Born Vosdanig Manoog Adoian in Armenia in 1904 where his family, though of noble lineage, was subject to persecution, and his mother died of starvation, he emigrated from Armenia to the United States in 1920 and studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and in Boston. In the 1930s, Gorky assimiliated the work of abstract painters like Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro, as well as some characteristics of his friend Willem de Kooning. In his later work a distinctive style emerged, in which he combined ideas and images from Surrealism and Biomorphic art. He is best known for the biomorphic abstracts he produced in the 1940s. In the last few years of his life, cancer, a fire that destroyed his studio, a car accident that left his painting hand paralyzed, and marital problems, led him to suicide.

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