...Spender...is a sculptor who is married to Gorky's elder daughter, Maro. It is, by the author's own account, his love for his wife that led him to Gorky's problematic career, and this point of origin gives his biography a certain easy intimacy....[He fits] together the bits and pieces of Gorky into a narrative that is astonishingly coherent....This is a kind book and a gentle one, more benevolent, perhaps, than Gorky would have felt he deserved.
The New York Times Book Review
Gorky's tragic end echoed a beginning so horrific that...it could ultimately neither be faced nor shared....Spender's....access to both people and papers has enabled him to separate fact from fiction as never before....The artist and his art deserve a more psychologically and esthetically perceptive account. But Spender has provided an essential foundation that is, for all its flaws, also unforgettable. \
The New York Times
Though not neglecting the horrors of the Armenian atrocities, Mr Spender is best at following Gorky’s rise through the New York art scene in the 1920s and 1930s, in which he made a reputation but barely made a living: by the end of his life, he had given away more pictures than he had sold.
Purely out of artistic ambition, Armenian-American abstract painter Gorky (1895-1948; born in Turkey as Vostanig Adoian) fabricated a new identity, complete with an Ivy League education and personal histories with master artists, on arriving in the United States. Spender (Within Tuscany), who is married to Gorky's oldst daughter, unhesitatingly exposes the painter's many "tall tales." He also assesses Gorky's difficulty in arriving at his own aesthetic until late in life in terms of both the artist's ties to the artistic patriarchs of the previous generation, the Surrealists (including Breton, Duchamp and Brancusi) and his complex status as a forerunner who eventually became alienated from the New York Abstract Expressionists (particularly de Kooning and Rothko). Spender derives much information from anecdotal sources, including an interview with de Kooning, and assumes a chatty tone in dealing with other artists. But he becomes increasingly less sympathetic to Gorky, whose last years are presented from the perspectives of Spender's wife and her mother. Nonetheless, painting constantly despite failing health, family problems and critical indifference, Gorky's frustrations are heartbreaking. Equally compelling is the window opened on New York's art scene when it was still a small clique. Gorky was so in love with the "artist" archetype that he not only lied about himself but also plagiarized anecdotes, artistic statements, love letters and possibly even his own suicide note. Spender preserves the personal dimensions of his subject while demonstrating that the painter should have adopted a youthful declaration--"I shall be a great artist or if not a great crook"--as his motto. 90 b&w illustrations. (Apr.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Spender, a sculptor and writer and the husband of Gorkys daughter, provides a personal and intimate biography of the Armenian American abstract expressionist Arshile Gorky (190448). Spenders access to family information and papers provides some fresh views of the life that the artist himself mythologized and obscured. Exiled from his homeland in 1915, Gorky became a follower of the School of Paris, only achieving his personal style five years before his death. Valuable for its use of primary sources and new translations of Gorkys letters and writings, this work focuses on personal biography more than on art history. A number of books on Gorky are in print (another extensive biography has just appeared in England), but noneincluding this oneis completely satisfactory. Nevertheless, Spenders work offers an accessible account of the person and the places of his life. Recommended for large general biography collections or for advanced art history collections that already have more art-historical works on the painter.Jack Perry Brown, Art Inst. of Chicago Lib.
Himself a sculptor as well as writer, Spender recounts the life of Armenian-born abstract painter Gorky (1904-48), who was at the center of the New York art scene from the 1920s to the 1940s. He describes the influence of his childhood and headstrong mother, his determination to be a painter, his protean personality, his growing reputation, and the stresses that led him to take his own life. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknew.com)
Though not neglecting the horrors of the Armenian atrocities, Mr Spender is best at following Gorky's rise through the New York art scene in the 1920s and 1930s, in which he made a reputation but barely made a living: by the end of his life, he had given away more pictures than he had sold.
Spender provides the first coherent biography of the painter carefully sifting through all the available documents and recollections to which he has been privy as Gorky's relative, distilling the most plausible scenario from a life much embroidered by previous biographers.
Spender gives us the warts and all, trying as best he can to explain, but not to explain away, the tragedy-inducing contraditions in Gorky's character... this fine biography is a sympathetic and clarifying account of a consciously hidden and distorted life, deflating some myths and coming close to the real story of a tragic figure whose quixotic poses and ultimate suicide may have had more to do with his work reaching the limit of his powers than with his medical condition of marital problems.
The New Criterion
It was an extraordinary life about which Mr. Spender has now given us a book that s itself extraordinarya biography that instantly takes its place among the half dozen or so best artists' lives that have been written this century.
Wall Street Journal
A thoughtful, emotionally engaged biography of one of the most talentedand secretiveabstract painters of the 1940s. To research this book (at the outset, anyway) Spender had only to turn his own extended family; he married Gorky's eldest daughter, Maro, in 1967. But the task was a challenge: Gorky (1904–48) excelled in spinning myths and was incredibly closemouthed about his past, even with his second wife, Mougouch, and their children. The facts suggest a credible reason: Born Vostanig Adoian to a poor Armenian farmer in eastern Turkey, the boy fled his homeland with his mother and siblings when the Turks began massacring Armenians in 1915. They eventually made it to the US, arriving in the Armenian enclave of Watertown, Mass., in 1920. Vostanig changed his name to Arshile Gorky (probably lifting the surname from novelist Maxim Gorky) and began a career as an artist. Wildly talented and able to copy the style of everyone from Cézanne to Picasso, he found his way to New York in 1925. His elusiveness and occasionally abrasive intensity kept other artists at arm's length, however; only a few, including Willem de Kooning, remained lifelong friends. As his career progressed, this intensity slowly began to take an ever greater toll on Gorky's mental stability. Spender does not gloss over his subject's difficulties; he writes most powerfully, in fact, of Gorky's terrifying psychological demise and eventual suicide. The rest of the book, however, suffers from the author's prosaic narrative style; as smoldering a character as Gorky surely merits a biography with more passion and fire than this. Approaching the enigma of the man, Spender (Within Tuscany:Reflections on Time and Place, 1992) looks for literal meaning beneath the artist's metaphors; although he does a thoroughly credible job, Gorky remains elusive and mystifying. (90 b&w illustrations, not seen)