Arshile Gorky

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Arshile Gorky

Vostanik Manoog Adoyan (April 15, 1904 – July 21, 1948), better known as Arshile Gorky, was an American abstract expressionist painter of Armenian descent, living and working in New York, where he was later strongly involved with American Surrealism. He was a very close friend of Willem de Kooning who respected him as a teacher in painting.

Quotes of Arshile Gorky[edit]

1930 - 1941[edit]

  • They [the critics] forget that while the artist never works outside his time yet his art will go on to be merged gradually into the new art of a new age. There will be no short stop. We shall not, contrary to the expectation of these people, hear of the sudden death of Cubism, abstraction, so-called modern art.. ..if they could but realize that energy is a spiritual movement and that they must conceive of working under a law of universal aesthetic progress, as we do in science, in mathematics, in physics.
    • Quote from: 'Stuart Davis', Arshile Gorky, in 'Creative Art 9', September 1931


  • Stuart Davis.. ..is one of but few, who realized his canvas as a.. ..two-dimensional surface plane.
    • In 'Stuart Davis', Arshile Gorky, in 'Creative Art 9', September 1931, p. 213


  • w:Rimbaud [famous French poet] has epitomized for me the true function of the artist when he wrote: 'The poet should define the quantity of the unknown which awakes in his time, in the universal soul. He should give more than the formula of his thought, than the annotation of his march toward progress. The enormous becoming the normal, when absorbed by everyone, he would really be a multiplication of progress.'
    • In: 'My murals for the Newark Airport: an interpretation', Arshile Gorky, 1936


  • Subject.. ..no specific scene but many incidents. – The first word I spoke was Argula – it has no meaning. I was then five years old. Thus I called this painting 'Argula' as I was entering a new period closer to my instincts.
    (Technique..:) Hundreds and hundreds of layers of paint to obtain the weight of reality – Art this period I measured by weight. [mid 1930's]
    • in his reply to Questionnaires of the MOMA museum, 1941
    • his quote refers on his multi-layered painting technique Gorky applied those days


from 'Arshile Gorky, – Goats on the roof' (2009)[edit]

Quotes from Arshile Gorky, – Goats on the roof, ed. Matthew Spender, Ridinghouse, London 2009


  • These days a very melancholic mood has taken hold of me. There is nothing else but my work. My dear ones, I have been well and I have been working and my way of working is changing. For this reason I always feel extremely anxious. I am not content and perhaps I will not (ever) be satisfied with my work, not even for one day. I want to attain works which are more personal and clean.
    • p. 125: Gorky's quote in a letter to his sister Vartush Mooradian, 28 February 1938


  • My sweet, I do not mean to upset you in writing this, but I want to tell you that within us, as within the nature of every person's soul there is an emptiness and we constantly seek to find that and those in order to escape from being alone. This always has been so, and always the weight of loneliness is with us, and for this reason we think of this thing or that so as not to be left alone.
    • p. 132: in a letter to his sister Vartush Mooradian, after Mai 1938


  • Art comes instinctively to us, but it is so uncertain. I have in front of me photographs of all Picasso’s best works. The mere I admire them the further I feel myself removed from all art, it seems so easy, so limited! We are part of the world creation, and we ourselves create nothing.
    • p. 168: in a letter to his future wife Agnes Magruder (Mougouch), 7 Mai 1941


  • I have to go away, but with regrets and with the firm intention to come back soon. I consider most sound I am an individual Gorky – and it is my individual feeling which counts for the most. Why? I do not know nor do I wish to know. I accept it as a fact, which does not need explanation.
    • p. 170: quote in a letter to his future wife Agnes Magruder (Mougouch), 31 Mai 1941


1942 - 1948[edit]

  • An epidemic of destruction sweeps the world today. The mind of civilized man is set to stop it. What the enemy would destroy, however, he must first see. To confuse and paralyze this vision is the role of camouflage. Here the artist and more particularly the modern artist can fulfill a vital function for opposed to this vision of destruction is the vision of creation. Historically, it has been the artist's role to make manifest the beautiful inherent in all the objects of nature and man. In the study of the object, as a thing seen, he has acquired a profound understanding and sensibility concerning its visual aspects..
    • In: 'Camouflage', 1942; an announcement for a teaching program [set up by Gorky and the director of the Grand Central School of Art, Edmund Greasen]
    • Gorky's quote refers tot the heavy change because of the appearance of Cubism


  • ..it was the Cubist painters who created the new magic of space and color that everywhere today confronts our eyes in new architecture and design. Since then the various branches of modern art through exhaustive experiment and research have created a vast laboratory whose discoveries unveiled for all the secrets of form, line and color..
    • In: 'Camouflage', 1942; an announcement for a teaching program [set up by Gorky and the director of the Grand Central School of Art, Edmund Greasen]


  • I like the heat the tenderness the edible the lusciousness the song of a single person the bathtub full of water to bathe myself beneath the water. I like Ucello, Grunewald, Ingres, the drawings and sketches for paintings of Seurat and that man [=Pablo Picasso ]. I measure all things by weight.
    • In: text for MoMA, describing the 'Garden in Sochi' - series, 26 June 1942


  • I love Mougouch [Gorky's wife]. What about papa Cézanne.. .I like the wheat fields the plough the apricots those flirts of the sun. And bread above all. My lever is such with the purple.. .About 194 feet away from our house [In Armenia] on the road to the spring my father had a little garden with a few apple trees which had retired from giving fruit.. .This garden was identified as the 'Garden of Wish Fulfillment' and often I had seen my mother and other village women opening their bosoms and taking their soft and dependable breasts in their hands to rub them on the rocks. Above all this stood an enormous tree all bleached under the sun the rain the cold and deprived of leaves. This was the Holy Tree.. [quote in 1942]
    • In: text for MoMA, describing the 'Garden in Sochi' - series, 26 June 1942


  • I don't like that word 'finish'. When something is finished, that means it's dead, doesn't it? I believe in everlastingness. I never finish a painting – I just stop working on it for a while. I like painting because it's something I never come to the end of. Sometimes I paint a picture, then I paint it all out. Sometimes I'm working on fifteen or twenty pictures at the same time. I do that because I want to – because I like to change my mind so often. The thing to do is always to keep starting to paint, never finishing painting. [quote of 1948]
    • In: Movements in art since 1945, Edward Lucie-Smith, Thames and Hudson 1975, p 32


'Arshile Gorky, – Goats on the roof' (2009)[edit]

Quotes from Arshile Gorky, – Goats on the roof, ed. Matthew Spender, Ridinghouse, London 2009
  • Dear Dorothy, my biography is very short [asked for by the MOMA].. ..I was born in Tiflis, Caucacus, South Russia, October 25th, 1904 and after the usual studies I came to America in 1920. I had been painting steadily since I was seven and continued to do so during my three and a half years at Brown University where I studied engineering. In 1925 I came to New York and taught at the Grand Central Art School for seven years. I have been living and working ever since in New York.
    • p. 163: in a letter to Dorothy Miller, [at the staff on MOMA, New York], 26 June 1942


  • The Persian art is great, I feel compelled to tell you this my Mouguch [pet name for his wife], because it pleases me so much. I adore those sick and lovely Persian – civilization which reveals there ancient custom's to me, which is deeply impregnated with my own.
    • p. 356: in a letter to his wife Mougouch Gorky, late Summer 1947


  • It is true – is it not – that even w:Ingres [French classical painter, famous for his line] had to revise – yes, the surface of the painting is smooth, finished and incorruptible as a diamond, but under the accomplished surface are pentimenti – see there at the shoulder, how the line of the black dress was lowered qua fraction and the hand was extended to give greater elegance.. .Are these not signs of the patient revision that even a genius has to make.


  • [speaking about a Persian rug...] how modern their conception of space was! They understood it in the seventeenth century; we are only just beginning to re-understand it in the twentieth – see how they mesh the vines, the tendrils, the flowers with space and utilize these linked forms to create wholeness and radiance.


  • Delacroix spoke of the Greek coin being built from the center out. Vermeer has painted in this way, according to the principles of mass.. .How beautifully they are drawn – Vermeer does not just make a leaf and place it in the design, he relates space and leaf. [in the painting of Vermeer: 'Allegory on the New Testament']. That drapery – it is abstract – observe how this shape [a space between a shepherd and the tree] curves around the center space while the tree counter-curves opposite it, cutting an egg shape.. ..the spaces on the carpet that carry no figuration are, in fact, shapes of vital importance in building the whole..


  • Yes, w:Johannes Vermeer [Dutch 17th century master painter] paints in thin layers – there is no waste effort – and those small dots – no, they are not like Seurat's, though they contain all the light the pointillist may have wished for, concentrated, hovering before the object, but not obliterating it.. .Vermeer is not a sun painter, but rather a moon-painter – like w:Uccello – that's good, it is the pure, final stage of art, the moment when it becomes more real than reality.
    • pp. 357-58: in: 'A visit to the Metropolitan Museum with Gorky', Ethel Schwabacher]], 1947


'A Painter in a Glass House' (1948)[edit]

Quotes from 'A Painter in a Glass House', Talcott B Clapp, in 'The Waterbury Sunday Republican Magazine', 9 February 1948,


  • It would be a sad thing for an artist if he knew how to paint. – so sad. An artist paints because it is a challenge to him – it is like trying to twist the devil. If you overcome it, there is no sport left. I don't even like to talk about painting. It is impossible to talk about painting because I don't know what it is. If I knew what it was I would get out a patent and then no one else would be able to paint.


  • That's the way beauty is found, by accident [referring to the Glass house he lived in, with the family]. You don't recognize it when you are looking for it, and you won't find it by looking in a magazine. It's right here in the moon, the stars, the horizon, the snow formations.. .In this house we can see all those things. But what I miss are the songs in the fields. No one sings them any more because everyone has become a little businessman. And there are no more plows. I love a plow more than anything else on a farm.


  • When I feel tired and discouraged and I lie down on the sofa, then I think of the simplest thing I can – a piece of string – and I go in it and paint it. That's the way to keep painting – to create something inside that makes you want to recreate it.


  • The oldest girl [his daughter Maro, four and a half years old] did this. She paints like a little bird. And this, the young one [Natasha, two and a half] did. See, she paints on both sides of the canvas. She is more like a passionate plumber. I wish I could paint as freely as they do. There is a gravity of playfulness in their work. If they could only keep it – but they will lose it as they grow older.


posthumous published quotes, after 1948[edit]

  • 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.
    • quote in Abstract Expressionism, Barbara Hess, Taschen, 2005, p. 10


Movements in art since 1945[edit]

Movements in art since 1945, Edward Lucie-Smith, Thames and Hudson 1975,
  • You know how fussy and particular I am in painting. I am ever removing the paint and repainting the spot until I am completely exhausted.
    • p. 15: (in Gorky Memorial Exhibition, Schwabacher pp. 12)


  • I like the heat the tenderness the edible the lusciousness the song of a single person the bathtub full of water to bathe myself beneath the water.. ..I like the wheat-fields the plough the apricots those flirts of the sun. But bread above all. (1942)
    • p. 31: (in Gorky Memorial Exhibition, Schwabacher pp. 28)


  • I was with Cézanne for a long time, and now naturally I am with Picasso
    • p. 31: (in Gorky Memorial Exhibition, Schwabacher pp. 28)


Astract Expressionist Painting in America[edit]

Quotes from Astract Expressionist Painting in America, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983
  • ..poor art for poor people [his critic on social realism art in America]
    • p. 6
  • Movement is the translation of life, and if art depicts life, movement should come into art, since we are only aware of living because it moves.
    • p. 64, unpublished letter of Gorky


  • About a hundred and ninety-four feet away from our house [Gorky was born in Armenia] on the road to the spring, my father had a little garden with a few apple trees which had retired from giving fruit. There was a ground constantly in shade where grew incalculable amounts of wild carrots, and porcupines had made their nests. There was a blue rock half buried in the black earth with a few patches of moss placed here and there like fallen clouds. But from where came all the shadows in constant battle like the lancers of w:Paolo Ucello's painting? This garden was identified as the Garden of Wish Fulfilment and often I had seen my mother and other village women opening their bosoms and taking out their soft breasts in their hands to rub them on the rock. Above this all stood an enormous tree all bleached under the sun, the rain, the cold, and deprived of leaves. This was the Holy Tree. I myself don't know why this tree was holy but I had witnessed many people, whoever did pass by, that would tear voluntarily a strip of their clothes and attach this to the tree. Thus through many years of the same ac, like a veritable parade of banners under the pressure of wind all these personal inscriptions of signatures, very softly to my innocent ear used to give echo to the sh-h—h-sh—h of silver leaves of the poplars.
    • p. 124, (in Gorky Memorial Exhibition, Schwabacher pp. 22,23


Quotes about Arshile Gorky[edit]

chronologically arranged, after date of the quotes
  • The treasure of the eye is elsewhere! Most artists are still for tuning around the hands of the clock.. ..without having the slightest concern for the spring hidden in the opaque case. The eye-spring.. ..Arshile Gorky – for me the first painter to whom the secret have been completely revealed.
    • André Breton's quote, in his Introduction to the exhibition of Gorky’s first show, Julien Levy Gallery, March 1945; as quoted in 'Arshile Gorky, – Goats on the roof', ed. by Matthew Spender, Ridinghouse, London, 2009, pp. 257-258


  • Truly the eye was.. ..made to cast a lineament, a conducting wire between the most heterogeneous things. Such a wire, of maximum ductility, should allow us to understand, in a minimum of time, the relationship which connect, without possible discharge of continuity, innumerable physical and mental structures. The key [of the mental prison] lies in a free unlimited pay of analogies.. ..one can admire today a canvas signed by Gorky, 'The liver is the Cock's Comb', which should be considered the great open door to the analogy world.
    • André Breton's quote, in his Introduction to the exhibition of Gorky's first show, Julien Levy Gallery, March 1945; as quoted in 'Arshile Gorky, – Goats on the roof', ed. Matthew Spender, Ridinghouse, London, 2009, pp. 258


  • In short it is my concern to emphasize that Gorky is, of all the surrealist artists, the only one who maintains direct contact with nature – sit down to paint before her. Furthermore, it is out of the question that he would take the expression of this nature as an end in itself – rightly he demands of her that she provide sensations that can serve as springboards for both knowledge and pleasure in fathoming certain profound states of mind.. .Here for the first time nature is treated as a cryptogram. The artist has a code by reason of his own sensitive anterior impressions, and can decode nature to reveal the very rhythm of life, in the discovery of the very rhythm of life.
    • André Breton's quote, in his Introduction to the exhibition of Gorky's first show, Julien Levy Gallery, March 1945; as quoted in Arshile Gorky, – Goats on the roof, ed. Matthew Spender, Ridinghouse, London, 2009, pp. 258


  • the vital task was a wedding of Abstraction and Surrealism. Out of these opposites something new could emerge, and Gorky's work is a part of the evidence that this is true. What he felt, I suppose, was a sense of polarity, not of dichotomy; that opposites could exist simultaneously within a body, within a painting or within an entire art.. .These are the opposites poles in his work. Logic and irrationality; violence and gentleness; happiness and sadness, surrealism and abstraction. Out of these elements I think [Arshile] Gorky evolved his style.
    • Adolph Gottlieb in 'Arshile Gorky', exhibition catalogue Kootz Gallery New York, 1950; as quoted in Abstract Painting in America, W.C, Seitz p. 104


  • I remember watching a painter, Gorky, work over an area edge probably a hundred times to reach an infinite without changing the rest of the picture, following Graham's recount of the import put in Paris on the 'edge of paint.' We [New York artist in Abstract expressionism all grasped on everything new, and despite the atmosphere of New York worked on everything but our own identities.
    • note from a note-and-sketchbook that Smith kept c. 1952; as quoted in 'Atmosphere of the early Thirties, website David Smith State


  • I met him [Gorky] in 1929. Of course I met a lot of artists, but then I met Gorky. Well I had some training in Holland, quite a training, you know, The Academy. And then I met Gorky [in New York], who didn't have that at all, he became from no place [Tiflis, Armenia].. .And for some mysterious reason, he knew lots more about painting, and art, he just knew it by nature - things I was supposed to know and feel and understand - he really did it better. He had an extraordinary gift for hitting the nail on the head, very remarkable, so I immediately attached myself to him and we became very good friends.
    • Willem de Kooning, in an interview (March 1960) with David Sylvester, edited for broadcasting by the BBC first published in 'Location', Spring 1963; as quoted in Interviews with American Artists, by David Sylvester; Chatto & Windus, London 2001, p. 47


  • ..I've been touched, in the work of Miró and Pollock, by a Surrealist – by Surrealist I mean 'associative' – quality. It's what comes through in association after your eye has experienced the surface as a great picture; it is incidental but can be enriching. Gorky too has affected me this way, but in Gorky, though it fascinated me, it often got in my way. I was too much aware of, let's say, what read as sex organs arranged in a room.. .I leave it [the 'associative' element] out of my own pictures more and more as I become increasingly involved with colors and shapes. But it is still there.
    • Helen Frankenthaler, in 'Interview with Helen Frankenthaler', Henry Geldzahler; Artforum' 4. no. 2, October 1965, pp. 37-38


External links[edit]

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