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Archile Gorky

Between 1915 and 1918, 1,000,000 Armenians were killed and another 1,000,000 were exiled.

Khorkom was destroyed, and the city of Van was bombarded for six months. On June 15, 1915, Gorky"s family was forced to embark upon a death march 150 miles north to the border of Russian Armenia.

They reached the city of Yerevan on July 16, where they lived on the brink of starvation, with Gorky taking odd jobs as carpenter and printer"s assistant, and carving women"s combs from bull and ox horns.

In 1919, when Gorky was just 14 years old, his beloved mother died of starvation in his arms.

Gorky and his sister Vartoosh fled to New York, arriving at Ellis Island in February of 1920.

He moved to Watertown, Massachusetts, to live with his sister, and he got his first taste of art at the Boston Museum of Fine Art, where he spent most of his time after he was fired from his job at a rubber factory for "drawing on the job."

Mostly self-educated, Gorky took some painting lessons in the early 1920s from a woman who told him that an Armenian could not be a painter; whereas Russians were considered chic and artistic, Armenians were associated with starving refugees.

Gorky thus created a Russian past for himself, sometimes claiming to be a Georgian prince. He wanted to be free of his real past, yet after much consideration he settled on a name that reflected his tormenting experiences: "Arshile" is Russian for Achilles, and "Gorky" translates into "the bitter one."

After intermittently attending the School of Fine Art and Design in Boston, Gorky moved to New York City to attend the National Academy of Design, and he took several teaching jobs as well.

Within a few years, "the bitter one" had established himself as a teacher at the New School of Design in New York and gained a small circle of admirers, among them Mark Rothko, who studied under Gorky.

During this period, he was doing mostly portraits in an abstract style that was greatly influenced by painters of the School of Paris, such as Matisse, Picasso, and Miro.

In 1930, when Alfred H. Barr was preparing a group show for the Museum of Modern Art entitled The Exhibition of Works by 46 Painters and Sculptors Under 35 Years of Age, Gorky had his first big break.

After visiting Gorky"s studio, Barr chose three still lifes to include in the show, which was to be Gorky"s first. Following this show, Gorky was included in an exhibit at the New School, and he was exhibited twice at the Downtown Gallery.

In 1935, he achieved even more critical attention by appearing at the Whitney Museum of American Art in a show called Abstract Painting in America, which exhibited four of his works. The Whitney would continue to show his work annually for the next eight years.

Gorky was one of the first artists to enlist with the Public Works of Art project in 1933, formed to give artists work during the Depression. He joined the Artists" Union, which began in 1935 as the first attempt ever to organize artists as laborers in America.

Much of the art being created showed a social realist influence, and many of the murals being painted by the PWA resembled propaganda. This context of art "for the masses" and artists as "cultural workers" frustrated Gorky, who believed in the hallowed transcendence of the artist over politics.

In a lecture at the Artists" League, he finally broke with the current prominence of overtly political art when he declared it "poor art for poor people!" Despite this antipathy toward political art, he applied to the newly formed Works Progress Administration/Federal Art Project in 1935, and began work on a series of murals on the theme of aviation that would occupy much of his attention until he left the WPA in 1939.

After 1939, his works were influenced by the European surrealists and by the abstractions of Wassily Kandinsky and Joan Miro. By bringing these styles to America, Gorky exerted great influence on later American painting.

In particular, he had an effect on the developing abstract expressionist style of his contemporaries Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning (he shared a studio with the latter in the late 1930s).

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Writer: News
Editor: Eugenia Melkonyan
 Date Added: Wednesday August 02, 2006 13:16:44 

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