John Graham (L) with Arshile Gorky, c. 1934 (MS)
Graham was studying at the Art Students' League at the time. He introduced Gorky to Focillon's Life Forms in Art, which Graham translated for Gorky. Focillion argued that there were certain forms or types that recurred through history throughout different cultures.
Gorky and Graham visited the Folk Art Museum of Harvard together and also viewed carvings from the South Pacific, Armenian carpets and Persian miniatures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Graham also introduced Gorky to David Smith and his friend Dorothy Dehner, then first-year students at the Art Students League. Gorky, Smith and Dehner would often meet up at Erhard Weyhe's bookstore where Gorky was a regular. When Gorky gave Weyhe two of his still-lifes to pay for an expensive art book, Weyhe ended up selling one of the paintings for around $700-800, giving Gorky the money. Weyhe also opened a small gallery above his shop where future art dealer Julien Levy worked. (BA175-6)
Jackson Pollock, his mother Stella and his brothers Sande and Marvin Jay moved to Los Angeles. Jackson's brother Frank moved to New York. Jackson's oldest brother, Charles, had moved to New York in 1926. (PP316) In Los Angeles the Pollocks lived at 1196 39th Avenue. In New York Charles studied at the Art Students League and Frank was a part-time student at Columbia University.
During his sophomore year Kline was president of the Art Club. (FK174)
Jackson's friends at the school included Philip Guston and Manuel Tolegian. Tolegian was born in Fresno, California in 1911 but had Armenian roots.
"I came from an extremely reserved Christian family, you know the Armenian are among the earliest Christian people... their ethics are very high. But when I went a good many times to his [Jackson Pollock's] home, his mother - his father was a county road worker and he was most of the time away - she allowed drinking in the house, the young kids, my brothers occasionally they'd drop in, and smoking right there. So being a kid myself I thought evidently this is O.K.... But underneath I thought this was all wrong. " (ST)
Pollock seemed to prefer sculpting to drawing or painting in high school. He and Tolegian would buy blocks of stone from a quarry and store them in Tolegian's backyard, with Pollock using the yard as a sort of makeshift sculptor's studio. Tolegian would later say that Jackson was "more at ease with a rock than a human being." (JP41)
According to Tolegian, Pollock, even in high school, was "quite a drinker." He was "not an empty-headed fellow, but it was quite shallow, in the sense that he didn't do any research, did very little reading in that sense... he couldn't read too well, or write, for that matter." (ST) According to Jackson's brother, Sande, Jackson couldn't draw either. He would later say that "if you had seen his [Jackson's] early work you'd have said he should go into tennis, or plumbing." In 1930 Jackson wrote to his brother, Charles in New York: "my drawing i will tell you frankly is rotten it seems to lack freedom and rythem [sic] it is cold and lifeless. it isn't worth the postage to send it." (JP39/259n38)
During his high school years Jackson at least looked like an artist - or writer. He grew his hair long and called himself Hugo after the writer Victor Hugo. A classmate recalled, "That fellow [Jackson Pollock] thought he was someone important, but to me he always seemed like an orphan. (JP38)
The long hair that Jackson adopted was probably Jackson emulating his art teacher, Frederick John de St. Vrain Schwankovsky. Schwanny, as he was nicknamed, had long black hair, a goatee and often dressed in a burgundy velvet jacket and sandals. He was an enthusiastic advocate of modern art with an interest in esoteric philosophy and the occult. His class met five times a week in a basement studio and it was there that Jackson first began to draw. On October 29, 1929 Jackson wrote to Frank and Charles in New York: "We are very fortunate in that this is the only school in the city [to] have models." Jackson noted that "it is difficult to have a nude [model] and get by the board" but "Schwankavsky [sic] is brave enough to have them." (JP38-9)
It was the first group show that Rothko participated in. (RO91) Adolph Gottlieb and Milton Avery also showed at the gallery (see 1929 below) and the three became friends.
Milton Avery, Rothko with Pipe, 1936, National Gallery of Art, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund, 1974.123.1
From: NGA website:
In the late 1920s, he met the modernist painter Milton Avery, whose simplified and colorful depictions of domestic subjects had a profound influence on Rothko's early development, particularly his application of paint and treatment of color. Avery's home became a meeting place for artists, who attended weekly life drawing sessions there. Bernard Karfiol, an instructor at the Art Students League, included Avery and Rothko in Group Exhibition: Artists Selected by Bernard Karfiol, at the Opportunity Gallery in 1928.
See Mark Rothko, Milton Avery, Adolph Gottlieb and the Opportunity Gallery
Originally formed as a Marxist study group, the club would expand as Communism became more popular with the ranks of unemployed during the Depression. Its 1932 draft manifested noted:
"Thousands of school-teachers, engineers, chemists, newspapermen and members of other professions are unemployed. The publishing business has suffered acutely from the economic crisis. Middle-class patrons are no longer able to buy paintings as they formerly did. The movies and theatres are discharging writers, actors and artists. And in the midst of this economic crisis, the middle-class intelligentsia, nauseated by the last war, sees another one, more barbarous still, on the horizon. They see the civilization in whose tenets they were nurtured going to pieces.…" (DA27)
During 1932-33, Philip Guston and Reuben Kadish painted murals for the Los Angeles branch of the John Reed Club. The murals were destroyed on February 12, 1933 when the premises were raided by the Los Angeles Police.
Willem de Kooning began a relationship with Virginia "Nini" Diaz, a tightrope walker on the vaudeville circuit, who was staying in the same boarding house (on West 49th St.) as de Kooning. Diaz adopted de Kooning's last name and they moved into an apartment together at 64 West 46th Street. (DK73-4)
Five paintings by Gottlieb were included in a group show. It was at the opening of the show that he met Milton Avery. It was around this time that Gottlieb also befriended Mark Rothko.
See Mark Rothko, Milton Avery, Adolph Gottlieb and the Opportunity Gallery
Ruth French was modeling for Gorky's life class at the Grand Central School of Art. After Gorky criticized a student's drawing of her -"Here you have a beautiful Arabian horse! And you make a mess of dirty socks" - Ruth thanked him for the compliment after the class. Gorky asked her if she was Armenian. She was. She had changed her name after moving to the U.S. Her real name was Sirun Mussikian. (Sirun in Armenian means "beautiful.") Gorky asked her where she was born and she replied "Van." Gorky was over the moon. Not only was this beautiful model Armenian, she was also from the area he had grown up in. They had a coffee together and the next evening went to dinner with Gorky's friend, Misha Reznikoff and his girlfriend. After dinner, Sirun invited herself back to Gorky's studio. (This was, presumably, when Gorky was still living and painting at his Sullivan Street studio, prior to taking a separate studio at Union Square.) As the evening progressed Sirun mentioned that it was too late to go home and Gorky invited her to stay the night. He gave her the bed and he slept in a rocking chair. The next night she showed up again. (When later describing the event to a Gorky biographer, she would comment "Why would I go to a man's studio if I was not going to spend the night with him?") (BA168)
Gorky didn't know what to do. He rushed over to his Misha's apartment (at 3 am) and told him that Ruth asked her to go to bed with him. Misha gave him some tips and Gorky asked Misha to "draw me some positions." Misha obliged, drawing several couples in various sexual positions and Gorky looked at them carefully. When he pointed out that one of Misha's lines was "not very well constructed," Misha threw him out. (BA168)
Despite Gorky's sexual naivety, he and Sirun became lovers and she moved in with him.
"He really was living in Armenia in Greenwich Village. That was his fascination with me. It certainly wasn't my intellect. I mean why would a man as accomplished as he fall in love with this little nobody? Except that I was very good looking. Really, it was an absolute mad passion with him and the only reason? I was Armenian." (BA172)
At the time Gorky was earning a salary of $200 a month as a teacher at the Grand Central School of Art - a decent salary for that time. Sirun continued to pose for life classes at the school for which she earned about $75 a month ($1 per hour). (BA170) After paying the rent, Gorky spent most of his money on art supplies. According to Sirun, "He squandered his money on paint. He squeezed that stuff out of the tube by the mile!... He bought all colours. He talked a lot about ochre, yellow ochre was a favourite. He used them all...He could have no more not painted, than he could have stopped breathing." (BA170) She also later recalled that "he [Gorky] explained everything to me about his work. He talked a lot about cubes and cones and cylinders..." (BA172)
Sirun may have been the model for several of Gorky's paintings from 1929 - Seated Woman with Vase, Portrait of a Girl and Portrait of a Woman. (BA171)
Newman took life drawing classes taught by Harry Wickey and John Sloan. (MH)
Henry Geldzahler (1965):
"The term Abstract Expressionism was first employed in English by Alfred Barr in 1929 to place the paintings of Wassily Kandinsky of the decade 1910-1920 - paintings that are traditionally held to be the first complete abstractions. The Expressionist element in this work is the objectified emotion, the heave and swell of landscape forms to a point just beyond definite recognizability, the rhythmic distortion of things seen and remembered by the greater strength of things felt." (AP177)
Art critic Robert M. Coates claimed that he originated the term Abstract Expressionism in a review of a Hans Hofmann exhibition. "Hoffman," wrote Coates in an article published in the March 30, 1946 issue of the New Yorker magazine, "is certainly one of the most uncompromising representatives of what some people call the spatter-and-daub school and I, more politely, have christened abstract Expressionism."
"... in 1944 or 1945, whenever it came into use, generally abstract art in America meant what we call "hard-edge" abstraction now. Expressionism meant highly emotional art. So obviously confronted with Abstract Expressionism - that kind of painting which was both abstract and highly emotional - it would be an absolutely logical two terms in that particular context simply to describe what one is referring to." (SR)
During the 1930s, the art critic Edward Alden Jewell, had referred to work by the abstract artist members of The Ten as "American expressionists" when reviewing their December 1936 show at the Montross Gallery.
Edward Alden Jewell [The New York Times, December 20, 1936, section x, p. 11]:
"I do not believe I understand the American 'expressionists' so very well. Many of these paintings at the Montross I feel I do not understand at all. Often they look to me like silly smudges. And if a painting looks like a silly smudge, it is safe to conclude that you do not understand it." (RO582)
Rothko, who acted as secretary for The Ten was known to have read two books on Expressionistic theory - both titled Expressionism in Art - one by the Freudian psychoanalyst Oscar Pfister and one by the art theorist/historian Sidney Cheney. (RO106) Rothko biographer James E.B. Breslin has referred to his early work (1934) as "a kind of somber Fauve Expressionism." (RO117)
Mark Rothko would later point out the the "label" of Abstract Expressionism and "the whole notion of [a] movement" was "imposed from outside." He "never thought" of himself "as either abstract or Expressionist."(RO257)
Mark Rothko [Pratt Institute lecture 1958]:
"I never read a definition [of Abstract Expressionism] and to this day I don't know what it means. In a recent article I was called an action painter. I don't get it and I don't think my work has anything to do with Expressionism, abstract or any other. I am an anti-Expressionist." (RO396)
The "recent article" referred to by Rothko was Elaine de Kooning's "Two Americans in Action: Franz Kline & Mark Rothko," that appeared in the Art News Annual XXVII, 1958, 86-97, 174-179.
Barnett Newman also expressed doubts about Expressionism.
Barnett Newman [from "The Plasmic Image" (written 1943-45)]:
[Expressionism was] a risky esthetic because the emphasis on feeling had a tendency to shut out intellectual content. It it were possible to define the essence of this new movement [Abstract Expressionism], one might say that it was an attempt to achieve feeling through intellectual content. The new pictures are therefore philosophic. In handing philosophic concepts which per se are of an abstract nature, it was inevitable that the painters' form should be abstract..." (TH25)
Previously the term "Expressionism" was used mostly in reference to certain European artists of the early twentieth century.
Shulamith Behr [lecturer at the Courtauld Institute, London]:
"Of all the 'isms' in the early twentieth century, Expressionism is one of the most elusive and difficult to define. The term has entered the language, and nowadays any artist may be deemed 'expressionistic' if they exaggeratedly distort form and apply paint in a subjective, intuitive and spontaneous manner. Indeed, when the American picture magazine Life first popularised 'Expressionism' in May 1958, it did so by assuming that emotional excess was the norm of Expressionist art, accompanying illustrations with the captions such as 'Violent Images of Emotion... Horror and Anxiety' or 'Power of Love'." (SB6)
See The Origins of Expressionism
Jackson Pollock, Philip Guston, Manuel Tolegian and several others in their art class started the newsletter during Pollock's second semester at Manual Arts. It was a single mimeographed page and there were only two issues of it. They appealed to the student body to "awake and use your strength" and in an unsigned editorial protested the school's emphasis on athletics, suggesting that varsity letters should be given to "our scholars, our artists, our musicians instead of animated examples of physical prowess." (JP41)
Pollock was discovered one morning with others from the paper in the high school several hours before school began, attempting to distribute the newsletter by slipping copies under classroom doors. A janitor discovered them and gave chase. He caught Pollock and reprimanded him. The next day Pollock was sitting in class and the janitor arrived with the school principal. He pointed Pollock out and the principal led Pollock from the class. He was suspended from school for the remainder of the year. When Guston admitted to being the editor in chief of the newsletter he was also suspended. Pollock would return to the school but Guston did not.. (JP42)
During the early thirties Philip Guston studied at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles and also worked as a movie extra, including an appearance in a John Barrymore film. The film is often referred to as Trilby, but is most likely Svengali (1931) which was a Hollywood re-make of an earlier silent film titled Trilby. Guston would later recall "I did extra work on and off for about two years... I stormed the Bastille, participated in the fall of Babylon, and, in She by Ryder Haggard, I played the role of the high priest." (DA17-18) (In the Barrymore film Guston played an artist, complete with beret and goatee, and spent three weeks painting a nude for an atelier scene.)
Guston kept in touch with Jackson and took him to meetings at the Brooklyn Avenue Jewish Community Center in East Los Angeles where there were lectures on Communism and revolutionary art, including lectures on the Mexican mural movement. On October 22, 1929 Pollock wrote to his brothers that he admired the work of Diego Rivera and that "I have thought of going to Mexico City if there is any means of making a livelihood there." (JP43)
Willem De Kooning met John Graham at an exhibition of Graham's work at the Valentine Dudensing Gallery. De Kooning noticed an authoritative man "giving some women a hard time" and mistakenly took him for the art dealer rather than the artist. He would later recall that Graham had "a fantastic cynical attitude toward snooty ladies." (DK94/97)
Davis would often join Gorky, Misha Reznikoff and John Graham at Ticino's on Thompson Street.
MIsha (Mischa) Reznikoff:
"It was during Prohibition, so you had a line down the side, coffee cups with some kind of Prohibition drink in them. After a few bottles of Prohibition wine, Gorky would start singing his songs... Like those Armenian gypsy songs... Davis liked jazz. He would say to Gorky, 'Jazz it up a little, Gorky! Jazz it up a little!' Gorky could sing and snap his fingers and dance, he could do that in the middle of that miserable tea-room. We used to get loaded." (BA176-8)
The Center Academy - a progressive Yeshiva that was part of the Brooklyn Jewish Center on Eastern Parkway - opened in February 1928. Rothko taught there beginning in 1929, probably earning about $800 a year during the 1930s. (RO86/113)
According to an entry for July 1929 in the chronology published by The Museum of Modern Art in Kirk Varnedoe and Pepe Karmel, Jackson Pollock (Tate, 1998), Jackson works briefly with his father in Santa Ynez, California, but soon decides to return to Los Angeles. A fist fight with his father ensues." (PP316)
Stuart Davis, who was also friends with Gorky, would later say that Gorky was the only artist he knew at the time who "always had a real studio. Most, including myself, painted in their bedrooms or temporary makeshift quarters." (DK98) The artist Balcomb Greene was one of Gorky's neighbours at the time he moved in and later described Gorky's arrival:
"His moving was symbolic. The previous painter to occupy this immense studio facing on 16th Street was an academic craftsman who had pulled his battered belongings into a hall room, letting this gigantic Modern sweep into his quarters. Gorky swept in with his bolts of canvas, his mountain for an easel, his many packages of brushes, his cases of pigments, his stentorian commands to the movers, his indifference to me crowding past in the hallway. I could not yet know him." (BA169/BA546)
The artist Raphael Soyer also lived nearby (at 1 Union Square):
"He [Gorky] was an extraordinary looking fellow. If you saw him in the street you would stop and look at him. Very romantic looking. Had the most beautiful hands I ever saw a man have. A melancholy expression... He shied away from girls, but they didn't shy away from him." (BA189)
Gorky would later meet Ben Shahn and George Grosz at Soyer's studio. (BA210) Soyer would also later sketch Gorky while Gorky painted The Artist and His Mother. (BA214/BA272a)
As with de Kooning, Gorky kept his studio "scrupulously clean" according to his friend, Saul Schary.
"He [Gorky] was scrupulously clean. He had this enormous studio and it had an oak floor. He used to scrub that goddamn floor every week until it actually looked like the deck of a ship. There wasn't a drop of varnish around. The boards were white and clean." (BA169)
Kline contributed pen and ink drawings to the school's yearbook. During the summer he returned to Citizens' Military Training Camp at Fort Monroe where he was made a Corporal on July 21 and was recommended for Sargeant. (FK175)
"At first my father was in Southern California with the Federal Reserve Bank. Then maybe when I was ten we moved to Northern California. When I was twelve I developed horrible asthma, like Proust. It was really ghastly. They thought I was going to die from it. So when I was fifteen I was sent to a prep school in the desert in California...
You see, California in those days was really very Western and much more democratic than the East and nobody went to a prep school unless they were in trouble. so that all the other guys in prep school were either delinquents, or their parents were divorced, or in some cases - because California has a pipeline to the Orient - their families would be working in China or Japan. I mean everybody was sort of dumped there rather than going there, as they do in the East as preparation for Harvard, Princeton, or whatever. I was there because of my asthma. And they did a terrible thing to me: they used to post all the grades. My average would be ninety-six point five or something. And the next highest in the school would be sixty-one. The general average would be fifty - most of the guys were either emotionally or mentally upset in one way or another. So all the other guys tormented me on account of this. So in self-defense I became a football player and the best tennis player and all the rest of it. It was not pleasant but it did make going to college much easier...
There was a teacher of English, I've forgotten his name. There were two of them, both homosexuals, who were highly intelligent. I used to talk about literature with one of them. The other was an Irishman named Kiernan. He had a passion for opera. He wanted to be an opera singer really. This was in the midst of the Depression and you found all kinds of people teaching in schools who might not have otherwise but just had to get a job. He was crazy about Mozart and from him I learned what is still a passion for me, the operas of Mozart. I remember my mother saying once that he had written her saying though I was only sixteen I had the mind of somebody of forty and to let me develop in the way I wanted to. But she typically said, 'Of course I didn't believe him.'" (SR/RM131))
His return to the the High School did not last long. He was suspended the following month after an argument with a gym teacher. The principal of Manual Arts told him to "get out and find another school." (JP43) With the help of his art teacher, "Schwankovsky," Jackson was able to return the following semester on a part-time basis - enrolling for two courses - drawing and clay modeling. On January 31, 1930 (three days before his 18th birthday), he wrote to his brother Charles, "although i feel i will make an artist of some kind i have never proven to myself nor any body else that i have it in me." (JP44/original punctuation retained) Jackson subscribed to Creative Art magazine and was particularly impressed by an article on Diego Rivera. (PP316)
The "roaring twenties" were over.
Barnett Newman's father's company, the Newman Clothing Company was devastated by the stock market crash. Barnett's brother George eventually left the company to work as an architectural draftsman, but Barnett remained with the company helping his father to salvage the business. (MH)
The exact year that Willem de Kooning first met Arshile Gorky is unknown - de Kooning gave various dates in various interviews. He probably first met Gorky around the same time he met John Graham in 1929, but did not become friends with him until 1930 or 1931. (DK97)
According to de Kooning biographers, Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan, Gorky and de Kooning met a second time near Gorky's studio at 36 Union Square and de Kooning asked Gorky if he could visit him sometime in his studio. "Why not now?" asked Gorky.
From Arshile Gorky: His Life and Work by Hayden Herrera (whose father later married Gorky's widow):
"Gorky and de Kooning are said to have met at the opening of John Graham's 1929 exhibition at the Valentine Dudensing Gallery. De Kooning had a better story. He said he had been wanting to get to know Gorky, but Gorky kept rebuffing his overtures. First they met at a party at Mischa Reznikoff's apartment. Gorky was talking to Graham when he noticed a handsome blue-eyed man of medium height. He approached him and said, 'You talk like a truck driver.' De Kooning answered, 'Well, be careful, otherwise I'll take on the ways of a truck driver and beat you up.' Gorky said, 'That's silly. I'm much taller than you are.' Thrusting his long arms with enormous hands in front of de Kooning's face, he warned, 'Look how long my arms are!' For the moment, de Kooning didn't want to have anything to do with this belligerent giant.
The next time de Kooning encountered Gorky at a party, he quickly thumbed through an art magazine to find a reproduction that might serve as a conversation opener. He took the magazine over to Gorky, but Gorky turned him away with a dismissive gesture. At yet another artists' gathering de Kooning tried to join a conversation between Gorky and Stuart Davis. He told them that he had just discovered a wonderful painter at the Metropolitan Museum - Nicholas Poussin. Pretending to have never heard of Poussin Gorky and Davis played de Kooning along. Finally Davis, who talked out of the corner of his mouth like a gangster in a Hollywood movie, said, 'Well, I don't know. Sounds like a foreigner to me,' and to his chagrin de Kooning realized that Poussin was someone that the two had known about for years.
De Kooning did not give up. One day he ran in into Gorky and, in his thick Dutch accent, said, 'Nice to see you again.' This time Gorky was cordial, so de Kooning took heart: 'Some day, if you don't mind, I'd like to come to your studio.' 'Why don't you come right now?' Gorky offered. 'So we went to his place,' de Kooning remembered. 'It was very taken with it. It had a marvelous atmosphere. It was immaculately clean. I was terribly impressed... For a brief period de Kooning became something of a Gorky acolyte: 'I attached myself to him.' He saw that Gorky had a deep instinctual knowledge of painting. 'He understood everything and had insight... He got the point.'" (HH175)
Twenty-seven year old Alfred Barr was the director of the museum when it opened. The inaugural (loan) exhibition, "Cézanne, Gauguin, Seurat and van Gogh" (November 7 - December 7, 1929) attracted 47,293 visitors.
New York Times, November 7, 1929
The window displays of the A.S. Beck shoe stores were done at the firm's headquarters at 139 Duane Street. While at A.S. Beck de Kooning befriended another employee, Robert Jonas, who became a regular visitor to the home of de Kooning and his live-in girlfriend Virginia "Nini" Diaz. Jonas later recalled that de Kooning "came with a furious thrust towards being modern." Among the "modern" movements mentioned by de Kooning were De Branding and the De Stijl group as well as Frank Lloyd Wright. Another favourite topic of conversation was politics. Nini Diaz later recalled that "They never stopped talking, him and Jonas... All about Communism. And when they were finished, they just started in again."(DK83/84) At the time, Jonas was a Communist who would later be a key organizer of the Artists Union.