Arshile Gorky and Good Hope Road, 1945
Arshile Gorky stands out among artists who have been through a dreadful life. He was an American born in Armenia and his real name was Vostanik Manoog Adoyan. Throughout his life he had seen lots of tragedies. He is considered as a bridge between America and Europe art. He was born on 15th April, 1904 in the village of Khorkom, near Van in Western Armenian countryside, Turkey. In 1910 when he was just 6 years old his father, Setrag Adoian, immigrated to America to find work, leaving his family behind in the town of Van. He stayed in Van for sometime and then moved his family to Aykesdan, Garden City. His mother introduced in him to the art world when he was very young. She used to take him to Ancient painted document and Armenian architecture. On June 15, 1915, Gorky’s family was forced to go on board upon a death rally 150 miles north to the border of Russian Armenia to escape the Armenian Genocide.
On July 16 they reached the city of Yerevan, where they lived on the edge of starvation. With situations getting worse at the age of eleven Gorky started odd jobs working as carpenter and printers assistant, he started carving women’s combs from ox and bull horns. In 1919, when Gorky was 14 years old his beloved mother expired of starvation in his arms. After this at the age of 16 around in 1920 Gorky and Vartoosh (his sister) went to New York. With his sister he then moved to Watertown, Massachusetts. Due to the long separation from his father for such a long time he felt neglected and separated from his father.
He was never too attached with his father but reunited with him when he went to America but still could not build a very close relationship with him. (Arshile Gorky – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 1)
In Boston Gorky started to work in a rubber factory but soon got fired for the reason of making drawings during his work time, after this Gorky started to spend much of his time at the Boston Museum of Fine Art where he developed a feel of art in himself. Gorky was mainly self educated he never took much lessons whatever he learnt was based on his personal interest. In the early 20’s Gorky took lessons from a woman who told him that Armenian are not considered to be as artists, they are thought of as starving refugees and that Russians are thought to be stylish and artistic. Having this in mind Gorky decided to create a Russian past for himself and decided to change his name for both practical and personal reasons, during the process of reinventing his identity he even stated to be a Georgian prince. He wanted to get rid of his past and don’t wanted the shadows of his past to reflect his present so he decided on a name that would be of Russian fashion but would reflect his suffering past. (Brain-Juice | Biography of Arshile Gorky, 1)
He changed his name from Vostanik Manoog Adoyan to Arshile Gorky; Arshile adopt from Achilles from the Trojan War and Gorky meaning “the bitter one” taking the last name from Russian writer Maxim Gorky. In 1922, he attended the School of Fine Art and Design in Boston, after completing his study he moved to New York and enrolled in the National Academy of Design there and meanwhile also became a part time teacher.
Within a few years Gorky had became a teacher at the National Academy of design and also had a little circle of his own admirers which included his own students as well. Gorky had no proper training in art but he was deeply influenced by the work of Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró, he started to study art by looking at their paintings and tried to paint like them. In 1930, Alfred H. Barr chose three still life projects to include in a group show named as The Exhibition of Works by 46 Painters and Sculptors less than 35 Years of Age at the Museum of Modern Art, and this was Gorky’s first time ever to be exhibited in public. After this show Gorky’s work was displayed at the New School and then after that two times his work was displayed at the Downtown Gallery. Gorky gained more fame in a show called Abstract Painting in America in Whitney Museum of American Art where his four of his works were displayed. (Brain-Juice | Biography of Arshile Gorky, 1)
The Cubist painters discarded the old concept that art should be inspired or should be borrowed from natural things and traditional techniques of having an outlook. Instead these painters broke the natural images or things into geometrical shapes. Picasso followed this technique and Picasso greatly inspired Gorky. Gorky was highly interested in Picasso’s Synthetic Cubism. He practiced Cubism from the end of 20’s to the 30’s. (Arshile Gorky- Father of Abstract expressionism – The Art History Archive, 1)
Gorky became friends with two cubist painters, Stuart Davis and John Graham. Graham made a deep influence on Gorky.
In the 30’s the paintings Gorky made illustrated his profound understanding of the cubism. In the 1930’s Gorky came in touch with the Surrealist Painters who had immigrated to America at that time. He was inspired from their Surrealist ideas and from them he learnt the techniques of automatism. Automatism meant to create paintings and drawings with the unconscious mind rather than consciously following specific patterns. Gorky felt this technique well suited him as because of his spiritual nature. Another Surrealist idea which inspired Gorky was biomorphism, a technique in which natural objects are associated with shapes. (Arshile Gorky Biography, 1)
A development program, Public Works of Art started in 1933. Gorky was one of the first artists to be enlisted in this program. The program was some what with an approach to organize artists as laborers. The paintings artists made had a political influence in them and looked like misinformation. Artists being treated as laborers and workers disturbed Gorky who was in favor of political art. Meanwhile a development in American art was being made by Works Progress Administration (WPA) artists’ program. It was basically a program to provide work for artists. The basic objective of the program was to create hope and regain faith in Americans. Gorky joined with the Work Progress Administration program, and he with other artists including his friend William de Kooning painted many wall paintings in public buildings he left the WPA in 1939. Meanwhile he has had exhibitions in the Guild Art Gallery which were highly appreciated by the people. About this point in time he also painted his famous Nighttime, Enigma, and Nostalgia series, a series of his complex works. (Artist Profile: Arshile Gorky, Abstract Expressionist, 1)
There were vast differences between the Surrealists and the Abstract Expressionism. During that time there were artists who did the conventional paintings and there were some artists who painted their inner feelings.
During the first years of the 20th century Dadaists who were the originators of Surrealism decided to bring art back to its original state and with the fact that abstract art is somewhat an inner and a divine feeling that cannot be done with conscious mind. It comes from the inner self and it belonged to some what dreams, fantasies and unconsciousness. Gorky joined with the Surrealists in the early 40’s. He never believed in imitating anybody’s work but he adopted ideas and depicted them in his own work. The Surrealist philosophy of art inspired Gorky to create a style of his own and that style showed in his paintings for the next eight years. (Arshile Gorky- Father of Abstract expressionism – The Art History Archive, 1)
Gorky was well known and was a respected artist in New York but still he want through critical financial problems. During the time when he was working with the WPA he still did not get much reward as people who used to buy art were not very sure of the newcomer’s talents. Gorky went through very dark times of life. His glowing and brilliant work of art, which projected Abstract Expressionism for some 10 years, led the way for abstract art in North America. His work deeply reflected his vast suffering when he was deported from his homeland and as an outsider in America. His work also shows the depth of his emotional power.
And it also shows the passion with which he experienced the short time period of joy and happiness in his life. He sometimes even had to sell his masterpieces for a cost as low as 5 dollar to get money to buy his painting supplies. His paintings also showed the nostalgic feeling he had for his mother and his homeland and these emotions affected his work greatly. He made two paintings restoring his mother to life named as “The Artist and his Mother” and “How my Mother’s Apron unfolds in my Life.” The memories of his mother and his childhood had been a very main ingredient of his art. He located the landscape of farm country, rolling hills, and dazzling lakes openly in his later works, such as The Plough and the Song, Garden in Sochi, and The Sun. (Brain-Juice | Biography of Arshile Gorky, 1)
Gorky worked day and night and in turn got very little reward for his work. He was a perfectionist in his work as well in his life and could not compromise on anything relate his work and his personal life. To get a perfect partner Gorky searched for years and during this search he fell in love three times and got married once. After a struggling search to find his perfect mate his search ended when he met Agnes Magruder who was a wealthy socialite in America. There was an age difference of 20 years between them when they got married. Gorky was 40 and Agnes was 20 years old. After his marriage Gorky entered the most creative period of his career. It was the time when he started his own style of painting.
It was the time when he painted what he felt and what his unconsciousness told him. Gorky began with his new series Garden in Sochi series in 1941 and then continuing this style till his death. He created such fine pieces of art and each individual painting of him is of unmatched quality. Gorky created masterpieces as The Liver is the Cock’s Comb, One Year the Milkweed, Good Hope Road and Waterfall. His paintings at that time were inspired by natural landscapes that were surrounded Connecticut which was the hometown of his wife and where the couple resided for extended periods of time. These landscapes reminded him of his lost Armenian homeland and since he missed his homeland a lot it can clearly be seen from his paintings.
The landscape inspired paintings of Gorky’s, which he painted during the last six years of his life, shows the deep study of nature that he made during his stay in Virginia and Connecticut.
He often wrote to his sisters in letters about he much missed his homeland and their home garden in Armenia. It was a time when Gorky was enjoying the charm of his success and a happy family. (Brain-Juice | Biography of Arshile Gorky, 1)
His painting Good Hope Road painted in 1945 when he was in unusual period of emotional security and household comfort as till that time he had a loving wife and a family with him. He lived on the Good Hope road in Connecticut for about 9 months. There he lived a very happy and contented life with his family the life that had been blown from him in Armenia’s pastoral surroundings and the life which he wished for.
It was a time period where his career was at its peak and was thriving. His paintings were selected by the Julien Levy Gallery, the first ever gallery for futuristic art in New York his paintings did a great business in that exhibition and many paintings were sold. This influenced critics greatly and a critic described the show as featuring some of the best paintings by an American Artist. (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: Collection Search Results, 1)
GOOD HOPE ROAD
His painting Good Hope Road made in 1945 also known as the Hugging shows two bodies hugging and embracing each other in the warm environment lit up by the firelight. Good Hope road was the address of a dear friend of Gorky where the elements of farm and inside of farmhouse are very apparent. By the black color in background critics deciphered the area showing a fire place. It demonstrates the feeling of love and the peace in a happy life. Gorky in this painting drew and used lines and colors that he never experimented before. He stressed drawing to a greater extent than he had earlier. He used long bold lines, biomorphic shapes, and small areas of dilute colors that travel across the picture and only rarely overlapping one another. The painting does not have bright colors in it instead have subtle light shades of color which reveals calmness and a peace of mind of the painter. The painting has a spiritual feeling in itself that appeals to both the heart and mind. The picture creates a dreamy atmosphere and demonstrates a life that everyone wishes to have a life that is free from trouble and difficulties. (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: Collection Search Results, 1)
Some critic’s say that this painting illustrates that the picture had the idea adopted from his early childhood as from one of his early childhood photos showed hearth or a fire place in his home which was not a real one but was just a painting. As Gorky was very much attached to his mother may be he tried to express that nostalgic feeling in his painting when he had the peace in his life but he didn’t have his mother with him and remembers the time that he had spent with her. (Arshile Gorky, 1)
Other critic’s believe that Gorky expresses sexual themes in his paintings which are not obvious at the first glance. They explain their feeling by saying that his painting Good hope road is a painting depicting a sexual scenario and is represents a love making sight.
They say it’s a painting in which two lovers are making love to each other in the warmth of the fire place. With this painting Good hope road critics believed that Gorky broke the walls in modern art by including spiritualism and depth of feelings in his paintings and showed a way to the new upcoming artists. (ART NEWS, 1)
Gorky and his wife were happily married for five years and had five children when in January 1946 Gorky’s Studio caught a fire and the fire brought his classic works his paintings, books and drawing to ashes. Gorky could not come out of this tragedy when a month later Gorky was diagnosed with colon cancer and went through colostomy after which he became physically handicapped and was emotionally disturbed. After his operation he was too weak to paint but still he made 300 paintings. Life had more for him to face when he discovered that his marriage has exploded when he found out that his wife is having an affair with his friend who was a surrealist painter. His wife went away with his friend also taking children with her. In June 1948 the week he went through the breakup he had a car accident which left him with his neck broken and his painting arm paralyzed. Physically and emotionally broken by the betrayal of his loved ones Gorky went to his home in Connecticut and hung himself and brought his life to an end on July 21, 1948. His last phrase which was written on a crate with chalk was “Good bye my loved ones.” (Brain-Juice | Biography of Arshile Gorky, 1)
Gorky lived a very tragic and a very disturbing life but he is known as the Father of Abstract Expressionism. His passion of painting was above everything else and his paintings gave him relief during bad times. He always tried to depict his past and tried to show his future, which never lived up to his expectations in his paintings. (Arshile Gorky, 1)
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Artist Profile: Arshile Gorky, Accessed 30 November 2008, <http://www.ndoylefineart.com/gorky.html>
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Arshile Gorky, Accessed 30 November 2008, < http://users.erols.com/ries/article2007AG.htm>
ART NEWS, Accessed 30 November 2008, < www.artnews.com/issues/article.asp?art_id=2106>
Arshile Gorky Biography, Accessed 30 November 2008, < http://www.dropbears.com/a/art/biography/Arshile_Gorky.html>
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston_ Collections Search Results, Accessed 30 November 2008, < http://www.mfa.org/collections/search_art.asp?recview=true&id=35045>