Stuart Davis was among the few at the time who recognized this approach for what it was: assimilation rather than imitation. Gorky underscored his position: “Has there in six centuries been better art than Cubism? No. Centuries will go past—artists of gigantic stature will draw positive elements from Cubism” (quoted in “Stuart Davis,” in Creative Art, September 1931, p. 213). Gorky has long since been acknowledged as the vital link between European Modern art and American Abstract Expressionism and his early work was an important stage for his synthesis of the established with the revolutionary. As Diane Waldman writes, “Only after mastering this old language did he feel he could invent a new one” (Diane Waldman, Arshile Gorky (exhibition catalogue), The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1981, p. 22). Gorky had arrived in the United States in 1920 with little formal artistic education, but he was a determined autodidact and rapidly absorbed the lessons of Post-Impressionism, Analytic Cubism and Surrealism. On meeting Gorky in New York, de Kooning wrote, “I came in 1926 [from Rotterdam] and in a way I had more legitimate schooling in Holland, but the things I was supposed to know he knew much better” (quoted in Karlen Mooradian, The Many Worlds of Arshile Gorky, Chicago, 1980, p.217).
In April 1930 Gorky took part in his first group exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art (misleadingly stating in the catalogue that he was born in Russia and had studied under Kandinsky), but it was an inauspicious time to be pushing the boundaries of non-representational art in the United States. The crash of 1929 had initiated a conservative climate, such that being an artist at all was considered somewhat frivolous and to be an abstract artist was even more suspect. The collapse of the American avant garde during the economic slump was more complete than it had been in Europe and the traditional aesthetic of the Provincialist schools was more in tune with the prevailing mood. Gorky was undeterred. Despite strained financial circumstances, he lived off coffee and doughnuts rather than compromise on materials, and contemporaries often remarked on the high quality of his paints and canvases and how freely he got through them. In 1930 he even took a studio at 36 Union Square at a time when most fellow New York artists were painting in their bedrooms for lack of better quarters.
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