* 1904 Tiflis oder Dzov
† 1948 Sherman/Connecticut
The painter and graphic artist Arshile Gorky, key figure of American Abstraction and artist of international standing, was born in the Turkish-Armenian border region, presumably in 1904. As Arshile Gorky handled his traumatic biography in a very creative manner, the date is not absolutely assured, but it is sure to be between 1902 and 1905.
Arshile Gorky was a very gifted son of a farmer, he began painting and drawing from an early point on. His father left the family when Arshile Gorky was around five years old. Together with his mother and brothers and sisters Arshile Gorky was forced to leave his home in 1915 because of the Turkish persecution of the Armenians. His mother died of starvation in 1919.
Arshile Gorky immigrated to the USA (1920), where he met his father again, with whom he lived in Providence/R.I., where he also completed his school education. Even though he was largely self-taught in arts, he studied and taught at the New School of Design in Boston between 1922 and 1924.
Arshile Gorky began to create a sort of "new identity": He claimed to be a relative of Maxim Gorky and took on his last name as well as the first name Arshele, later Arshile. Parts of Arshile Gorky’s constructed vita include that he was a student of Wassily Kandinsky and an enrolment at the Rhode Island School of Design – both are not in accordance with the facts.
In New York, where Arshile Gorky had moved to in late 1924, Arshile Gorky was in contact with artists of Russian origin, such as David Burliuk, Ilya Bolotowsky, Raphael Soyer, Moses Soyer and John Graham. He was also a friend of Stuart Davis and Willem de Kooning. Surrealism, Post-Impressionism and Cubism were influential on his works, his biggest idols were Paul Cézanne, Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso.
They inspired Arshile Gorky and brought him on the way for a new form of art: He was not happy with the dominating American Realism in the 1930s and sought new means of artistic expression. At first he made works in an biomorph-abstract style. In the early 1940s Arshile Gorky made more and more abstract works in which he combined strong colors with a lyrical play of lines. Following the advice from the Surrealists, Arshile Gorky increasingly shaped his style with "automatic" methods. The Surrealists, even André Breton, supported Arshile Gorky in the mid 1940s, for they saw a similarly ingenious mind in him.
Gorky, however, stayed a loner in arts: In 1947 he turned away from the Surrealists and also from Abstract Expressionism, even though Arshile Gorky’s work paved the path for it, he did not regard it a practical way to continue.
It was around that time that dramatic events in the life of Arshile Gorky amounted: A fire destroyed many his paintings in 1946, and he had a colostomy because of his colon cancer. In summer 1948 he had a terrible accident which left his painting hand partly paralyzed. A severe depression followed, his wife and daughter left him and the painter eventually committed suicide in 1948.