Arshile GorkyWednesday, September 16, 2020
Arshile Gorky (born Vostanik Manoug Adoian, April 15, 1904 – July 21, 1948) was an Armenian-American painter who had a seminal influence on Abstract Expressionism. He spent most his life as a national of the United States. Along with Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Gorky has been hailed as one of the most powerful American painters of the 20th century. As such, his works were often speculated to have been informed by the suffering and loss he experienced in the Armenian Genocide.
Gorky was born in the village of Khorgom (today's Dilkaya), situated on the shores of Lake Van in the Ottoman Empire. His date of birth is often stated as April 15, 1904; however, the year might well be 1902 or 1903. In later years he was vague about his date of birth, changing it from year to year. In 1908 his father emigrated to America to avoid the draft, leaving his family behind in the town of Van.
In 1915, Gorky fled Lake Van during the Armenian Genocide and escaped with his mother and his three sisters into Russian-controlled territory. In the aftermath of the genocide, Gorky's mother died of starvation in Yerevan in 1919. Arriving in America in 1920, the 16-year-old Gorky was reunited with his father, but they never grew close.
In the process of reinventing his identity, he changed his name to "Arshile Gorky", claiming to be a Georgian noble (taking the Georgian name Arshile/Archil), and even telling people he was a relative of the Russian writer Maxim Gorky.
Artist Corinne Michelle West was Gorky's muse and probably his lover, although she refused to marry him when he proposed several times.
In 1941, Gorky met and married Agnes Ethel Magruder (maiden; 1921–2013) daughter of Admiral John Holmes Magruder, Jr. (1889–1963). Gorky soon nicknamed her "Mougouch", an Armenian term of endearment. They had two daughters, Maro and Yalda (renamed Natasha some months later). Maro Gorky became a painter, and married the British sculptor and writer Matthew Spender, son of the poet Sir Stephen Spender.
From 1946, Gorky suffered a series of crises: his studio barn burned down, he underwent a colostomy for cancer, and Mougouch had an affair with Roberto Matta. In 1948, Gorky's neck was broken and his painting arm temporarily paralyzed in a car accident, and his wife left him, taking their children with her. She was later married to British writer Xan Fielding.
Gorky hanged himself in Sherman, Connecticut in 1948 at the age of 44. He is buried in North Cemetery in Sherman, Connecticut.