ARSHILE GORKY: biography quotes on art & life by the American painter artist + biography story
ARSHILE GORKY (1900 – 1948) was born in Armenia; he lived and created as painter artist and died in America. As young artist Gorky was strongly influenced by painters of Cubism, in particular Picasso, as Gorky’s quotes will illustrate. A close artist friend of Arshile Gorky in New York city became the younger artist Willem de Kooning, later a leading artist in Abstract Expressionism. Gorky however got more and more involved with New York Surrealism; it was Andre Breton who labelled Gorky as a ‘real Surrealist’.
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Arshile Gorky: ‘Agony’, painting 1947
ARSHILE GORKY, artist quotes on painting and life – American painter
- They (the critics, fh) 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… …they have merely not understood the spiritual movement and the law of direct energy of the centuries… …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.
* Arshile Gorky, source of his artist quote on the art critics and energy in contemporary painting, in: ‘Stuart Davis’, Arshile Gorky, in ‘Creative Art 9′, September 1931; as quoted in “Arshile Gorky, – Goats on the roof”, ed. by Matthew Spender, Ridinghouse, London 2009. (American painter, intensively influenced by the artists Picasso and Cézanne, and creating representational paintings in a personal modern Surrealism style; at the bottom more biography & history facts and links)
- Stuart Davis (an American abstract artist, fh) … … is one of but few, who realized his canvas as a two-dimensional surface plane. (1931)
* Arshile Gorky, his artist quote on the American early abstract painter Stuart Davis, in: ‘Stuart Davis’, Arshile Gorky, in ‘Creative Art 9′, September 1931, p. 213.
- Rimbaud (French poet, fh) 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.
* source of his quotes on the poet Rimbaud and the artiss task to define the Unknown in painting, from: ‘My murals for the Newark Airport: an interpretation’, 1936; as quoted in “Arshile Gorky, – Goats on the roof”, ed. by 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.
* Gorky, artist quote on his anxiety about his own painting art in his life: letter to his sister Vartush Mooradian, 28 February 1938; as quoted in “Arshile Gorky, – Goats on the roof”, ed. by Matthew Spender, Ridinghouse, London 2009 p. 125.
- 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.
* source of his artist quote on the weight of loneliness in human life: letter to his sister Vartush Mooradian, after Mai 1938; as quoted in “Arshile Gorky, – Goats on the roof”, ed. by Matthew Spender, Ridinghouse, London 2009, p. 132.
- 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, fh)
* Gorky’s quote on titling his painting and his multi-layered painting technique of those days, in: his reply to Questionnaires of the MOMA museum, 1941; as quoted in “Arshile Gorky, – Goats on the roof”, ed. by Matthew Spender, Ridinghouse, London 2009, p. 163.
- 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.
* his artist quote on Picasso who he admires very strongly, from :a letter to his future wife Agnes Magruder (Mougouch), 7 Mai 1941; as quoted in “Arshile Gorky, – Goats on the roof”, ed. by Matthew Spender, Ridinghouse, London 2009, p. 168.
- Dear Dorothy, my biography is very short (for the MOMA, fh) and in fact I would prefer to omit the references to Paris and Mr. Kandinsky as such brief periods that mention of them is out of proportion to the actuality.
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
* artist quote on giving a very short biography of his life in Armenia and the U.S., from a letter to Dorothy Miller, (at the staff on MOMQA in New York since 1932, fh), 26 June 1942; as quoted in “Arshile Gorky, – Goats on the roof”, ed. by Matthew Spender, Ridinghouse, London 2009, p. 163.
- My first reason, and the one I consider most sound, is that primitive sculpture seen in large quantities bores me, whereas modern European sculpture seen in the same quantity interests me infinitely, without boring me, and if I go away from it, it is because the strain of looking at it and understanding it upsets me, tires me, 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.
* source of his quote on sculpture and his personal identity, in a> letter to his future wife Agnes Magruder (Mougouch), 31 Mai 1941; as quoted in “Arshile Gorky, – Goats on the roof”, ed. by Matthew Spender, Ridinghouse, London 2009, p. 170
- 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 fulfil 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…. …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…
* artist quotes on the Cubist painters who created the new magic of space and color in modern painting, 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, fh).
- I was with Cézanne for a long time, and now naturally I am with Picasso.
* Arshile Gorky expresses his early admiration for Cezanne and later in his artistic life for the great Picasso, from: ‘Gorky Memorial Exhibition’, by Schwabacher p. 28; as quoted in ”Movements in art since 1945”, Edward Lucie-Smith, Thames and Hudson 1975, p. 31.
- 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.
I love Mougouch (his wife, fh) 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 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…. (1942)
* Arshile Gorky expressing his great loves in art as well as in his personal life and youth, from his: text for MoMA, describing the ‘Garden in Sochi’ series, 26 June 1942
- The Persian art is great, I feel compelled to tell you this my Mouguch, 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.
* Gorky’s quote on the old Persian painting art which has become a part of himself, in a: letter to his wife Mougouch Gorky, late Summer 1947; as quoted in “Arshile Gorky, – Goats on the roof”, ed. by Matthew Spender, Ridinghouse, London 2009, p. 356.
- 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. (on the painting of Vermeer ‘Allegory on the New Testament’, fh). That drapery – it is abstract – observe how this shape (a space between a shepherd and the tree, fh) 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…
* his artist quote on the abstract aspect of former and more classical painters like Delacroix and Vermeer, from: ‘A visit to the Metropolitan Museum with Gorky’, Ethel Schwabacher, 1947; as quoted in “Arshile Gorky, – Goats on the roof”, ed. by Matthew Spender, Ridinghouse, London 2009, p. 357.
- Yes, Vermeer (Dutch old master painter, fh) 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 Uccello – that’s good, it is the pure, final stage of art, the moment when it becomes more real than reality.
* Gorky, on the paintings of Vermeer and Uccello who painted both the Real, the pure and final stage of art: ‘A visit to the Metropolitan Museum with Gorky’, Ethel Schwabacher, 1947; as quoted in “Arshile Gorky, – Goats on the roof”, ed. by Matthew Spender, Ridinghouse, London 2009, pp. 357-58.
- It is true – is it not – that even Ingres 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.
* source of a quote on the French painter Ingres, famous for his line, in: ‘A visit to the Metropolitan Museum with Gorky’, Ethel Schwabacher, 1947; as quoted in “Arshile Gorky, – Goats on the roof”, ed. by Matthew Spender, Ridinghouse, London 2009, p. 358.
- (speaking about a Persian rug, fh) …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.
* his artist quote about a Persian rug, from: ‘A visit to the Metropolitan Museum with Gorky’, Ethel Schwabacher, 1947; as quoted in “Arshile Gorky, – Goats on the roof”, ed. by Matthew Spender, Ridinghouse, London 2009, p. 359.
- 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.
* Gorky, on the origin of painting and its undisputable character, in: ‘A Painter in a Glass House’, Talcott B Clapp, in ‘The Waterbury Sunday Republican Magazine’, 9 February 1948.
- 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 can 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.
* Arshile Gorky on the impossibility of finishing a painting, from: ‘A Painter in a Glass House’, Talcott B Clapp, in ‘The Waterbury Sunday Republican Magazine’, 9 February 1948.
- The oldest girl (his daughter Maro, four and a half years old, fh) did this. She paints like a little bird. And this, the young one (Natasha, two and a half, fh) 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.
* Gorky tells about his two daughter’s drawings in daily life, from: ‘A Painter in a Glass House’, Talcott B Clapp, in ‘The Waterbury Sunday Republican Magazine’, 9 February 1948.
- 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.
* Arshile Gorky on the inside creating aspect of his painting art, from:: ‘A Painter in a Glass House’, Talcott B Clapp, in ‘The Waterbury Sunday Republican Magazine’, 9 February 1948.
- That’s the way beauty is found, by accident (in relation to the Glass house they live in and its environment, fh) 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.
* Arshile Gorky on beauty in his life in the Glass house and the songs of the farmers, from: ‘A Painter in a Glass House’, Talcott B Clapp, in ‘The Waterbury Sunday Republican Magazine’, 9 February 1948.
- … poor art for poor people! (his comment on American Social Realism art, fh)
* source of his artist quote on Realism painting in American life before the war, in: ”Abstract Expressionist Painting in America”, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts 1983, p. 6.
- 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.
* Arshile Gorky, on his fussy and lengthy way of painting and difficult finishing, in: ‘Gorky Memorial, Schwabacher’, p. 12; as quoted in ”Abstract Expressionist Painting in America”, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts 1983.
- 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.
* Arshile Gorky’s quote on the necessity of expressing movement by art as the face of life, in an: unpublished letter; as quoted in ”Abstract Expressionist Painting in America”, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983.
- About a hundred and ninety-four feet away from our house (in Armenia where Gorky was born, fh) 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 Paolo Ucello’s painting? 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 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.
* Arshile Gorky is remembering the sounds of the landscape of his youth, in Armenia, surrounding the Holy Tree; from: ‘Gorky Memorial Exhibition’, Schwabacher pp. 22-23; as quoted in ”Abstract Expressionist Painting in America”, W.C, Seitz, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1983.
not sourced artist quotes by the American painter artist Arshile Gorky
- The stuff of thought is the seed of artists. Dreams from the bristles of the artist’s brush. (artist quote on dreams by Gorky).
- I communicate my innermost perceptions through art… ….my world view. (art quote on expressing his inner perception by his art).
Arshile Gorky’s artist quotes??
editor Fons Heijnsbroek
Arshile Gorky, biography & life facts of the American artist
The famous American painter Arshile Gorky was born in an Armenian province in the Eastern border of Ottoman Turkey. As teenager he witnessed the massacres of his people by the Turkish troops in 1915. After the tragic starvation death of his mother in 1918 Gorky and his sister Vartush – his younger sister – emigrated to the U.S in 1920. He settled around 1924 in New York City and enrolled at the National Academy of Design. But Gorky taught himself modern art, by visiting the museums and reading the modern art magazines. His most notably inspirations became Cézanne, Picasso and Joan Miró.
Till about 1938 Gorky and De Kooning were close friends. From 1940 Gorky engaged himself more and more with New York Surrealism scene. When Gorky showed his new work to André Breton in the 1940s, after seeing the new paintings and in particular ‘The Liver is the Cock’s Comb’, Breton declared the painting to be “one of the most important paintings made in America” The painting was shown in the Surrealists’ final show at the Galerie Maeght in Paris in 1947. Gorky became close connected with the leader of the Surrealist group in New York, André Breton. It was the young painter Roberto Matta who encouraged Gorky to improvise and experiment with biomorphic forms and with automatic painting; a Surrealist technique. Also many memories of his youth in Armenia – the gardens, the rural land, the orchards and the wheat fields – returned in his art, combined with his abstract developed pictorial vocabulary.
Gorky’s last years of his life were tragic. A fire in his studio, a car-accident, a painful operation for rectal cancer combined with marriage problems led him into severe depressions and resulted in his suicide in July 1948.
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