melancholy scribbles and drips: one dribble at a line

Mere doodling of only psychological interest? Even then. After its initial surge of authenticity could abstract expressionism be sustained? The mendaciousness of the art industry to hype this style knew no bounds. Like Marcel Duchamp asserting that everyone is an artist, it transformed art into the sphere of anyone painting without a technical support level. In part, it was a reaction to the Bauhaus ethos of technical expertise, minimalism choking off emotion and then being subsumed by production processes. Gorky was redeemed by an authentic personal note to his work, a certain strength of character and a lot of suffering, but the abstract crowd, Americanized, owes more to Hayter’s automatism from Atelier 17 than Gorky.

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For some reason, the need for deities, the market needs them even if he was in the mythical Greek lexicon, the god of provincial fumblers and stylistic imitators. Greenberg accorded him iconic status as the last surrealist and first abstract expressionist, but this may have been ideologically driven more than objective sensibility. In some ways the whole abstract clique going back to surrealists reinforced patriarchy and misogyny and seeing what a group of wankers could spittle onto a canvas was a kind of bad joke. People get thrown out of theaters for that…

But the end was nonetheless tragic. His wife had a two day tryst wit his best friend- what are friends for?- and he was discovered hanged in a shed, leaving a note that read “Goodby all my loved” . His wife Mougouch had split with their  children, he lost some paintings in a studio fire, he had cancer, and a broken neck from an automobile accident.

Gorky, dead at 46 (or maybe he was only 44: dates vary), died at the time when he stood as good a chance as any of being singled out as the greatest living painter in the land. His timing was lousy, from a career angle, dropping out as he did just when champions were needed to implement the idea of world-beating American painting falling into line with the cold-war ­vision of America’s brave new free-world hegemony. Read More:

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…The traditional images of Armenian art are frontal and hieratic. In painting the proportions are elongated, but in sculpture they are stunted; faces in both are oval, the eyes large, unfocused and deep-socketed; what sense of volume there may be is implied by line and the sculpture is in low relief. These were the formulae that little Gorky carried with him when, with his mother and sister, he fled in 1915 into the Russian borderland to the north-east; there, in 1919, in his arms, his mother died of starvation and grief, and his long journey to America began. He was fortunate; chance could so easily have sent him on the genocidal marches that wiped out more than a million Armenians when the Turks drove them south to die either en route or in the desert near Aleppo. The appalling events that were in some measure the experience of all Armenians in Turkey during and after the Great War formed Gorky’s mind, burdening him with melancholy that was to overwhelm him. Read More:

---Gorky said once of Ingres, "Ingres had his own delicate line. At times I resent him...but oh, how I would like to draw like Ingres"--- Read More: image: Tate

The idea of the joke in the work of art is not new. Apparently, Picasso once stated that every good work of art is a kind of joke. He should know based on what people paid him.  Diego Rivera said every piece of worthwhile art, properly understood, is not only like a joke, it is shocking. “So art may not be a joke,” Rivera said, “but it is always like one.” ( Spruill ) Fred wrote about this as well in his  Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious; though not much of a song and dance man, at least in public, where Freud intuitively found similarities between jokes and works of art, something particular to his study of Michelangelo’s Moses sculpture. It was the love child phenomenon, the product of breaking the rules which purport to separate science from art, rules which would dictate conformity and submission to authority rather than revolution, and rules which call only for conventional solutions to oedipal dilemmas….

---Gorky never had any chance for salvation except through art. It was the only way he could keep the memories of his horrific childhood at bay. If any artist had a right to be an expressionist, it was Gorky. Few painters have been so thoroughly traumatized at such an early age. Fewer still have transformed this trauma and channeled their tortured Beethoven souls into such pure Mozartian lyricism. --- Read More:

The case is different with his drawings; these suggest that he responded with sensibility, intelligence and a high degree of technical skill to the academic teaching of drawing in his day, that in drawings he could express far more expertly any interest he had in form and volume, light and space, and that with extraordinary skill he could imitate in graphite, and in pen and ink, the related techniques of etching. I am convinced that in two portrait studies of the later Thirties, he had l

d intelligently at those masters of economy, Ingres and Cocteau, and that in the paintings of a decade later it is the drawn line that lends order to the chaos of surreal forms, often Dalí-like, in a fantasy of hubbub and disorder.Read More:


In December, Gorky was depressed enough to ask his daughter Maro, then not quite four, to choose the tree from which to hang himself. Six months later, by then demoralised by increasing estrangement from his family, a road accident broke his neck and disabled his painting arm; his rage and depression worsening, on 16 July 1948 his wife and children left him. Five days later Gorky hanged himself — with an already broken neck it was, perhaps, an easier death than we might think. Read More:

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