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The Artist and His Mother (1926 - 1936)
Oil on Canvas, The Whitney Museum

 

       
 

Arshile Gorky

 
 

 The Artist and His Mother

   

 

  

Plan ahead.  An ambitious exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art traces the career of the American pioneer Arshile Gorky, a master of abstract art and personal reinvention. Philadelphia is no longer the nation's capital, but it remains redolent with history - the Gorky show is a fine occasion to plan a day or weekend trip to the city of brotherly love and also reacquaint oneself with some of the country's great monuments such as the Liberty Bell and Graff House where Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence in the spring of 1776.

 

The Philadelphia show -- Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective -- is the first large-scale show of the artist's work in over 30 years, a critical re-take of sorts, and paintings will be hung in the wonderfully-termed 'creation chambers' which are modeled after the artist's own description of his Union Square studio in New York.  This all-encompassing survey follows Gorky's complex artistic evolution and does not merely focus on the well-known details of his often tragic life. Certainly his escape from his native Armenian village of Khorkom, his taking the name Gorky (Russian for bitter), and his creation of an entirely new identity once he arrived in New York have an astonishing, almost fictional quality to them. All the more remarkable then that Gorky overcame the events of his childhood to go on to produce some of the most beautiful, lyrical art of the past century, works such as Abstraction with a Palette (1930) and Dark Green Painting (1948).

 

And then there is his most famous painting, the sober and sobering The Artist and His Mother (ca.1926 - 1936).  The painting is based on a childhood photograph and was painted in America, many years after his mother's death of starvation after their escape from Van.  Gorky, the boy, is fleshed, his mother is flat and ghostly, sorrowful dark eyes of both mother and son, and Gorky has left his mother's hands unpainted as if the memory of his mother was perhaps too painful for him to finish….

 

Gorky was an autodidact and a voracious reader who was influenced by some of the century's great artists before forging a unique personal style. His early works, for example, were influenced by Modernism, Cubism, and experimental movements and artists such as Cézanne, Léger, Picasso and Miró.  His friendship in the 1940's with members of the Surrealist movement living in New York led Gorky to experiment with new techniques such as automatic drawing under the tutelage of Roberto Matta.  Gorky's life ended in tragedy, as it had begun: but in between he created a unique body of work, melding memories of his past in Khorkom with the developments of modern art.      

 

See: Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective, October 21, 2009 through January 10, 2010

 

 

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