Gorky Expert Discusses Influence of Armenian Culture Genocide on Artist’s Work

WASHINGTON–DC–Renowned art historian and specialist on Arshile Gorky–Dr. Melvin Lader–presented his insights at a public lecture at the Armenian Embassy sponsored by the Greater Washington DC Chapter of the Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Society and under the auspices of the Ambassador and Mrs. Arman Kirakossian. A standing-room-only crowd of over 150 people gathered on November 5 to hear Dr. Lader’s talk and slide presentation–titled "Arshile Gorky: the Case of an Unlikely Modernist."

Dr. Lader–a professor of art history at George Washington University–is a respected authority on the works of abstract expressionist pioneer Arshile Gorky–having lectured and published extensively on the life and works of the artist. He most recently curated (with Janice C. Lee) an exhibition of Gorky’s drawings at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Menil Collection in Houston in 2004.

Drawing on his research of Gorky’s work–the artist’s writings as well as side-by-side visual comparisons–Dr. Lader highlighted various influences in Gorky’s life that were eventually reflected in the artist’s work. These included memories of Gorky’s childhood in Khorkom (a village near Lake Van in Armenia)–color and imagery from Armenian Christian art–Gorky’s haunting sufferings and loss of family during the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923–and his feelings of exile after coming to America. He also cited the influence of other artists such as Cezanne and surrealist Joan Miro.

In referring to Gorky’s famous Portrait of the Artist and His Mother–Dr. Lader states–"Alone in New York–the memory of his mother–her tragic death–and the genocide weighed heavily on his mind. And he undoubtedly conceived of the painting as a tribute to his mother and her role in his life. As such–it was the first major work he created descending from his Armenian memories which would become a central theme in most of his mature art."

The formal presentation was followed by a question-and-answer period and reception in the Embassy–during which Dr. Lader responded to specific inquiries from the audience. In his opening remarks–Amb. Kirakossian stated–"I want to thank Hamazkayin for organizing this event. Obviously we have good cooperation with this society of dedicated people who are doing all their best to preserve Armenian culture." He went on to acknowledge Dr. Lader’s contributions to the study of this pioneer in American art.

"Dr. Lader’s engaging talk brought to light the profound impact of Gorky’s Armenian experience on his art–and by extension its impact on expressionism in general," stated Maggie Simonian–Chairwoman of the Hamazkayin Washington Chapter. "We are pleased to have been able to bring Dr. Lader’s insights and research to the community and thank the Armenian Embassy for their gracious hospitality and collaboration in this event." Founded in 1928–the Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Society is dedicated to the preservation and advancement of the history and the cultural heritage of the Armenian nation. Hamazkayin has chapters throughout the United States–Canada–South America–Europe–the Middle East and Australia–as well as the Republic of Armenia.

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