Arshile Gorky, a Turkish-Armenian immigrant, born Vosdanig Manoog Adoian, arrived in the United States, in 1920, to join his father and a married sister. Destined to become an artist of great inner vision, whose work was to mark the transition between European Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism, Gorky was a lonely, despairing man, whose early work was concerned with absorbing the ideas of Cezanne and Picasso. He was derided by his contemporaries who were seeking individualization instead of their place within the tradition. In 1930, Vosdanig Adoian took the name Arshile Gorky: Gorky, from Russian, meaning "the bitter one", and Arshile, a variation in spelling of Achilles, the hero who sat forlornly in his tent awaiting the recognition due him.
In the 1930's, however, Gorky came into contact with the Surrealist painters who had immigrated to the United States and from them learned the technique of automatism-the subconscious flow if images that were freely impressed upon the canvas-a technique well suited to Gorky's intense spiritual nature. The early forties signaled Gorky's coming of age. In the summer of 1942 he began a series of drawings in which the forms of nature were generalized and transformed into universal configurations. By now he had evolved the technique that was to mark the future direction of his art. Gorky worked from carefully prepared drawings, selecting the most telling from the wealth of free forms that sprang from his pen, and rearranging them into a more cohesive order by adding patches and streams of richly modulated color. The style that Gorky developed was the first to combine abstract painterliness with surrealist motifs. His work represents a transition from the biomorphic images and flat paintings of the Surrealists to the Abstract Expressionists' concern with the qualities of paint as an end in itself.
A series of tragedies overwhelmed Gorky in the late forties, at the height of his career. The fire that destroyed many of his paintings, the accident that paralyzed his painting arm and finally, the knowledge that he had cancer, led Gorky to take his own life in Sherman, Connecticut on July 21, 1948.