Gorky lost his mother at the Russian border whilst trying to escape the genocide and he was left alone with three of his sisters and had to cross the ocean in order to get to this father. His mother’s death changed Gorky altogether, it left him unhinged mentally and he never recovered from that tragedy. In fact a lot of his paintings depict the journey of his mother’s death. In many ways Gorky reinvented himself as a person while travelling by sea towards New York. Within a year of moving to New York, Gorky began taking art lessons and changed his name. He started copying the painting styles of Picasso, Paul Cezanne and Joan Miro with the aim of learning from these great masters of art and thus creating a style of his own. Within the abstract expressionist movement Gorky was very well established and known. His sense of spontaneity when it came to painting was well ahead of his time and led to the establishment of the New York School. Arshile Gorky’s paintings hang in every major American museum today including the National Gallery of Art, the MoMA, the Metropolitan and Whitney Museum of American Art and the Tate Gallery in London.

His most harrowing and beautiful masterpiece happens to be of his mother and himself, titled The Artist and His Mother. This painting occupied Gorky’s mind for almost twenty years during his short life. The painting is biographical in nature, taken from a memory of the artist when he was eight years old. Painted in dull colors of gray, brown and red the painting shows the young artist standing while his mother in sitting on a chair. The painting consists of loose dry brushworks and the composition is so fine that it adds a level of etherealness to the painting. The painting is both an exploration of modernity and an emotional tribute to a personal tragedy.

Arshile Gorky Paintings

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