Abstract Expressionism

Ab Ex Contents

Ab Ex Essays


Abstract Expressionism 1920 - 1924

by Gary Comenas (2009, Updated 2016)
February 1920: The Pollocks move from Chico to Janesville, California.

On December 31, 1919, the Pollock's sold their Chico farm and bought a hotel, the Diamond Mountain Inn in Janesville, California, about 120 miles northeast of Chico. (PP315)

Janesville was a small town near the Nevada border. Jackson Pollock's father, Jackson's mother was opposed to the move because it would interrupt their children's education and the only school in Janesville was a one room schoolhouse. It was decided that they would leave their three older sons in Chico to board with a friend and continue at the local high school. Jackson, aged seven, and his brother Sande (Sanford Leroy) moved with their parents to Janesville. (JP27-8)

Janesville, unlike the other towns that Jackson had grown up, still retained the flavour of of the wild west. Groups of road surveyors would gather at the Pollock's Inn bragging about gunfights. At the Janesville School local cowboys, armed with six-shooters would sit in the back of the schoolhouse ogling the teacher. (JP28)

March 1920: Arshile Gorky and his sister arrive in the U.S.

Arshile Gorky soon after arriving in America when he "still signed his name Vostanig Adoian' (from Matthew Spender, Arshile Gorky: Goats on the Roof, A Life in Letters and Documents (London: Ridinghouse, 2009))

Their boat docked on March 1, 1920. (MS51) Gorky's sister Vartoosh recalled their reaction when they saw they first saw the Statue of Liberty: "My heart was banging against the rail! We just stood there, holding hands. We were both crying." (BA115)

They were met at Ellis Island by Mgrditch Amerian. Mgrditch was the husband of Gorky's half-sister, Akabi, the younger of two daughters from his mother's first marriage. With Mgrditch was Vosgian, Gorky's godfather and Hagop Adoian, Gorky's half-brother from his father's previous marriage. Gorky's father, Setrag, was not there.

Gorky's half sister (from his father's side), Akabi was waiting for them at Grand Central Station. As a welcoming gift she gave Gorky and Vartoosh small candies wrapped in silver paper and laughed at their expressions when they tasted it. It was the first time in their lives that they had tasted chocolate. (BA118)

They took a train and then a bus to East Watertown where Akabi lived. East Watertown was a small town near Boston which was mostly home to Armenians, Jews and Italians. At Akabi's house was her son, Gurgen (who had walked with Gorky and his mother from Van to Yerevan) and was now called Jimmy and Akabi's daughter Liberty, a toddler of three years old. Gorky's other sister, Satenig, was upstairs recovering from a miscarriage. (See also "Arshile Gorky's Childhood." (BA118-119)

Gorky's relatives were shocked when they heard of the difficult time that Gorky, his sister and mother had been through. They had no idea that the situation in Armenia was as bad as it was. They took Gorky and Vartoosh to see their father who was living in Providence, Rhode Island - the father who, Gorky and Vartoosh thought had deserted them and their mother. (BA119)


How could we be expected to feel anything for a man we had not seen for twelve years? They told us, 'This is your father.' There we saw a stranger before us. We couldn't feel anything. We were supposed to love him. He could not even read and write. She just married him and he went away. (BA119)

Setrag was now fifty-seven years old. He lived with his eldest son Hagop and his family - both working at the Iron Winding Company. Hagop's daughter, Lucille had fonder memories of Gorky's father than Vartoosh.

Lucille [daughter of Gorky's half-brother Hagop]:

My grandfather [Setrag] was a fine man, even when he was really old. He was nice, very jolly. Whenever people came to visit, they got into a good mood, they would say, 'Setrag sing us a song.' My father would teach us some songs too. They always talked about the old country. Grandfather was kind to my mother because she was a sweet woman. They always spoke Turkish if they didn't want us kids to understand. (BA120)

(Hagop had married Heghine Najarian, a woman from Kharpert, and had four children: Lucille (b. 1912), her sister Arshalouys (Dawn) in 1914, Baghdassar Ashot (Charles) in 1917, George in 1919 (BA120).)

Instead of enrolling in school both Vartoosh and Gorky (Manoug) found jobs. Vartoosh moved in with Akabi in Watertown and worked at the Hood Rubber Company. Gorky stayed with his father in Rhode Island and worked in a foundry with his father and father's brother. In the autumn of 1920 he left the foundry and enrolled in the Technical High School of Providence. (BA121)

March 1920: Franz Kline's mother remarries.

Anne Kline married a foreman for the Lehigh Valley Railroad and moved into 300 South Ninth Street in Lehighton in Carbon County, Pennsylvania. Kline remained at boarding school - Girard College in Philadelphia. (FK175)

April 30, 1920: The first exhibition of the Société Anonyme opens.

L to R: Joseph Stella and Marcel Duchamp, New York, 1920 (MRA)

The society opened an exhibition and library in two small rented rooms on East 47th Street. (NA) Katherine Dreier and Marcel Duchamp founded the organization. Both had previously been involved with the Society of Independent Artists. Man Ray was also involved in the formation of the group. In some accounts Ray is credited with coming up with the name Société Anonyme although Duchamp has also been credited with suggesting it. (JAX/NA) Dreier ireportedly wanted to call the Société, the Modern Ark. (NA) For the first exhibition she appended the "Société Anonyme" with "The Museum of Modern Art: 1920."

Man Ray (Self-Portrait (Boston, MA: New York Graphic Society pub. by Little, Brown and Co., 1988), p. 77):

Duchamp had asked me to come to the apartment of the proposed founder of the new museum, to discuss their project, the following Monday. When I arrived I was ushered by a maid into a room lined with books and modern paintings, mostly Expressionists. Here and there stood a piece of sculpture on a pedestal. Presently, Duchamp arrived; shortly after, the hostess entered: Katherine S Dreier. She was a large, blond woman with an air of authority. I was introduced and she announced that tea would be served. I fingered my pipe in my pocket, but decided not to smoke. The place was gleaming, immaculate, with no sign of an ashtray.

Miss Dreier opened the session by declaring that first a name had to be given to the new venture,. After a few suggestions, I had an idea - I had come across a phrase in a French magazine that had intrigued me: Société Anonyme - which I thought meant Anonymous Society. Duchamp laughed and explained that it was an expression used in connection with certain large firms of limited responsibility - the equivalent of incorporated. He further added that he thought it was perfect as a name for a modern museum. I was grateful to him, because for a moment it seemed that Miss Dreier would object. The name was adopted unanimously." (MRA77)

The first exhibition included work by Brancusi, Gris, Duchamp, Man Ray, Francis Picabia, Morton Schamberg and Joseph Stella. (NA) Art crtic Henry McBride described his visit to the Societe's premises in the New York Herald: “One must mount two steep flights of stairs and then pay 25 cents to obtain admission to the first exhibition of the Société Anonyme, Inc., but even those to whom an outlay of 25 cents for any purpose whatever is a serious matter will probably not regret the investment. Many a movie at twice the price gives one less to remember.”

After operating at the 47th Street address for about a year, Dreier gave different exhibitions at various locations - galleries, workers' centres and occasionally rented spaces. (NA) The Société, which existed until 1950, would be involved with the more than thirty publications, over eighty exhibitions of contemporary art and at least eighty-five public programs.

Summer 1920: Adolph Gottlieb enrolls in a life drawing class at the Parsons School of Design.

Gottlieb also took a design course at Cooper Union. (AG11)

Autumn 1920: Arshile Gorky becomes Archie Gunn.

Gorky enrolled in the Technical High School of Providence in Autumn 1920. He experimented with various names on his early pictures such as 'Archie Gunn,' possibly influenced by cowboy movies he frequented with a Ukrainian friend - the artist Misha Reznikoff.

Misha Reznikoff:

He [Arshile Gorky] said he was from the Caucasus, that he was Russian. We used to go to cowboy movies, every week. They show you the guy falling off a horse, or being squashed by something. They write, 'To be continued next week.' So we went the next week. (BA125)

Gorky's artistic talent did not go unnoticed at the Technical High School. HIs work was displayed and praised by the head teacher at the school. According to Gorky's half-sister Satenig, "Most of the time he painted farmhouses, or ducks on water. He did a lot of charcoal. He drew and painted anything." (BA125)

October 1920: Jackson Pollock's father leaves his wife.

One morning, Jackson's father packed his belongs and moved out of Janesville with a group of surveyors leaving his wife and children behind. Stella would spend the next four years moving to five different towns following LeRoy around the West hoping for a reconciliation. He kept in touch with the family sending letters, checks and sometimes visiting them on holidays. (JP29/PP315)

1921: Arshile Gorky leaves his father and moves in with his sisters.

Arshile Gorky's father lived at Hagop's house in Providence, Long Island. Hagop was Gorky's half-brother from his father's first marriage. Hagop thought that Gorky should work rather than attend the Technical School of Providence and felt he was getting preferential treatment from their father.

Gorky moved from Hagop's house to the home of Akabi, his half-sister from his mother's first marriage, and got a job at the Hood Rubber Company where his sisters also worked. During lunch breaks Gorky would climb to the top of the rubber factory's buildings and draw on them with chalk. When he was caught he was fired. (BA129) Freed from his job he had more time to visit the Boston Museum of Art, studying the work of old masters. He saw his first Degas there, his first Piero della Francesca and his first Rembrandt. (BA129)

Akabi and her family lived in the second floor of her house (located at 86 Dexter Avenue in Watertown) and rented out the rest of the house. One of her lodgers recalled that the neighbourhood was "a nice area with a lot Vanetzis... Most Armenians worked as labourers at Hood's making tyres and sneakers. We had Vanetzi picnics, a big crowd; Florence's father was the best Armenian dancer. " (Florence was Gorky's niece.) The same lodger noted that Gorky's mind "was on the painting. He sat in that porch and made sketch after sketch." (BA128) [Vanetzis were people who came from the village of Van where Gorky had spent some of his his childhood.]

Akabi's daughter, Liberty ("Libby") would later say of Gorky (who was still known by his real name Manoug at the time), "I loved him dearly. He was very warm, very loving. We called him Manoug, not Uncle or anything like that. He was handsome; not very dark. He loved to sing Armenian songs and loved to joke." (BA128)

Kevork Kondakian [Gorky's cousin]:

His [Gorky's] sisters were taking care of him just like a child. Especially Vartoosh loved him like he was a seven-year-old. The only brother they had, so they gave him everything he needs. He wanted to do nothing else but art. He had to go after that like a fever. Vartoosh gave him money, everything. The courage to do anything he wants. Satenig was the same way, but Vartoosh more. (BA128)

Kevork had known Gorky from his early days in Khorkum in Western Armenian. During his early childhood Gorky was apparently unable or unwilling to speak. He could draw before he could speak. Kevork, who was fourteen years old at the time, played with the young child and encouraged him to speak, along with Gorky's sisters. When, exactly, Gorky started to speak is unknown. Some accounts have him starting to speak when his mother pretended she was going to jump off a cliff and he yelled out "Mayrig!" ("Mother!"). Kevork said he started to speak after Gorky hit Kevork with a stick and Kevork cried "You hurt me, Manoug! I'm crying now." ("Al gou lam, Manoug, Al gou lam!") and Gorky started to cry as a result of Kevork crying, repeating Kevork's words, "Al gou lam." Gorky's sister Akabi recalled that Gorky started to speak when he went for a swim and nobody could find him and his mother and aunts gathered at home crying, afraid that he had drowned. When he got home and saw them, he ran to his mother saying "Yes, hos em!" ("Here I am!") (BA13/14)

Winter/Spring 1921: Adolph Gottlieb enrolls in John Sloan's class at the Art Students League. (AG12)

Gottlieb also attended Robert Henri's lectures. Henri encouraged his students to paint directly on the canvas rather than work from a preliminary sketch - a technique that Gottlieb would use throughout his career. (AG11)

The class that Gottlieb took that was taught by Sloan was an illustration class. (In January 1923 he would enroll in Sloan's painting class at the League.) Gottlieb would credit Sloan with having a "valuable influence" on him.

Adolph Gottlieb:

...John Sloan had the most valuable influence on me because Sloan was a very liberal guy for his time. For any time. He was interested in Cubism, for example. He had a peculiar attitude. He thought Cubism was an experimental type of art that would provide training to people so that they then could drop it and do something that was more significant. Well, I quickly discovered that Cubism wasn't valuable as a preparation for anything else. It was just an end in itself and a perfectly valid thing. However, as a result of Sloan's interest in everything that was happening in modern art, I became, in New York before I went to Europe, interested and read every book that I could on the subject, went to see whatever was available in New York... (AS)

Although he may be been influenced by Sloan's interest in "everything that was happening in modern art" he would ultimately reject Sloan's Realist style of painting.

Adolph Gottlieb:

It's true that he [Sloan] was one of the Ashcan School and believed in going directly, so called, to life. However, when I saw what the Cubists were doing with studio painting, and what Cézanne was doing with still life, I didn't express the thought at the time but I could see that the whole idea of the Ashcan School and social realism was purely doctrinaire thinking and that it had nothing to do with the reality of art. I never fell for the theories of social realists of the '30's, for example. I thought that was utter nonsense and I also thought that regionalism was nonsense and that art had to be international and that art could only be produced in large urban centres. This is perfectly clear. This has been true throughout history. So I didn't fall for any of the American schools of those periods. (AS)

Gottlieb later recalled that a book by Hamilton Easter Field was also an influence around the same time that he was studying under Sloan.

Adolph Gottlieb [1967]:

I read a book on painting by a fellow named Field. He used to be the first editor of Art News, I think. Hamilton Easter Field. And it gave a lot of information about how to paint and the lectures he gave to his students. From that I learned how to prime a canvas, how to size it and prime it in the traditional way. And he also recommended a palette. He said that you should use the palette that the old masters used. Primarily earth colours. So for many years, in fact, even till now, I use mostly earth colours. I still think that it is quite sound because the greatest colours are these very simple colours. Now you see everybody using cadmium, the most brilliant colours, dayglo colours. You can get marvelous effects and make terrible paintings with these. I think a lot of young painters fool themselves, you know, with these colours. They think they have something terrific because it is bright. And it is just out of a tube or can. On the other hand, I go along with something like what Delacroix said: "Give me some mud and I'll paint you the skin of a Venus if I can choose the color that goes next to it." And I think that is the important thing -- to be able to control colours and make colours which are dead in themselves come to life. Not to have to depend on fluorescent tubes to produce some kind of light. The light has to come from within, and some sort of inspiration. Not mechanical.

Regarding Cézanne, Gottlieb acknowledged that he "had to do something else" but "didn't know what."

Adolph Gottlieb:

There are many Cézanne followers who take the idea of the cone, cylinder and the sphere literally and then made a sort of pseudo-Cubist thing. I didn't do that. When it came to doing my own work, I tried to work within the limitations of what I was capable of doing. I wasn't trying to paint a Cézanne masterpiece or anything like that; I just painted the things that interested me and tried to do it as well as I could. I think that what I had been studying in museums started some sort of a standard for me so that I could criticize my own work in terms of a general standard not as to whether I achieved what Cézanne did. I sort of knew that it wasn't for me to try to do what Cézanne did. Cézanne had done it. I had to do something else and I didn't know what. I didn't know what at the time. It was just sort of a vague idea of making good painting... I had an instinct to maintain the surface of the painting, keep it flat. And there were a couple of things that happened which I may as well tell you that established the strength of my ego, which I think is very important for an artist. There was one occasion, for example, when I was painting a nude in Sloan's class. He was walking around, going behind every student. I had just finished this and he walked up behind me and said, "Oh, say, that is very good." He said, "You know, even if I came into this class and attempted to paint that nude, I couldn't do it as well." Well, I knew damn well he couldn't. Because I had done a very good thing. In fact, if I still have it, I would consider it good. I remember it... as done in a free style. It could have been like an early Cubist painting. Done with a loaded brush, heavy and pastel, in one sitting, with complete assurance and it had a certain authority. It just happened to come off that way. There it was. I recognized it and he recognized it too. (AS)

April 1921: Marcel Duchamp publishes New York Dada.

Published in English the sole issue magazine featured Duchamp's object-collage, Belle Haleine, Eau de Violette on the cover. (RD185)

Front cover of New York Dada magazine (LZP pl. 270)

c. Spring 1921: Société Anonyme celebrates its first birthday with "An Evening with Gertrude Stein."

Friends of the Société read from Stein's unpublished writings.

Société Anonyme Lectures in 1920


Source: Collection of Société Anonyme: Museum of Modern Art 1920 (New Haven, Ct.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1950)

Late Spring 1921 : Jackson Pollock and family move to to Orland.

Stella traded the Janesville inn for a 20 acre diary farm in Orland, Ca. about 20 miles west of Chico where Charles and Jay were still attending high school. Frank, Sande and Jackson moved with Stella to the farm. (PP315/JP29)

Jackson's oldest brother, Charles, who had decided to become an artist, had already moved to Los Angeles where he worked in the layout department of the Los Angeles Times and enrolled at Otis Art Institute. His brother Jay also left home, joining Charles in Los Angeles. (JP29) (See late December)

Post-Spring 1921: Adolph Gottlieb goes to Europe.

Gottlieb traveled to Europe with a friend by working on a passenger ship bound for La Havre. Neither had a passport. They jumped ship in France. Gottlieb practiced his sketching at the Academie de la Grande Chaumière, working from the life model between the instructor's visits. Gottlieb wasn't officially a student at the Academie, but student registration cards were checked infrequently. He spent much of his time visiting the Louvre, private galleries and the Sylvia Dietz Bookshop. Eventually he and his friend were found out by the authorities for not having passports and they were taken to the American Embassy. Embassy officials contacted Gottlieb's uncle, an attorney, who arranged for their papers and informed their parents of the boys' whereabouts. Gottlieb was sent additional money which enabled him to travel to Vienna, Berlin, Dresden and Munich. (AG12)

Adolph Gottlieb:

I worked for a while in my father's business, and then I decided I didn't like that. So I picked myself up and got a job on a ship; worked my way to Europe. When we got to Europe, I jumped ship and stayed there for a year and a half. I had saved up some money before I went and had my wages for working on the ship. Then, after my money was exhausted, I managed to persuade my parents to give me an allowance so that I could stay over there because I convinced them that it was extremely valuable... the ship landed in Antwerp. Then I went to Paris, and stayed in Paris for about six months. That was about 1921 and I heard about the inflation in Germany. So I went to Germany where my money carried me much further. I studied in Munich a little while... However, I think I should say that I didn't do any very intensive studying in Europe in art schools. The intensive studying that I did was in museums. I spent most of my time while I was there in museums absorbing things. I think it was quite valuable...When I was in Paris I would see the current work being done. For example, there was a great Léger [Three Women] which is now at The Museum of Modern Art and I saw it in Salon d'Automne in Paris in 1921; it had just been freshly painted and it just bowled me over. The Léger of the three ladies having tea. And then, of course, I saw the new work of the other painters: Matisse, Picasso, and so on. I was tremendously impressed. I took to it all like a duck to water... I was particularly attracted to the great collections in the Louvre like Renaissance painting. Like the early Italian things, early French things. Everything, right up to the Nineteenth Century, which the Louvre at that time had, you know, Ingres, Courbet, Delacroix -- everything. (AS)

Gottlieb returned from Europe in 1922 and took night classes at Washington Irving High School to earn his high school diploma while working at his father's stationary business.

June 1921: Mark Rothko graduates from Lincoln High School in Portland, Oregon. (RO34)

Although Rothko could speak no English when he first arrived in America, he excelled in school. When he first enrolled at the Shattuck elementary school in Portland in the autumn of 1914 he was placed in the third grade. By the spring term he was advanced to the fifth grade. He completed the equivalent of his last four years in school in three years (1915 - 1918). When he graduated from Lincoln High School he was admitted into Yale University with a scholarship. He later recalled his years at Lincoln as "ridiculously easy." A classmate at Lincoln later remembered Rothko as "assertive," noting that he "liked to talk a lot." (RO34) His interests included drama (he was enrolled in a special course in dramatic arts in high school) and music. He could play the mandolin and piano by ear (self-taught). He also liked to draw. During his high school days he worked in the the shipping department of his Uncle's New York Outfitting Company. According to his cousin, "Mark would occupy himself by drawing and sketching on the store wrapping paper." (RO34)

Autumn 1921: Mark Rothko enters Yale University. (RO47/LM12)

Yale was not particularly Jewish-friendly at the time. In 1918 the Yale dean Frederick S. Jones, warned that "a few years ago every single scholarship of any value was won by a Jew. I took it up with the Committee and said that we could not allow that to go on. We must put a ban on the Jews." (RO48)

Rothko was initially promised a scholarship but after six months it was withdrawn. Instead the university agreed to lend him tuition which would have to be repaid. (When the university later chased the debt, Rothko offered to pay them with paintings but they refused. (LM13))

During his first year at University, Rothko lived with Max Naimark at 840 Howard Avenue on the border of New Haven's Jewish ghetto. (RO49) During his second year he lived in the dormitory at 161 Lawrence Hall.

Rothko intended on becoming an engineer. (LM14) During his first two years his grades averaged about a C. Courses taken during the first year included English, French, European history, elementary mathematics and elementary physics. During his second year he studied English, advanced French, general biology, elementary economics, history of philosophy and psychology. He thought about law or engineering as a possible occupation. (RO50) His mother hoped he would become a lawyer, due to his ability "to talk you out of anything." (RO54)

1921: Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp leave New York for Paris. (FG189)
Late December 1921: Charles Pollock drops out of high school.

Visiting his family for the first time in Orland, Charles told them he planned to quit high school and move to Los Angeles. (PP316)

Autumn 1922: Barnett Newman takes classes at the Art Students League.

At the time Newman was still attending high school - a senior at De Witt Clinton high. He enrolled in a beginners drawing class at the Art Students League, "working from casts under Duncan Smith." Although he was dissatisfied with his early efforts at drawing ("I kept plugging away"), Smith included a drawing by Newman of the Belvedere torso in the League's annual exhibition of the best work of students. (TH10/MH/RP)

Early 1922: Jackson Pollock's brother, Charles, arrives in Los Angeles.

Shortly after Charles' arrival a local art critic Arthur Miller helped him get a job at the Los Angeles Times, working first as a copy boy and then doing layouts in the art department. During his first year in Los Angeles he also enrolled at the Otis Art Institute and sent copies of The Dial to his family - a monthly journal with fiction, poetry, book reviews and black and white reproductions of art. It may have been Jackson's first exposure to modern art. (PP316)

February 1922: The first issue of The Young Worker is published.

The Young Worker was described as "A Magazine for the Militant Young Workers of America." Martin Ahern proclaimed in the August-September 1922 issue: "Let us not any longer be ensnared by the siren songs of 'culture,' 'broadmindedness,' 'art for art's sake.' There is only one culture - the proletarian culture, the culture of the Free Man." Frequent contributors of pictorial material included artists William Gropper, Robert Minor, J. Stokes and Art Young. (VH) (The Young Worker ceased publication at the end of April, 1936.)

March 1922: The first issue of the Labor Herald is published.

There were no illustrations in the Labor Herald except for the front cover - usually a cartoon by Fred Ellis (who also contributed to The Liberator). For instance, the final issue (October 1924) of the Labor Herald, featured a worker with a hammer and sickle tattooed on his arm. In November 1924 the Labor Herald joined with The Liberator and Soviet Russia Pictorial to form the Workers Monthly. (VH)

Winter 1922: Arshile Gorky enrolls at Boston's New School of Design. (BA131)

[Note: In Nouritza Matossian's biography of Arshile Gorky, Black Angel: A LIfe of Arshile Gorky, Gorky enrolled in the school in the winter of 1923 (BA131). In Hayden Herrera's biography, Arshile Gorky: His Life and Work, Gorky enrolled in the winter of 1922 (HH117) According to Matossian the school was known by several different names - the New England School of Design, the School of Fine Art and Design, the Museum Guild School, the Museum School of Fine Art and Design, Boston and the Boston New School of Design. (BA131/133/507) Hayden Herrera refers to the school as "Boston's New School of Design (later called the New England School of Design)." (HH116)]

At the age of twenty-one Gorky had his first formal art training. He attended Boston's New School of Design from c. 1922 - 1925. During 1922 he also briefly attended the Scott Carbee art school in Boston. A former student of the school, Norris C. Baker, wrote to Gorky in 1946 recalling the circumstances under which Gorky left Carbee's school.

Norris C. Baker [from a letter to Arshile Gorky, 1946]:

"One day we had a very young girl model, you worked feverishly on your oil painting, you caught the childlike character and soul on your canvas - Carbee did not come near you until the end of the class and then he castigated you & told you if you couldn't paint the way he wanted you to you needn't come to his classes - you calmly took the canvas and smashed it all to hell, packed your paints & left - I never remember seeing you at the classes again." (HH116)

It was also around this time that Gorky, whose real name was Vosdanig Manoug Adoian, adopted the name "Arshele Gorky." According to a fellow student at Boston's New School of Design, Katherine Murphy, one of the many stories Gorky would tell about himself was that "he was the nephew of Maxim Gorky" which "caused considerable embarrassment to the school director who had introduced him as such to a friend of the author." She recalls that "Gorky was very attractive. He had some fire" and that the president of the school, Douglas John Connah "was very fond of Gorky and took him about a good deal." (BA132-33)

Ethel Cooke [instructor at the school]:

"During the First World War, he [Gorky] came in with boys from Holland and other places in Europe. A person as capable as he was must have had something. It was noticeable right away that he could draw, and knew what he was about. he seemed to just get ahead by leaps and bounds and we were all quite proud of him." (BA132)

The curriculum of the school focused on American Realist painters. The president of the school, Douglas Connah had previously been the proprietor of the New York School of Art (aka the Chase School) where Robert Henri also taught. John Singer Sargent, who was working on his murals for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts to be unveiled in 1925, was also one of the Boston New School's idols and, according to Cooke, a particular favourite of Gorky's.

Ethel Cooke:

Connah had Sargent's old studio in Boston. When Sargent came back to finish off some work, those murals and portraits and the library, he would come to the school. The students went out to the studio on Newbury Street. I don't know if Gorky ever met Sargent. I was hoping they would met because Gorky sort of worshipped him." (BA133-4)

Gorky also studied Velázquez and Franz Hals at the Boston New School of Design as well as the French Impressionists. A Franz Hal study he did around that time still exists. His niece, Libby (birth name LIberty), also recalled that "in our dining room we had a painting [by Gorky] of a Spanish Don, in the manner of Velázquez. he was copying a lot of paintings like that Spanish Grandee. Those paintings later got burned in a fire. He was also painting views and landscapes from nature." An oil painting Gorky did of Franz Hal's Lady in the Window was purchased by an art collector in 1926. (BA134)

1923: First solo exhibition of Kandinsky in the United States.

List of Société Anonyme Exhibitions during the 1920s

Source: Collection of Société Anonyme: Museum of Modern Art 1920 (New Haven, Ct.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1950)

The first solo exhibition of the work of Wassily Kandinsky took place at the Société Anonyme. The head of the Société, Katherine Dreier had become familiar with Kandinsky's art and theories in 1912 while studying in Munich. She read Kadinsky's groundbreaking book, Concerning The Spiritual in Art in the original German - the text was first published in 1911 as Über das Geistige in der Kunst. She began buying works by Kandinsky in 1920 and met him in person at the Bauhaus in 1922. In 1925 Kandinsky was made the honorary vice-president of the Societe Anonyme.

In Concerning The Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky drew an analogy between music and painting. In a chapter titled "The Language of Form and Color," Kandinsky began by quoting E. Jacques - Dalcroze ('Musical sound acts directly on the soul and finds an echo there because... music is innate in man') and Delacroix via Paul Signac ('Everyone knows that yellow, orange, and red suggest ideas of joy and plenty'), and then continued by explaining "These two quotations show the deep relationship between the arts, and especially between music and painting. Goethe said that painting must count this relationship her main foundation, and by this prophetic remark he seems to foretell the position in which painting is to-day. She stands, in fact, at the first stage of the road by which she will, according to her own possibilities, make art an abstraction of thought and arrive finally at purely artistic composition." (WK53-54).

Just as music acted directly on the soul, so did abstract art. Mark Rothko echoed Kandinsky's comparison of "purely artistic composition" to music in comments made to his assistant Jonathan Ahearn who recalled Rothko telling him, "What I want is for people to cry when they experience my paintings. The way I do when I hear Beethoven's Fifth Symphony." (LM84)

Analogies between the work of Kandinsky and that of Arshile Gorky have also been made. Gorky's wife, Mougouch [aka Agnes Magruder], recalled reading Kandinsky's book to her husband. Hayden Herrera, in her biography of Gorky, noted that "starting around 1943, Gorky's color takes on a Kandinsky-like intensity:"

Hayden Herrera [from Arshile Gorky His Life and Work]

"Gorky's real breakthrough came in the Tate's Waterfall. Here, encouraged by Matta, he added turpentine to his pigment and, to some extent, let the movement of paint discover forms. Another liberating influence at this moment in Gorky's career was Kandinsky, with whom he falsely claimed to have studied. Kandinsky was highly visible both in New York art galleries and on the velvet-clad walls of the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, which opened in June of 1939. (In 1950 it was renamed the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.) Gorky had been familiar with Kandinsky's writings since the 1930s, and his library contained various works on Kandinsky. But when Mougouch read the Russian-born Expressionist's Concerning the Spiritual in Art out loud to Gorky, Kandinsky's idea that beauty comes from 'internal necessity, which springs from the soul" must have appealed to him. From the evidence of Gorky's paintings, what he admired in Kandinsky's work from around 1913 were the plumes of raw color and the way nature-based abstract imagery hovers on the threshold of recognizability. He must also have loved the feeling of flux in Kandinsky's shapes and the way color often separates from line. Starting around 1943, Gorky's color takes on a Kandinsky-like intensity: at first glance the colors in some of his crayon drawings and paints seem raw, as if they belonged to some primitive Caucasian tradition rather than to the School of Paris." (HH397)

The art critic Clement Greenberg also drew an analogy between Gorky's work and Kandinsky when reviewing Gorky's first one man's show at Julien Levy's gallery in 1945:

Clement Greenberg [from "Review of an Exhibition of Arshile Gorky" in The Nation, March 24, 1945]

"Because Gorky remained so long a promising painter, the suspicion arose that he lacked independence and masculinity of character. Last year his painting took a radically new turn that seems to bear this suspicion out. He broke his explicit allegiance to Picasso and Miro and replaced them with the earlier Kandinsky and - that prince of comic-strippers, Matta. Formerly he had adhered to the cubist and post-cubist convention of flat, profiled forms and flat textures... But now he changed suddenly to the prismatic, iridescent color and open forms of abstract, 'biomorphic' Surrealist painting. And these lately he has begun to cover with the liquid design and blurred, faintly three-dimensional shapes of Kandinsky's earlier abstract paintings.

This new turn does not of itself make Gorky's painting necessarily better or worse. But coming at this moment in the development of painting, it does make his work less serious and less powerful and emphasizes the dependent nature of his inspiration. For the problems involved in Kandinsky's earlier abstract paintings were solved by Kandinsky himself, while the problems of 'biomorphism' were never really problems for modern painting, having been dealt with before Impressionism and consigned since Odilon Redon to the academic basement." (CG13-14)

January 1923: Adolph Gottlieb enrolls in John Sloan's painting class at the Art Students' League. (AG13)

Gottlieb had previously attended Sloan's illustration class (before his European trip). During 1923 Gottlieb also enrolled in the Teacher Training Program at the Parsons School of Design, graduating the following year.

Gottlieb's earliest known paintings, Portrait and Nude Model were probably produced in Sloan's class. (AG13)

From Adolph Gottlieb: A Retrospective (NY: The Arts Publisher, Inc., 1981):

"... these early pictures are important, as they contain the roots of later tendencies in his art. First, in the areas of impasto in Portrait and Nude Model one can see Gottlieb's initial interest in creating a surface of textural variety, which he continues to develop in new ways throughout this career. Second, at the onset Gottlieb began painting directly on the canvas and drawing from his imagination; so he was naturally predisposed to the Surrealist method of automatism and was able to adopt it quickly to his own ends in his Pictographs of the early 1940s." (AG14)

It was during the early 1920s at the Art Students League that Gottlieb befriended John Graham. When Graham later applied to become an American citizen, Gottlieb sponsored him. (AG16) It was also at the Art Students League that Gottlieb befriended Barnett Newman (two years younger than Gottlieb) who was impressed by the fact that Gottlieb had already been to Europe. Gottlieb and Newman would often visit galleries together and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (MH)

January 1923: Jackson Pollock's mother, Stella, sells the Orland property.

As partial payment she received a second hand car - a Studebaker Special. She drove to Chico where the family was boarded for the winter by real estate agent Chris Sharp. (JP31-2)

February 1923: Mark Rothko and two college friends start The Yale Saturday Evening Pest.

The Yale Saturday Evening Post was started by Rothko, Aaron Director and Simon Whitney as a sort of underground student newspaper which was distributed by pushing copies under the doors of dormitory rooms on early Sunday mornings. The first issue began, "We believe that in this age of smugness and self-satisfaction destructive criticism is at least as useful, if not more so, than constructive criticism." Although articles in the newspaper were anonymous, Whitney has identified the "False Gods" issue of the paper as Rothko's. The issue proclaimed that there was only one way to deal with "False Gods" and that was to "smash them" through a "revolution in mind and spirit in the student body of Yale University." Rothko wrote that one day, "we shall see what is as plain as daylight - that blind conformity to the custom of the majority, to the average, brings mediocrity, and crushes genius." (RO51/52)

May 1923: The Pollocks move back to Phoenix, Arizona.

Jackson's father LeRoy had visited the family in Chico and told them he had accepted a job in the Sierra Ancha Mountains in Arizona and Stella decided to move her and her sons to Phoenix to be near him. Jackson attended the Monroe Grammar School where he was a particularly poor student and had to repeat the sixth grade. During this stay in Phoenix, Jackson became in interested in the culture of American Indians at nearby Indian reservations. (JP32/33/316)

June 8, 1923: Gorky's sister Vartoosh marries Moorad Mooradian.

Moorad worked at Hood Rubber where Vartoosh was also employed. He had been Vartoosh's neighbour and friend in Van where he had fought against foreign invaders from 1912 - 1915 before immigrating to the U.S. and joining the U.S. army in 1917. (BA129-130)

One of Akabi's lodgers (named Kooligian) later described Vartoosh's wedding party:

"Akabi gave the wedding party in her house. We sang and danced a lot that night. It was a regular Armenian wedding party. Oh, Manoug [Gorky] was in good form. He had a good voice and was such a good dancer. Akabi begged. 'Don't jump so hard. You're gonna bring the house down." (BA131)

1923: Arshile Gorky's father marries Akabi Shaljian.

Gorky's father remarried the same year as Vartoosh's wedding, but later in the year. According to Satenig, Gorky's other sister, her father's bride "knew very good English. She had gone to the school where they had put up all of Gorky's pictures. She was very proud. 'My son's pictures are on the wall.'" (BA131)

Spring 1923: Barnett Newman begins full-time study at the Art Students League.

Previously Newman had only taken a night course at the League but after graduating from high school was able to enroll full time. His father Abraham wanted him to go to an Ivy League school but he didn't want to leave New York. He applied to New York University at the urging of his father but was rejected - its quota for Jewish students had been filled. So he applied to the City College of New York (CCNY), was accepted and started there in the fall of 1923.

At the league Newman befriended Adolph Gottlieb and would remain friends with him for over twenty years. During their student days they would often visit the Metropolitan Museum together on weekends. (On Sundays the Met became a de-facto artists club where older painters would give lectures to young painters.) They also attended galleries where modern art was shown, including Matisse at Valentine Dudensing where Gottlieb would have his first solo show in 1930. (TH12)

September 1923: Jackson Pollock enrolls in the sixth grade of Monroe Elementary School in Phoenix. (PP316)
Autumn 1923: Barnett Newman enrolls in City College of New York.

Barnett Newman majored in philosophy at the tuition-free City College of New York in Harlem, studying under Scott Buchanan and Morris Raphael Cohen. He was truant often and received low grades. (MH) During his freshman year at CCNY, Newman continued to take classes at the Art Students League, studying life drawing under William von Schlegell and, later, painting with John Sloan and Harry Wickey.

When Newman heard that Bertrand Russell was teaching at The Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania he organized a class trip to the Foundation. He had also heard about the Foundation's collection of paintings and assumed that the class would be able to view the collection. But when they arrived they were refused permission to see them.

Thomas B. Hess [Newman biographer and Art News editor]:

"He [Barnett Newman] was astounded to find that he and class were refused permission to see the famous Renoirs, Cézannes, Picassos and Matisses. A rich man claimed them as private property and denied access to them. Newman walked around the city in shock. Late that night in a Greek restaurant, on a batch of paper bags, he wrote his first manifesto. He attacked 'objective attitudes' toward art and esthetic analyses; he attacked Russell and Barne's other philosopher-in-residence, John Dewey; and he held up in their stead Spinoza's principle of intellectual intuition as the key to the meaning of art. It was, he said, 'a moment of self-discovery - of what a painting is... that it's something more than an object.'" (TH12)

While a student at CCNY Newman also wrote music reviews for the school newspaper, The Campus. In 1925 an article he wrote on the paintings of Roger Fry was published in the student literary journal, Lavender. Among his friends at college was photographer Aaron Siskind who at the time was an aspiring poet. (MH)

Autumn 1923: Mark Rothko quits Yale. (RO54)

After leaving Yale, Mark Rothko headed for New York City in order to "wander around, bum about, starve a bit." While there he went to meet a friend at the Art Students League and noticed the students sketching a nude model. He decided "that was the life for me." After two months, he quit and returned to Portland in early 1924 to study acting in a company run by Josephine Dillon (soon to become Clark Gable's first wife). By early 1925 he was back in New York and enrolled at the New School of Design, a small commercial art school founded in 1923 which cost $75 a term and was located at 1680 Broadway near 52nd Street. One of Rothko's teachers at the New School of Design was Arshile Gorky.

Autumn 1923: Jackson Pollock severs his right index finger.

Jackson and a friend were cutting wood. Jackson pointed to where he wanted his friend to chop the wood with an axe and the axe hit his finger. The finger healed but would always be deformed. In later photographs Pollock would switch his cigarette from his right hand to his left and put his hand with the deformed finger in his pocket or behind his back. (JP33)

[Note The Museum of Modern Art's Jackson Pollock chronology in Jackson Pollock places this incident in 1916, when Jackson was four years old. (PP315)]

1923: Jackson Pollock visits his brother Charles in Los Angeles.

Jackson was eleven years old at the time. Jackson and his other brothers were impressed by Charles and the life he was living in L.A.. Frank would later recall "He was wearing spats, and we had never known anyone to wear spats before!" Jackson and his brother Sande decided they would become artists too.

Sande Pollock:

"Charles started this whole damn thing. He left home damned early. Charles was the fellow who had the intellectual curiosity all along." (JP30)

Jackson's mother would later tell a journalist that whenever Jackson was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up he would say "I want to be an artist like brother Charles." Yet, according to family members, Jackson did not produce a single sketch during his youth. (JP30)

c. 1923: Arshile Gorky paints a president a minute.

Gorky had copied portraits of the Americans Presidents in the Boston Museum of Art and performed a short act onstage at the Majestic Theatre in Boston during intermission where he would sketch five American presidents quickly with each sketch taking a minute. (BA138)

1923: The Liberator is reorganized.

Robert Minor, a cartoonist for Communist publications, became editor. The new board of art associate editors included Floyd Dell, Arturo Giovannitti, Michael Gold, Claude McKay and artists Boardman Robinson, William Gropper, Lydia Gibson, Hugo Gellert, Walts and Don Brown. Contributing artists on the editorial board included Cornelia Barns, Maurice Becker, J.J. Lankes, Maurice Sterne and Art Young. (VH)

1924: André Breton publishes his Manifesto of Surrealism in France.

First edition of Breton's Manifeste du surréalisme: Poisson soluble (Manifesto of Surrealism: Soluble Fish) (Paris: Éditions du Sagittaire, 1924)

His second manifesto would be published in 1930:

1924: The Dudensing Gallery opens in New York.

The gallery, founded by F. Valentine Dudensing, was renamed the F. Valentine Dudensing Gallery in 1926, later shortening its name to the Valentine Gallery. It closed in 1948.

In 1930 the gallery gave Adolph Gottlieb his first solo exhibition. They took on Milton Avery in 1935. In 1939 the gallery showed Picasso's Guernica for the first time in the United States.

Other artists represented by the gallery included Henri Matisse, Louis M. Eilshemius, John Kane, C. S. Price and Mondrian. The gallery became Mondrian's sole U.S. dealer in 1936. Prior to moving to the U.S. in October 1940 Mondrian had provided a number of works to the gallery on consignment. After his arrival the gallery hosted two Mondrian shows - in January 1942 and March 1943.

1924: J. B. Neumann opens a gallery in New York.

J. B. (Jsreal Ben) Neumann's gallery would eventually be called the New Art Circle. Artists represented by the gallery included Wassily Kandinsky, Max Beckmann, Paul Klee and Georges Rouault. Neumann had moved to New York from Germany in 1923.

1924: Adolph Gottlieb graduates from John Sloan's class at the Art Students League and later rents a studio.

Gottlieb rented a studio on 17th Street. (AG14)

January 21, 1924: Vladimir Lenin dies.

The official cause of Lenin's death was cerebral arteriosclerosis although some suspected syphilis. Of the 27 physicians who treated him only eight signed the autopsy report. He had been treated for syphilis as early as 1895. In 1923 he was treated with Salvarsan and potassium iodide, both of which were used for syphilis.

On January 21, 1928 a memorial celebration for Lenin was held at Madison Square Garden which included the first large-scale productions of Artef - a radical yiddish theatre troupe - who performed Mass Play and Ballet of the Russian Revolution.

Despite the fact that Lenin had stipulated in a "Political Testament" in 1922 that Leon Trotsky should become the leader of Russia after him, it was in fact Stalin who managed to gain control of the party and country after Lenin's death. Trotsky was deported from the Soviet Union in February 1929 and in 1936 was sentenced to death in absentia during the Moscow Trials. The trials, the Russo-German Pact of 1939 and the Russian invasion of Finland would lead a dissident group (led by Trostkyite art writer Meyer Schapiro and including Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb) to resign from the American Artists' Congress in April 1940 after the Congress refused to condemn Russia for their actions.

February - March 1924: Arshile Gorky visits John Singer Sargent exhibition in New York.

Gorky visited the show with Ethel Cooke, an instructor from Boston's New School of Design, where Gorky was studying. At that time in America Sargent was considered the greatest painter. Raphael Soyer, who would later befriend Gorky recalled, "Times were different then. There was hardly any art movement of importance in New York. We were taught that Sargent was the world's greatest painter. Trick lighting and clever painting was our goal." (BA141)

Summer 1924: The Pollocks move from Phoenix.

Jackson Pollock's mother, Stella, took her sons from Phoenix after school finished for the year in order to (once again) be near her estranged husband who was laying roads in the Tonto National Forest in Arizona. She took a job as a cook at Carr's Ranch located on the edge of the forest. (PP316/JP34)

Early September 1924: Jackson Pollock's mother, Stella, rents a small house in Riverside, California.

As she and her husband had not reconciled in Arizona, where LeRoy had visited his family only once during the summer, she took herself, Frank, Sande and Jackson to Riverside, California to be near her two oldest brothers, Charles and Marvin Jay, who were living in Los Angeles.

Stella, Jackson, Frank and Sande moved into 1196 Spruce Street which would be the first of three addresses they lived in during the three years they were in Riverside. (JP34)

November 1924: The first issue of Workers Monthly is published.

Workers Monthly was the official organ of the Trade Union Educational League (which had previously published the Labor Herald) and the communist Workers Party of America. It was formed by combining The Labor Herald, The Liberator and Soviet Russia Pictorial. Workers Monthly promised to continue "the traditions of revolutionary art and politics established by The Liberator and to publish "the productions of the best revolutionary artists." Contributors of drawings and cartoons included Hay Bales, Maurice Becker, Adolph Dehn, Fred Ellis, William Gropper, Robert Minor, Juanita Preval and Young. A review of Lozowick's Modern Russian Art (1925), that appeared in the August 1925 issue of the magazine, noted that "the Russian Revolution was like the onrush of a mighty wave leaving in its wake an infinite number of ripples. Modern art is one of these ripples." The magazine took a more radical and openly pro-Soviet approach than previous leftist publications, using the term "revolutionary art" rather than "proletarian art."

The Workers Monthly was later re-formed into The Communist: A Magazine of the Theory and Practice of Marxism-Leninism, published by the Workers (Communist) Party of America beginning March 1927. (VH)

1924: The U.S. passes the Immigration Act of 1924.

The act curtailed the amount of immigrants allowed into the United States. (DK61)

to 1925 - 1929

to 1910 - 1919

Abstract Expressionism

Ab Ex Contents

Ab Ex Essays