Untitled, c. 1939
Oil and gouache on board mounted on Masonite
17.6 x 8.5 in. / 44.7 x 21.6 cm
b.. 1904, Van Province, Ottoman Empire (now Turkey)
d. 1948, Sherman, Connecticut
Arshile Gorky was an Armenian-American painter who was instrumental in the development of Abstract Expressionism and served as a crucial link between European Surrealism and American abstraction. Gorky was born Vosdanig Adoian near Lake Van in Turkish Armenia. As a child, he and his family were victims of the Armenian Genocide and in 1919, Gorky held his mother as she died of starvation. The following year, Gorky immigrated to the United States, where he adopted his pseudonym in order to distance himself from the American perception of Armenian refugees.
In 1922, after living with relatives in Massachusetts, Gorky attended the New School of Design in Boston, where he absorbed the influence of European Modernist movements. In 1924, Gorky moved to New York City and enrolled at the National Academy of Design and the Grand Central School of Art, where he ultimately held a teaching position until 1931. His early work he actively imbibed the methods of artists like Cézanne, Miro, Picasso, and Braque.
During the Great Depression, Gorky worked as a muralist for the Works Progress Administration, where he met fellow Abstract Expressionists Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. In 1935, Gorky's work was included in the exhibition Abstract Painting in America, held by The Whitney Museum of American Art. In 1938, Gorky had his first solo show at the Boyer Galleries in New York City. Throughout the 1940’s Gorky combined Surrealist ideas and forms with innovative painting techniques to produce a distinct personal style, which proved foundational in the development of the Action Painting method utilized by Abstract Expressionists. In 1948, after a downturn in his physical health, a fire in his studio, which destroyed most of his work, and the dissolution of his marriage, Gorky tragically took his own life.
Since his death, Gorky’s work has been exhibited continuously, with major retrospectives of his paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Tate Modern, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Gorky’s work is held in collections internationally, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, in Madrid, and The Museum of Modern Art in New York.