Armenian Homeland Permeates the Painting of Arshile Gorky

Article excerpt

My beloveds, Vartoosh, Moorad and little Karlen,

I wish that we were together now so that we could speak of the homeland....

Images of distant homelands reveal themselves in the work of many emigre artists. Perhaps none was so influenced by these memories - almost overpowered by them - as Arshile Gorky.

"Arshile Gorky: The Breakthrough Years," an excellent collection of about 40 oils and drawings by the Armenian-born artist, is being exhibited at the National Gallery of Art in Washington through Sept. 17. This particular group of works represents Gorky's mature years, 1941-48, during which he became established as a pioneer of Abstract Expressionism, a movement that produced such artists as Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.

On exhibit are works from Gorky's dramatic and prolific last years leading up to the taking of his own life. While enigmatic, his paintings are also intensely personal, reflecting the inner turmoil of the artist as he struggled with both the tragedy and beauty of his childhood, and reconciled his past with the present.

"At their most poignant level, {Gorky's} images resulted from an intense need to connect memories of his ancient homeland of Armenia with his new American home ..." explains curator Michael Auping in an essay about the artist. "For exiles and refugees, however, identities do not come easily. Indeed, there are only a few fairy-tale stories in this regard, and Gorky's is not one of them."

Though Gorky spent most of his life in the United States, his native Armenia was never far from his thoughts. "... Sweet Vartoosh," Gorky wrote to his sister, who also emigrated, in 1942, "loving memories of our garden in Armenia's Khorkom haunt me frequently.... Beloved sister, in my art I often draw our garden and re-create its precious greenery and life. Can a son forget the soil which sires him...."

Not only could Gorky not forget, but he also seems to have been driven to express these images: gardens, fields, trees, a waterfall.

Born Vosdanig Adoian in 1905, the artist's young life was a string of tragic events. …

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