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Making the Calendar

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Making the Calendar

Artist: Arshile Gorky (American, born Turkish Armenia, 1904 - 1948)

Date: 1947
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
Framed: 40 1/8 × 47 1/8 × 3in. (101.9 × 119.7 × 7.6cm)
Overall: 34 x 41in. (86.4 x 104.1cm)
Signed: Left center (black ink): 'A. Gorky / '47'
Credit Line: Edward W. Root Bequest
Object number: 57.153
Text Entries

A work that allows us to savor Arshile Gorky’s gigantic talents as a painter, Making the Calendar occupies a melancholy place in the history of modern American art. Its direct predecessor, The Calendars of 1946, was incinerated in 1961 (when, during Nelson Rockefeller’s incumbency, it burned at the Governor’s Mansion in Albany). This loss added another miserable coda to Gorky’s career—his life had long since ended by suicide in 1948. In the absence of its direct ancestor, Making the Calendar can be compared to a full-scale preparatory drawing (Fogg Art Museum) and to a series of small sketches (one in oil, the others in pen and ink, and crayon) in which he essayed his ideas for this composition.(1) Once Gorky arrived at his design for this theme he did not alter it, but over time reused the composition in several works, of which Making the Calendar is now foremost.

Beneath floating washes of oil paint, Making the Calendar displays the underlying drawing of the “Calendars” series. This drawing defined the space and the portrayed characters—Gorky’s family seated in their Connecticut home. Specific color cues in the Utica picture identify Gorky’s original subjects by referring back to The Calendars.(2) The lost painting presented discrete areas of color, where Making the Calendar uses mere touches of hue, but these colors derive from naturalistic representation. Two reddish-brown marks in the lower center inform us of the location of a dog’s ears in the foreground. A dark, roughly triangular mark, that hovers within a circle above the dog at the painting’s center, identifies the fireplace; adjacent to the upper edge, a rectangle at the left locates the eponymous calendar; and a bit of red at the right directs us to Agnes Gorky’s (the artist’s wife) blouse. All of The Calendars’ coloring has been retained, but in an abbreviated form whereby the merest samples of a hue sustain original features and references. These small samples of naturalistic color would have been lost (or at least unrecognizable as references to a “real world”) were it not for Gorky’s retention of his gorgeous drawing beneath the Matta-like oil washes; these glazes thicken to a cloud-like consistency in some places, elsewhere paint thins to admit our entrance to the picture’s deeper spaces.

Thus, starting with a cozy family view that seems as complacent as an Ingres (and which includes the father/artist reading his newspaper, a baby in a cradle, an older daughter gazing out a window into the surrounding countryside, a dog seated on a rug, etc.), Gorky distilled the essence of his scene into a linear composition derived from Miro’s style of drawing. Above this design he layered filmy oil glazes that almost certainly were learned after close contact with Matta, and Gorky ornamented the loose surface with a colorful network of dripped accents that he first saw in Picasso’s painting. Together, this combination of massively informed abstraction based on personal emblems forged the components of the best painting of the New York School, for which Gorky was the prototype.

 

 

Notes

1. Harry Rand, “The Calendars of Arshile Gorky,” Arts Magazine, vol. 50 (March 1976), pp. 70—80.

2. For a complete description of the subject matter of this work, see Harry Rand, Arshile Gorky: The Implication of Symbols (Montclair, N.J.: Allanheld 81 Schram, 1981; Berkeley, Los Angeles, New York, London: University of California Press, 1989), pp. 131-32.

 

Copyright
Presumed copyright: the artist or the artist's representative/heir(s).