The painter Arshile Gorky (1895-1948) was born Vostanig Adolan in eastern Turkey. Raised in a poor Armenian farming family, Gorky's childhood was reportedly shaped by two disasters: the first being the massacres of 1896, during which his mother and father both lost their first spouses; the second was the genocide of 1915, that affected the entire Armenian population, and which claimed the life of Gorky's mother.
Arshile Gorky was the name the aspiring artist assumed after coming to the U.S. in 1920. He reportedly adopted it from his admiration of the Russian writer Maxim Gorky, who at times, he boasted being a nephew of. Once settled with relatives in New England he enrolled in art classes. Not long after, one of his instructors arranged for Gorky to move to New York to work as an art instructor himself. In the 1930s he achieved his first public success - producing a large abstract mural painting for Newark Airport. In his artistic endeavors, CÈzanne and Picasso became his praised models. Other influences came from the surrealist painters and poets who came to New York as exiles from the war in Europe. Surrealism's aspect of automatism, the unconscious and the erotic, sent him onto a new path in which he newly asserted himself as a draftsman.
Tragically enough, the years in which his art was ascending to its greatest heights were also the darkest in his life. His marriage was disintegrating; he was operated on for colon cancer, and he lost many works in a studio fire. When he then discovered that his wife had cheated on him with another artist - the Chilean painter Matta who was an influence on his best work - the humiliation was too much to bear and he hanged himself.
Source: The Wall Street Journal Bookshelf, May 12, 1999 pg. A20