On July 26, 1948, one of the greatest Armenian artists, Arshile Gorky, committed suicide in Sherman, Connecticut, the US. Memories of his homeland and his desire to someday return to Armenia that had powered him throughout his life didn’t manage to hold Gorky back.
Abandoned by his wife and children, he could no longer confront his fate. Shortly before his death, Gorky along with his friend Julian Levi got into an automobile accident. This shock and the subsequent leaving of his wife resulted in the tragic outcome.
Arshile Gorky (Armenian: Արշիլ Գորկի, born Vostanik Manoug Adoian (Armenian: Ոստանիկ Մանուկ Ատոյեան)) was born in the village of Khorgom located on the shore of Lake Van, the Ottoman Empire, in 1904. Gorky has been one of the most, if not the most significant contributor to the development of abstract expressionism. Gorky’s character has also found a place in art: his name was briefly mentioned in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel “Bluebeard” as the friend of the main hero of the novel Rabo Karabekian, another Armenian artist expressionist. Director Atom Egoyan’s 2002 film “Ararat” also featured Gorky’s character as a significant persona in the film’s themes.
Gorky’s life went on in a constant battle, but he carried it on like a true knight-romanticist and didn’t give up or despond. But despite his worldviews, his life path eventually ended. Gorky described himself as a product of three ideas: purity, suffering, and maturity.
“My heart often fills up with sorrow. Naturally, this is our fate. I constantly feel my loneliness, even when surrounded by my numerous friends and relatives.” This inner sensation of loneliness that had persistently followed him became the tragic reality during the last month of the artist’s life.
Arshile Gorky died in complete loneliness, having written on the frame of the “Last painting” words “Farewell, my darlings…” His biggest dream remained unfulfilled: he has never returned to his homeland, the scenes and fragrance of which have never left him.
“Recently, my mind was occupied by the aroma of Armenian apricots. There hasn’t been any in the studio, of course, but the aroma was so clear in my head as if I was climbing a tree to gather them for my grandpa.
I have sensed their softness with the tip of my nose. Now, they pop up on my paintings as a modest embodiment of exquisite beautifulness. They are like numerous suns declining towards the sunset and silently dancing on the horizon, they are like blossoming petals on trees… The aroma of apricots in our gardens…”
Having lived most of his life in the United States, Gorky constantly addressed his memories of Armenia. Reading his letters to his relatives, one realizes that he lived in two dimensions: in one, he lived in the US in spite of poverty, misfortune, and the must of constantly confronting fate, while in the other, he lived in Armenia that he always sought in his memories and dreams.
His life in the United States was a story of his long trip back to Armenia, while most, if not all of the paintings created by him conveyed his longing for the homeland. He was an Armenian to the core, and he left a plethora of sharp and poetic observations of Armenia, the nature of the Armenians, their sorrow, and the features of their national character.
“Can the oceanic vastness and horizons of Russia and China compare with the power of Mount Ararat’s peak? I don’t think so… Armenians still do take on large, heavy ideas, and that’s what distinguishes our nation.
Because we have learned to think rather than laugh, Armenian tears decorate each of our smiles. That’s the lifestyle of an Armenian.” “Armenia has warmth, vitality… That’s why it isn’t just a mere reflection of the world but the world itself in all its authenticity.”
Andrew Graham-Dixon talks about Arshile Gorky
Arshile Gorky: Ararat (Excerpts)