Arshile Gorky

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Arshile Gorky was one of the most important Abstract Expressionist artists of the 20th century.  He was born in Armenia in 1904. He and his family fled the Armenian Genocide and made their way to America when Gorky was 16 years old.

Arshile Gorky

Arshile Gorky working on Activities on the field, one of the panels for his mural Aviation at Newark Airport, for the Federal Art Project, 1936

In 1922, Arshile Gorky studied art at the Rhode Island School of Design  and taught at the New School of Design in Boston.  He later moved to New York to teach at the Grand Central School of Art.  His early influences were Impressionism and Post-Impressionism.  Many of the works created in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s are unsigned.  In 1933, he became one of the first artists employed by the Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project.  At this time, he was a great admirer of Picasso and Cubism.  Through the WPA, he painted a mural in the cubist style at the Newark, New Jersey airport.

He began exhibiting his work in 1930’s in galleries and museums.  By the 1940’s, Arshile Gorky began painting with influences in Surrealism. Surrealist poet Andre Breton said Gorky “decoded nature to reveal the very rhythm of life”.  At his most mature point in his career he was working with abstraction.

Nature was a great source of inspiration in his work.  He spent a lot time in the countryside of Virginia and Connecticut.  He was able to capture the amazing energy of nature.  Unfortunately, Arshile Gorky experienced several tragic moments in his life.  There was studio fire in 1946 that destroyed many of his works.   His work became much darker after this event.  Gorky also battled cancer and depression.  In 1948 his wife had an affair with his good friend Roberto Matta.  Having survived all of this, Arshile Gorky ended up hanging himself in 1948 after a car accident paralyzed his painting arm.  By 1951, the Whitney Museum of American Art mounted “Arshile Gorky: Memorial Exhibition”.  This exhibition helped seal his reputation as an important contributor and influencer of American modern art.