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Coles, P. (1990). ‘How my mother's embroidered apron unfolds in my life’ A study on Arshile Gorky. Free Associations, 1U(20):49-74.

(1990). Free Associations, 1U(20):49-74

‘How my mother's embroidered apron unfolds in my life’ A study on Arshile Gorky

Prophecy Coles

I have taken the title of my paper from a painting that Gorky finished towards the end of his life, for it captures most closely the theme that I want to explore — namely his relationship with his mother. This relationship seems to be a central preoccupation that runs through his work, giving shape and meaning to some of his later and more abstract paintings. I believe that Gorky is a painter of his inner world, an inner world that is deeply connected to his childhood experiences of trauma and loss. As he plunged ever more profoundly into the source of his artistic inspiration — his early childhood in conflict-torn Turkish Armenia, the early separation from his father, the death of his mother during their flight from home and his subsequent homeless state — he confronted the core of his being, his Black Monk, his Agony, and was driven to suicide.

I am aware that in undertaking such an enterprise there is a quite central difficulty. I do not think that Gorky's paintings can be ‘explained away’ by psychoanalytic theory. His greatness as an artist cannot be reduced in this way, and clearly his art stands without the need of psychoanalytic allusions. However, understanding something of his psychic conflict may illuminate some features of his painting and add resonance: for he is an enigmatic figure in the history of American Expressionism, and controversy about his intentions abounds.1

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