Arshile Gorky (1904 – 1948) based this portrait of himself and his mother on a photograph taken in his native Armenia in 1912, when he was eight years old. Three years later, during the Ottoman Turk campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Armenians, Gorky, his mother and his younger sister all survived a death march. Tragically, his mother never recovered her health. She died in 1919 from starvation — one of the estimated one million to one and a half million victims of what is now widely referred to as the Armenian genocide. The following year, at the age of fifteen Gorky emigrated to the United States with his sister. As Gorky established his career as an artist, he became preoccupied with the photograph. The Artist and His Mother, made over the span of ten years (1926 – 1936) does not attempt to reproduce the camera’s image precisely, but instead reduces it to broad areas of muted, softly brushed color. The mask-like faces and undefined hands of the figures at once suggest their loss of physical connection and the difficulty of accessing memories over time.
Photographed in the Whitney Museum in NYC.