Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective of Drawings
Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street
New York, NY 10021
November 20, 2003 – February 15, 2004
Arshile Gorky made a slow and painstaking journey through the art of Picasso and Miró during the 1930s and emerged with his own distinct visual language. Gorky represents the forgotten art of immersion, of studying art with intensity and purpose in order to discover a unique style. This made up for his lack of formal training. He was an apprentice from a distance, studying art in reproductions and museums and conferring with his peers. He assimilated the free floating automatist line of Surrealism and the formal concepts of the Cubists. Picasso’s geometrizing of the human figure and reduction of it into symbolic components had a profound influence on him, as did the zero gravity depths of Miró’s paintings. He took to heart the great lesson of modernism, the liberation of the imagination through drawing.
Drawing was integral to Gorky’s entire output; we can see by the number of studies in this fantastic show that he meticulously planned his major compositions. What appear to be spontaneous forms are repeated in a number of different drawings. He discovered forms through the spontaneous drawing process known as automatism, but polished these forms through endless revisions. These forms call to mind the curves, protuberances, and orifices of the human body and various natural phenomena. Gorky’s abstraction was free from the mass media detritus that so many modern day abstractionists revel in. His intense feelings about the natural world and his investigation of his psyche were offered without irony.
Gorky’s line is endlessly varied and he was a master of erasure. Agitated muscular lines and delicate meandering lines play off of one another and ghostly erasures become poetic presences in his drawings. For Gorky, the act of drawing was a generative process. It was used to depict abstract concepts and was also an excrescence of the artist’s physicality.
There are many similarities between Gorky’s drawings of the 1940s and Kandinsky’s Improvisations, especially in the way Gorky applied color. Many of the patches of color in these late drawings are free floating, used in a non-descriptive manner. They are symbols, indicators of psychological states. Gorky’s rich vocabulary of forms and playful, imaginative and assertive line drawing, represent a triumph of the imagination and memory.