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Artists Arshile Gorky
Arshile Gorky Photo

Arshile Gorky

Armenian-American Draftsman and Painter

Movements and Styles: Expressionism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism

Born: April 15, 1904 - near Van, Turkey

Died: July 21, 1948 - Sherman, Connecticut

Arshile Gorky Timeline


"If Picasso drips, I drip... For a long while I was with Cézanne, and now I am with Picasso."
Arshile Gorky
"The stuff of thought is the seed of the artist. Dreams form the bristles of the artist's brush. As the eye functions as the brain's sentry, I communicate my innermost perceptions through the art, my worldview."
Arshile Gorky
"My recollections of Armenia open new visions for me. My art is therefore a growth art where forms, pines, shapes, memories of Armenia germinate, breathe, expand and contract, multiply and thereby create new paths for exploration."
Arshile Gorky
"Art must always remain earnest... Art must be serious, no sarcasm, comedy. One does not laugh at a loved one."
Arshile Gorky

"Abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot physically see with his eyes... Abstract art enables the artist to perceive beyond the tangible, to extract the infinite out of the finite. It is the emancipation of the mind. It is an explosion into unknown areas."

Arshile Gorky Signature


Arshile Gorky's diverse body of work was crucial to the emergence of Abstract Expressionism. He adopted the biomorphic forms of the Surrealist painters, but further freed those forms through the process of painting itself by emphasizing more lyrical color and personal content. By means of his unique approach to color and form, he was able to communicate to the viewer the painful childhood experiences of the Armenian Genocide as well as the pleasant and nostalgic sentiments he felt toward his lost homeland. His work is also significant because it so directly reflects the cultural and historical milieu of New York in the 1940s, where avant-garde artists from both the United States and Europe converged, and of the postwar period in general, when existentialist philosophy prevailed. This philosophy proclaimed the absurdity of life at the same time as it called upon humans to take responsibility for creating their own meaning - which Gorky did by creating beauty out of personal tragedy.

Key Ideas

Many of Gorky's works reflect both the artist's traumatic past as a genocide survivor and the memory of the exquisite beauty of his early childhood surroundings in Armenia. Through the process of painting itself, Gorky could begin to resolve his largely tragic life by transforming real people and real objects, remembered or present, into new realities, abstracted and controlled.
Gorky pioneered the trend of naming his abstract compositions with titles directly referring to particular objects and places, thus fusing objective reality and subjective feeling in his works.
Gorky's work is particularly historical significant in that it provides the most important link between prewar European modern styles and the emergence of Abstract Expressionism in America during the 1940s.


Arshile Gorky Photo


It is not exactly known when Arshile Gorky was born. 1904 is widely accepted as the year of his birth, but the precise date remains a mystery because the artist adopted the habit of changing his birthday, year after year, while residing in New York. As a child, the artist survived the genocide of the Armenian people by the Ottoman Turks. With his family displaced and dispersed, Gorky's mother died of starvation in Gorky's arms in 1919. His father, however, had escaped the Turkish military draft by moving to the United States in 1908 and settling in Providence, Rhode Island. Gorky would join his father in 1920 at the age of 15 after leaving the war-ridden territory of the collapsed Russian Empire.

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Arshile Gorky Biography Continues

Important Art by Arshile Gorky

The below artworks are the most important by Arshile Gorky - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

The Artist and His Mother (c. 1926-1936)

The Artist and His Mother (c. 1926-1936)

Artwork description & Analysis: Gorky's early work The Artist and His Mother (c. 1926-36), for which he did many drawings and painted versions, is a deeply personal composition that depicts the artist as a child with his mother, who died in his arms in 1919 following the Armenian Genocide. The treatment of the figures is reminiscent of Pablo Picasso's Blue Period paintings, evoking the same melancholic atmosphere through its palette, abstracted flatness and incompleteness. However, the more immediate source for the painting is a (frequently reproduced) photograph of the young Gorky with his mother taken in Armenia around 1912. Contrasting the painting with the original photograph is a satisfying lesson in the appreciation of modern art. Such changes from the photograph to the painting as the almost painfully negative space that evolves between the two figures, the boy's feet angling away from his mother, the emphasis on the eyes, and the expansion of the dark rectangle to create a sort of Madonna-like "cloth of honor" behind his mother's head (as well as many more subtle differences) all serve to communicate the emotional pain of the loss of his mother, whom he will never see or touch again, as well as to raise her to the status of immortal icon.

Oil on canvas - The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Staten Island (1927)

Staten Island (1927)

Artwork description & Analysis: This early painting of 1927 is a superlative example of Gorky's "Cézanne" period. During these years, Gorky composed numerous canvases after Paul Cézanne's still lifes and landscapes. This particular landscape was painted from nature on Staten Island, where Gorky sought out a hillside reminiscent of L'Estaque, one of the beloved painting destinations of Cézanne. The rigid, architectonic geometry of private houses dominates the composition, while the warm, joyful palette imbues the view of the New York borough with the appearance of the South of France. While not precisely a copy of Cézanne, it is a careful study of the artist's style of geometric abstraction that was part of the modern movement in Europe, pointing to Gorky's desire to actively absorb styles and movements of the past in seeking his own individual style.

Oil on canvas - Jack Rutberg Fine Arts

Aviation: Evolution of Forms under Aerodynamic Limitations (1937)

Aviation: Evolution of Forms under Aerodynamic Limitations (1937)

Artwork description & Analysis: During the Great Depression Gorky worked as a muralist for the Federal Art Projects/Works Progress Administration (FAP/WPA). Between 1935 and 1937, Gorky produced a ten panel large-scale mural cycle for Newark Airport. Of the original murals, only two still exist; the others were either destroyed or somehow disappeared. Gorky was one of the very few New Deal muralists to paint in an abstract language.

In this mural, Gorky shows the continuing influence of European Modernism. While clearly engaged with the Cubist vocabulary of Picasso and Braque, the brilliant colors, and mechanized forms of these murals are strongly indebted to Fernand Leger. Gorky has harmoniously brought together different strands of modernism, which he uses to celebrate modern aeronautics, flight, and speed. Here, Gorky successfully deploys the language of pure abstraction with biomorphism along with a more literal representation of the United State with flight paths relevant to Newark. The modern, abstract style of these brightly colored murals sparked controversy in the 1930s as the public prized American Scene realism. Each panel stirs within the viewer the excitement of the modern machine age and spectacle of air travel in the Depression era. Further, through the mural's public placement within Newark airport, Gorky successfully introduced modernist vocabulary to a greater, non-art viewing segment of society.

Oil on canvas - Newark Museum of Art, Newark, NJ

More Arshile Gorky Artwork and Analysis:

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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Arshile Gorky
Interactive chart with Arshile Gorky's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart


Paul CézannePaul Cézanne
Roberto MattaRoberto Matta
Wassily KandinskyWassily Kandinsky
Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
Joan MiróJoan Miró

Personal Contacts

André BretonAndré Breton
Stuart DavisStuart Davis
John GrahamJohn Graham
Willem de KooningWillem de Kooning



Influences on Artist
Arshile Gorky
Arshile Gorky
Years Worked: 1904 - 1948
Influenced by Artist


Jasper JohnsJasper Johns
Robert RauschenbergRobert Rauschenberg

Personal Contacts

Willem de KooningWillem de Kooning
Harold RosenbergHarold Rosenberg
Clement GreenbergClement Greenberg


Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Pop ArtPop Art

Useful Resources on Arshile Gorky






The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


Black Angel: The Life of Arshile Gorky Recomended resource

By Nouritza Matossian

From a High Place: A Life of Arshile Gorky

By Matthew Spender

Arshile Gorky: The Man, the Time, the Idea Recomended resource

By Harold Rosenberg

Arshile Gorky: His Life and Work Recomended resource

By Hayden Herrera

More Interesting Books about Arshile Gorky
The Mysterious Art of Arshile Gorky

By William Feaver
The Guardian
February 5, 2010

Arshile Gorky and Agnes Gorky: Master and Muse

By Hayden Herrera
December 2009

Twentieth Century Man: An Arshile Gorky Retrospective

By Peter Schjeldahl
The New Yorker
November 2, 2009

Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective Recomended resource

By Holland Cotter
The New York Times
October 23, 2009

in pop culture


This movie was directed by Atom Egoyan, is partly about Gorky's youth in Turkey during the time of the Armenian genocide.

Hotel Cassiopeia

This play was written by Charles L. Mee, is about the artist Joseph Cornell and mentions his friendship with Gorky.

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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

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