Arshile Gorky, an Armenian-American painter best known for his seminal influence on Abstract Expressionism, was born Vostanik Manoug Adoian on April 15, 1904 in the village of Khorgom (today's Dilkaya), situated on the shores of Lake Van in the Ottoman Empire. As a teenager, Gorky witnessed the systematic ethnic cleansing of his people, the Armenians, by Turkish troops in 1915, which drove Gorky’s family and thousands of others out of Van. He escaped with his mother and his three sisters into Russian-controlled territory. In the aftermath of the genocide, Gorky's mother died of starvation in Yerevan in 1919. Arriving in America in 1920, the 16-year-old Gorky was reunited with his father, but they never grew close. In the process of reinventing his identity in order to avoid being questioned of his past, he changed his name to "Arshile Gorky", claiming to be a Georgian noble Arshile, and even telling people he was a relative of the Russian writer Maxim Gorky.
Gorky settled in New York City in 1924, and enrolled at the National Academy of Design and the Grand Central School of Art, where he later became an instructor. It was at the Academy where he absorbed the influence of Impressionism and Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and Joan Miró. From 1935 to 1937, he found work as a muralist for the Works Progress Association (WPA) Federal Art Project, working on murals for Newark Airport, where he met fellow painters Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Gorky’s prominent position in the New York art scene brought him into contact with several members of the Surrealist group, who had been forced to flee Europe during the Second World War. The artist adopted a Surrealist logic and began using his drawings from nature as catalysts for his abstract paintings. In the numerous innovative landscapes that Gorky produced in the early 1940s, his abstract vocabulary embraced natural and organic forms, which he conveyed with an explosive, erotic energy. His highly original abstractions combined memories of his Armenian childhood— especially the gardens, orchards and wheat fields of his rural homeland—with direct observations from nature and the suffering and loss he experienced in the Armenian Genocide.
Gorky's oeuvre synthesizes Surrealism and the sensuous color and painterliness of the School of Paris with his own highly personal formal vocabulary. Today, his works are held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; the Tate Gallery, London; the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, among others.
Suffering from depression brought on by health problems and the dissolution of his marriage, Arshile Gorky committed suicide on July 21, 1948 in Sherman, Connecticut.