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The Art Story Homepage Artists Arshile Gorky Art Works

Arshile Gorky Artworks

Armenian-American Draftsman and Painter

Arshile Gorky Photo

Born: April 15, 1904 - near Van, Turkey

Died: July 21, 1948 - Sherman, Connecticut

Artworks by Arshile Gorky

The below artworks are the most important by Arshile Gorky - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

The Artist and His Mother (c. 1926-1936)

The Artist and His Mother (c. 1926-1936)

Gorky's early work The Artist and His Mother (c. 1926-36), for which he did many drawings and painted versions, is a deeply personal composition that depicts the artist as a child with his mother, who died in his arms in 1919 following the Armenian Genocide. The treatment of the figures is reminiscent of Pablo Picasso's Blue Period paintings, evoking the same melancholic atmosphere through its palette, abstracted flatness and incompleteness. However, the more immediate source for the painting is a (frequently reproduced) photograph of the young Gorky with his mother taken in Armenia around 1912. Contrasting the painting with the original photograph is a satisfying lesson in the appreciation of modern art. Such changes from the photograph to the painting as the almost painfully negative space that evolves between the two figures, the boy's feet angling away from his mother, the emphasis on the eyes, and the expansion of the dark rectangle to create a sort of Madonna-like "cloth of honor" behind his mother's head (as well as many more subtle differences) all serve to communicate the emotional pain of the loss of his mother, whom he will never see or touch again, as well as to raise her to the status of immortal icon.

Staten Island (1927)

Staten Island (1927)

This early painting of 1927 is a superlative example of Gorky's "Cézanne" period. During these years, Gorky composed numerous canvases after Paul Cézanne's still lifes and landscapes. This particular landscape was painted from nature on Staten Island, where Gorky sought out a hillside reminiscent of L'Estaque, one of the beloved painting destinations of Cézanne. The rigid, architectonic geometry of private houses dominates the composition, while the warm, joyful palette imbues the view of the New York borough with the appearance of the South of France. While not precisely a copy of Cézanne, it is a careful study of the artist's style of geometric abstraction that was part of the modern movement in Europe, pointing to Gorky's desire to actively absorb styles and movements of the past in seeking his own individual style.

Aviation: Evolution of Forms under Aerodynamic Limitations (1937)

Aviation: Evolution of Forms under Aerodynamic Limitations (1937)

During the Great Depression Gorky worked as a muralist for the Federal Art Projects/Works Progress Administration (FAP/WPA). Between 1935 and 1937, Gorky produced a ten panel large-scale mural cycle for Newark Airport. Of the original murals, only two still exist; the others were either destroyed or somehow disappeared. Gorky was one of the very few New Deal muralists to paint in an abstract language.

In this mural, Gorky shows the continuing influence of European Modernism. While clearly engaged with the Cubist vocabulary of Picasso and Braque, the brilliant colors, and mechanized forms of these murals are strongly indebted to Fernand Leger. Gorky has harmoniously brought together different strands of modernism, which he uses to celebrate modern aeronautics, flight, and speed. Here, Gorky successfully deploys the language of pure abstraction with biomorphism along with a more literal representation of the United State with flight paths relevant to Newark. The modern, abstract style of these brightly colored murals sparked controversy in the 1930s as the public prized American Scene realism. Each panel stirs within the viewer the excitement of the modern machine age and spectacle of air travel in the Depression era. Further, through the mural's public placement within Newark airport, Gorky successfully introduced modernist vocabulary to a greater, non-art viewing segment of society.

Organization (1933-1936)

Organization (1933-1936)

Typifying his work of the mid 1930s, the completely abstract composition Organization (1933-36) is an amalgamation of Gorky's exposure to the Synthetic Cubist works of Pablo Picasso (with flat planes that are less fragmented and linear, yet more colorful), as well as the signature organic pictorial motifs of Joan Miro. The painting explores a multitude of concepts put forth by these artists: flatness, form reduction, the arrangement of color, and images arising from the unconscious, even though Gorky preferred to let his forms be directly inspired by nature and reality. In his later work, Gorky would depart from such rigidly arranged compositions in favor of a more spontaneous painting technique, yet he would always remain attentive to the structure of his paintings.

Garden in Sochi (1943)

Garden in Sochi (1943)

This painting (the first of at least six relating to this theme) represents Gorky's nostalgic reflection upon the garden that was part of his father's farm near Lake Van in his native Armenia. A defining influence of Joan Miro's work can be discerned in this painting in terms of its palette, composition, and forms, with Gorky's skill as a draftsman evident in the separation of line and color. But more specifically, in a 1942 unpublished typescript that Gorky provided for the Museum of Modern Art, the artist described the garden and its objects (including carrots and porcupines), as well as its depicted motifs, including women rubbing their breasts on rocks to see their wishes fulfilled, and the "Holy Tree" with torn bits of clothing from persons visiting the tree. In the same document, Gorky also described the "sh-h-h-sh-h of silver leaves of the poplars." According to the scholar Harry Rand, Sos or Sosi is Armenian for the poplar tree that creates the sound Gorky describes. The word is also then a pun on the Russian resort Sochi, which was probably an intentional association in the same way that the artist chose the name Gorky. Ethel Schwabacher has also identified the centrally located image of an elegant shoe that Gorky's father supposedly gave him before he left Armenia. However, the viewer who insists upon too specific a reading of Gorky's images will not be fully rewarded, as the higher pleasure is in allowing his titles to suggest a subject matter, and then enabling our own memories and associations to mingle with what is on the canvas. In this sense, his works allow the viewer to revel in the lyrical play of color, following the rhythm of the curving forms as they help us pry open the memories of our own experiences that we realize are common to all humanity.

The Liver is the Cock's Comb (1944)

The Liver is the Cock's Comb (1944)

Though abstract to a great degree, this work nevertheless reveals Gorky's fondness for organic forms loosely based in nature and the sumptuous colors that would prove to be essential to his mature style. The work of Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky, as well as that of Joan Miro and Roberto Matta (who in 1942 suggested that Gorky use more turpentine to loosen up the paint) provided strong influences on Gorky's painting practice. In 1945, Andre Breton, the author of the 1924 Surrealist Manifesto, praised this painting for its combination of nature and reality, filtered through memory and feeling. The scholar Harry Rand has discussed the content of this picture at length, pointing out the rooster-headed figure with the feathered groin at the right as the vain fool. Rand explains that the liver was once thought of as the seat of the passions (love and lust), thus punning on the "cock's comb" part of the title, and could also be construed as "one who lives," therefore asserting that life itself is vanity and all in vain.

Agony (1947)

Agony (1947)

A studio fire, cancer operation, and emotional turmoil help explain the title of this painting executed one year before Gorky's death. Scholars (helped, as in other cases, by the study of Gorky's drawings) have suggested the presence of images including figures - perhaps at the left the pained and suspended figure of Gorky himself - in a structured interior. As with Gorky's other paintings, instead of an exact rendering, the viewer is presented with suggestions of real objects that are subjected to the artist's personal interpretation of their forms and meanings. However, the sober palette and the incisive pulling of the lines and forms in this painting inevitably lead us back to the title of the work and feelings of suffering, pain, and sorrow, yet all within the context of the cycle of life and death expressed in the malleability of Gorky's forms.

Related Artists and Major Works

Mont Sainte-Victoire (c.1905)

Mont Sainte-Victoire (c.1905)

Artist: Paul Cézanne (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

This is one of the last landscapes of Mont Sainte-Victoire, favored by Cézanne at the end of his life. The view is rendered in what is essentially an abstract vocabulary. Rocks and trees are suggested by mere daubs of paint as opposed to being extensively depicted. The overall composition itself, however, is clearly representational and also follows in the ethos of Japanese prints. The looming mountain is reminiscent of a puzzle of various hues, assembled into a recognizable object. This and other such late works of Cézanne proved to be of a paramount importance to the emerging modernists, who sought to liberate themselves from the rigid tradition of pictorial depiction.

In Cézanne's mature work, the colors and forms possessed equal pictorial weight. The primary means of constructing the new perspective included the juxtaposition of cool and warm colors as well as the bold overlapping of forms. The light was no longer an "outsider" in relation to depicted objects; rather light emanated from within. Instead of the illusion, he searched for the essence. Instead of the three-dimensional artifice, he longed for the two-dimensional truth.

Etre Cible Nous Monde (1958)

Artist: Roberto Matta (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Exemplery of Matta's work from the mid1950s, Etre Cible Nous Monde shows a cosmic landscape dominated by a fantastical machine highly reminiscent of Duchamp's The Large Glass .. (1915-1923). The imagery and title of the painting (loosely translated as, "Our Earth is a Target") hint at the paranoia and fear associated the atomic age, exacerbated by the Cold War and the Space Race. These fears were intensified by Russia's launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957.

The Beautiful Bird Revealing the Unknown to a Pair of Lovers (1941)

Artist: Joan Miró (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

This painting uses a reduced palette to present many small blue, green, yellow, red, and predominantly black forms that resemble signs, globes, stars, and eyes that populate the opalescent, tawny background. While searching for the lovers and the bird, viewers are drawn further in by the plethora of lines that connect them, woven into a complex constellation against a night sky.

As art historian Laurie Edison noted, "Unlike stars, which exist physically in the sky, constellations exist only conceptually... we are the ones who conceptualize invisible lines between stars to connect them to each other, " and, as a result the work, like "the function of constellations," reveals "a shape that is a pure construct." That construct reveals as art critic Tim Adams wrote, "the most vibrant expression of Miró's inner universe," his deep sense of inner connection.

In 1939 with the outbreak of the war, Miró fled Paris with his family to Normandy. The small village was often in a state of blackout. He wrote, "I had always enjoyed looking out of the windows at night and seeing the sky and the stars and the moon, but now we weren't allowed to do this any more, so I painted the windows blue and I took my brushes and paint, and that was the beginning of the Constellations." This work is part of a series of 24 paintings on paper upon which Miró innovatived his own language of signs to help him cope with the difficult life circumstances. He said, "When I was painting the Constellations, I had the genuine feeling that I was working in secret, but it was a liberation for me in that I ceased thinking about the tragedy all around me."

Miró considered the series among his most important works, and they indeed became his most influential. His ability to bring forth illustrative form to his emotions laid a great foundation for the ensuing Abstract Expressionist movement. The series also inspired André Breton's series of prose poems Constellations (1958).

As the critic David Sylvester once said: "Miró's art may well have been the most far-reaching single influence the American Abstract Expressionists had. It is reflected in Pollock and Gorky, Gottlieb and Baziotes, Motherwell and Smith. And is there any influence other than his that has been common to both de Kooning and Rothko?"


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