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Arshile Gorky - Untitled

by Helen Bremm

What appears at first glance to be a jumbled concept of expressive lines and colors turns out to be a landscape upon closer inspection. In 1944, Armenian-American artist Arshile Gorky spent a lot of time in Hamilton, Virginia, and was inspired by the local rural environment.

Although the colors and shapes seem to float freely on a white surface, the emptiness at the top of the painting does suggest a horizon and sky. The large red and mustard yellow spots at the bottom of the painting create a sense of pictorial depth and gravitas. On the left is a large four-legged animal - a cow. On the right, human and organic figures move. The colors are warm and chosen from nature.

The work seems spontaneous and expressive. But in fact the artist made many preliminary studies and drawings for this painting and precisely determined the composition and colors beforehand. Typical of American abstract expressionism , to which Gorky belonged, is that the lines are freed from their descriptive function and are detached from the patches of color. Traditionally, color filled the form bounded by the lines. Here all the elements of the picture are equal and have an autonomous statement and expressiveness.

Gorky is considered the last surrealist and first abstract expressionist. In this work you can also see the influence of Joan Miró, for example, in the free-floating symbolic black forms. It has a mystical and spiritual quality. Gorky was also inspired by the method of automatism: the surrealist painters* before him strove to paint from the subconscious and to bridge rationality and intention. In practice, this was often at odds with the noted meticulous planning of the compositions.

This untitled work is from the phase for which Gorky became best known - the phase in which he created his abstract, mystical, and surrealist-expressive paintings of amorphous and organic forms.

Arshile Gorky - Untitled

Oil on canvas, 1944, 167 x 178.2 cm, Peggy Guggenheim Collection in New York


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