Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Ashile Gorky - holding on to the past (part 1)

The current Tate exhibition Ashile Gorky: a restropective is the first major exhibition of its kind since 1981. This is a comprehensive display of the works of one of American's best painters, Gorky, a seminal figure in the movement towards abstraction that transformed American art. The exhibition examines Gorky's 178 bodies of work throughout his entire career from 1920s until his death in 1948.

This was the first time I encountered Gorky. I wanted to write a post on his work a while ago but somehow I couldn't find the words. I made a recent discovery that I like to test myself with time on what I truly think of with anything art related. That is what so great about it, it's like a good book. You read it again and again. And everytime there is something new. You can't really make up your mind besides that you really like it. That is also why it took me so long to write about Van Gogh, on which I haven't really finished.

The reason I find it difficult to write with Gorky is that he was another great artist with a tragic past and a tragic exit. His life story, like his works, is haunting. Then I can't help but wonder if knowing the life stories' of the artists really influence the way you look at their work? Does that information help you appreciate and understand their of art more? Or the work should stand on its own.

Ashile gorky was born Vostanik Manoog Adoyan in 1904 in the village of Khorgom, Armenia. He grew up when the Armenia genocide was happening. His father had fled to the United States earlier on, where he started a new life. This was when the photograph of Ashile and his mother was taken and sent to America, as a remind to his father not to forget them. Ashile's mother eventually died from starvation before the family was reunited. A year after her death his sister and him went to America where he realized that his father had restarted his life long ago. Ashile's heart was broken. He then changed his name to Gorky, after the famous Russian writer Maxim Gorky. And became a painter.

Little is said of Gorky's formal art training apart from that he enrolled at the New School of Design in Boston. Though it was quite évident that Gorky was also a self-taught artists and spent a good amount of time at the Museum of Art studying the masters. He very much admired the work of Cezanne, Kadinsky, Picasso.. And adopted their style in his early days as a painter. One of the most fascinating aspect of this exhibition was the trace of Gorky's style development, starting with copying work of previous masters to finding his own footprints. In many ways I felt his life stories are also embedded in his own personal styles.

Gorky was first known for his heavy application of paints. He would work on a painting for years, redrawing and applying paint to the point where you could judge the painting by its weight. Mouchou (his wife) said that sometimes a painting would change since the last time she saw it. Asked why he kept changing his work, he said that he would never finish a painting. Because once finished, it is as if it has died.

Does this explain Gorky's 10 year period working on the portraits of him and his mother? The portraits (1926-1936) was re-drawn from the photo that they had sent to his father to remind him of their existence. There is something so humble, so beautiful, so haunting about these paintings (he made two). I find myself unable to tear away from his mother's gaze. Did Gorky take so long to finish them because he simply couldn't let go of his mother, of his past? This was a theme that clearly dominated the first part of the exhibition.

The artist and his mother (1926-1936)
the Painting on the left is currently at the National Gallery of Art Washington DC (photo @NGA)
that on the right is at the Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC (photo @wikipedia)

Both are on display at the Tate exhibition.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

No comments:

Post a Comment