- Hardcover: 784 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1 edition (July 14, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374113238
- ISBN-13: 978-0374113230
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 2 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,738,003 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Arshile Gorky: His Life and Work Hardcover – July 14, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Most recently seen as a silent, enigmatic figure in the Armenian-Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan's Ararat, modernist painter Gorky (1900?-1948) is fastidiously served in this comprehensive biography. Born near Lake Van in Ottoman-held Armenia, the young Gorky witnessed the Armenian genocide, a horror that Herrera (Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo) covers with extreme care. Following Gorky's emigration to the U.S. in 1920 and his name change from Manouk Adoian (he claimed to be the cousin of Russian writer Maxim Gorky), Herrera establishes the bulk of the narrative around Gorky's paintings, describing what he was working on when and under what circumstances. Most of Gorky's work life was based in New York, where, by the 1930s, he was paid a salary by the WPA for murals and other work in his surrealist style, largely derived from Miro and Leger, as the 64 pages of color and b&w images affirm. Herrera expects and encounters many difficulties in untangling the secretive Gorky's feelings and mostly confines herself to quoting others extensively, including long passages from the letters of Gorky's American wife, Agnes Magruder (or as Gorky called her, "Mougouch"). Herrera's restraint and suspension of judgment can flatten out events, yet she lingers for paragraphs on Gorky's many paintings, describing them, speculating on their meanings with lucidity and documenting their sales. The result is a book that, exhaustive in its research, will be a starting point for scholars and critics, but that will fail to engross casual readers. Conversely, readers already familiar with Gorky who are looking for political meanings to his suicide, shown here as undertaken in physical and marital distress, may find less than they are looking for.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
For Arshile Gorky, born Vosdanig Adoian in Armenian Turkey around 1900, painting was "like trying to twist the devil," a phrase emblematic of the heroic struggles of his brief and arduous life. Secretive about his painful past, especially his survival of the Armenian holocaust (his mother died in his arms), he changed his name and posed as a Russian after arriving in the U.S. A born artist, tall, dramatic, fastidious, and forever poor, Gorky worked tirelessly to develop a unique visual language. Herrera, also the author of a Frida Kahlo biography, assiduously chronicles every aspect of her subject's difficult life, particularly his conflict-ridden relationships with women and the despair that led to his suicide at age 45. Curiously, both she and fellow Gorky biographer Matthew Spender (From a High Place ) have a family connection: Spender married Gorky's elder daughter, whose mother is Herrera's godmother. Monumentally detailed and deeply moving, Herrera's illuminating portrait perceptively traces the progression of Gorky's work, and the tragic link between the terrors of his youth and the traumas of his last days. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
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The book is less successful in providing a look at the milieu of New York City art world. There is much discussion in a summary way about the conflicted role Gorky held in relationship to the surrealists but I didn't get a good sense of who the surrealists were and how they interacted with Gorky. Nor are we sure of how Gorky interacted with the abstract expressionists. Some of this failing maybe intentional as Herrera focuses on Gorky's marriage in the nineteen forties and quotes extensively from his wife's letters. Herrera may feel that her job is to help us understand the man through the most significant relationship in his life rather than by focusing his relationship with his peers.
Despite these failings, I think this biography provides an extremely vivid portrait of Gorky the man and the artist. Although his life was often hard and he died relatively young (at age 48), Gorky emerges from these pages a glorious artist who created art that was both self-consciously derivative and highly original. Go figure!
An unusually excellent artist biography, fascinating and knowledgeable. Ms Herrera was related to Mr. Gorky through her father's marriage to Gorky's widow. For anyone who is a fan of Gorky's work which stems from his deep passion and knowledge of art, this is a must read. Ms Herrera writes well about the man, his life, and his painting. And since Gorky was one of the most (and certainly one of the finest) painters of the 20th century, this is one of the essential books about art to read.