Born in the village of Khorkom, province of Van, Armenia, on April 15, 1904, Arshile Gorky’s (real name: Vosdanik Adoian) idyllic childhood was cut short by the invasion and genocide committed by the Turks on Armenia. Living as a refugee with his mother and sister, Gorky fled to the United States in 1920 following the tragic death of his mother by starvation. He settled in Watertown, Massachusetts, with some relatives and his father, who had previously fled. By 1922, he taught at the New School of Design in Boston and in 1925, he moved to New York with a new name: Arshile Gorky. He entered the Grand Central School of Art in New York as a student but soon became an instructor of drawing and even a faculty member. In the 1920s and 1930s, his studies in New York of modern European art reflected in his work, showing the influence of such artists as Georges Braque, Paul Cézanne, and above all, Pablo Picasso.
In 1930, Gorky’s work was included in a group show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in 1931 he had his first solo show at the Mellon Galleries in Philadelphia and in 1938, Gorky made his New York solo show debut at the Boyer Galleries. During that decade, he closely associated with Stuart Davis, John Graham and Willem de Kooning – the last of which he even shared a studio with.
In the 1940s, he was profoundly affected by the work of European Surrealists, particularly Joan Miro, André Masson and Matta. By 1944, Gorky met André Breton and became friends with the Surrealist emigrés community. In that decade, Gorky established his artistic direction, painting original abstractions that combine memories of his childhood in Armenia with surrealist fantasies.
The end of Gorky’s life was affected by a succession of personal tragedies that were reflected in his painting. From a fire in his studio that destroyed a large part of his work, to a colostomy operation for cancer, an automobile accident that left his painting arm paralyzed and finally his wife leaving him – all of these events preceded Gorky’s death by suicide in 1948 at the age of 44.