ARSHILE GORKY: THE FATHER OF ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM

Synthesizing Surrealism and the sensuous color and painterliness of the School of Paris with his own highly personal abstract vocabulary, the Armenian-American painter, Arshile Gorky, is celebrated as the last of the great Surrealist painters and one of the first Abstract Expressionists.

Famous for creating beauty out of personal tragedy, Gorky was born Vosdanig Adoian, on April 15, 1904, in the village of Khorkom, near lake Van, in an Armenian province on the eastern border of Ottoman Turkey. Gorkey fled the country in 1915 during the Armenian Genocide and escaped to Russian- controlled territory with his mother and his three sisters. His mother died of starvation during their forced march in Yerevan in 1919.

In 1920, Gorky and his sister eventually immigrated to the United States, where he changed his name to Arshile Gorky and invented a new life for himself. In 1922, Gorky enrolled in the New School of Design in Boston, and eventually became a part-time instructor at the Rhode Island School of Design. Through his visits to museums and readings, Gorky became familiar with avant-garde European art and embarked on a systematic study of its masters, most notably Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and Joan Miró.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Gorky's prominent position in the New York art scene brought him into contact with several members of the Surrealist group. The Chilean-born painter Roberto Matta encouraged Gorky to improvise and experiment with biomorphic forms, and introducing the artist to the Surrealist technique of automatic drawing, which he deftly mastered.

Until his death in 1948, Gorky Painted highly original abstractions that combined memories of his Armenian childhood, especially the gardens, orchards and wheat fields of his rural homeland, with direct observations from nature. A string of tragic events beginning in the mid 1940s, however, would leave the artist in both physical and emotional agony.

A fire in his studio, a painful operation for rectal cancer, a debilitating automobile accident, and marital troubles led the depressed Gorky to commit suicide on July 21, 1948, in Sherman, Connecticut. He was buried in North Cemetery in Sherman, Connecticut.

In 1951 the Whitney Museum of American Art mounted “Arshile Gorky: Memorial Exhibition”, which secured his name in the art history books.

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  • What are your sources for this information? Should you not make this clear in your publication?

    • John Antoine Labadie