FROM A HIGH PLACE: A Life of Arshile Gorky
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FROM A HIGH PLACE: A Life of Arshile Gorky

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by Matthew Spender

In telling Gorky's story, Matthew Spender gives us the most illuminating picture of the New York art scene that has yet been written--from the affluent twenties, when the Ash Can school was emerging, to the depressed thirties, which marked the high point of Gorky's career, when he painted a huge abstract mural for Newark Airport. During the explosive postwar years, Gorky withdrew into a world of increasing solitude, even as Andre Breton, the founder of surrealism, was championing him, along with other artist friends like Willem de Kooning, Roberto Matta, and Isamu Noguchi. His last years, dogged by tragedy and illness, threatened even the haven of his marriage and family, until finally, in 1948, he took his own life.

With his artist's eye, Matthew Spender helps us to see what lies behind the paintings--to recognize in the abstraction, for instance, the onion with feathers that hung from a cross above the fire pit in Gorky's childhood home in Khorkom. Above all, Spender understands the enormity of Gorky's sense of isolation in an America he did not fully understand, and that his need to invent the imaginary artist was what sustained his paintings. It is the perfect conjunction of writer and subject that makes this biography so rich in insight and so compelling as a human document.