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Arshile Gorky

Arshile Gorky (1904 - 1948) formed an important bridge between European Surrealism and American Abstract Expression. In the 1940’s the intersection between Surrealist automatism and direct gesture yielded Gorky’s most significant work. In these highly fertile and most mature years, Gorky turned in large part to drawing, asserting it as the very basis of his art. Though his life was tragically-short, Arshile Gorky is recognized as an essential bridge between European Surrealism and American Abstract Expression. A strong visual education enabled quick and intelligent transitions in working style. Gorky is most-recognizable in mature works that employ the Surrealist technique of “automatic drawing,” where pen or pencil marks are made without preconception and the creations are interpreted as subconscious thought. Works from the early 1920s show an influence of Cézanne, while works from the end of the decade address the European avant-garde and Cubism, particularly Braque, Matisse, Picasso and Miró. Many artists, particularly those of the 1950s New York School, have credited Gorky as a major source of inspiration. During his mature period in the 1940s, Gorky’s abstract vocabulary embraced a language of biomorphic forms, charged with great energy. His innovative style combined childhood memories – the gardens, orchards and wheat fields – with direct observations from his American life. The resultant works are both specific and allusive, generating symbols that are both stirring and relatable, but cannot be fully articulated.

Arshile Gorky was born Vosdanig Manoug Atoian, in Turkey around 1904. He emigrated to the United States in 1920. In America, Gorky studied and taught at several schools: Boston’s New School of Design and Illustration, and in New York, the New School of Design, National Academy of Design, and Grand Central School of Art. Gorky was first exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in 1930, with fellow artists under thirty-five. Countless other exhibitions ensued, including a retrospective of drawings at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Menil Collection in Houston, in 2003, and another in 2009 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, traveling to the Tate Modern in London, and Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Gorky’s work is found in public museum collections such as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris and many others. In a decade characterized by personal tragedy, Gorky took his own life in Sherman, Connecticut, in 1948. The Arshile Gorky Foundation was established by the artist’s family in 2005, with a mission to further develop and shape his lasting influence.

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