Dating to the early 1930s, Arshile Gorky's Abstract Still Life with Classical Bust belongs to a group of works on paper made when the artist was beginning to ravenously digest Cézanne and Synthetic Cubism into his own intensely personal, lyrical painting. The artist interpreted art history as an unbroken line from one artist to another to give structure to his art. By the early 1930s, Gorky had begun to paint a series of images and motifs that are repeatedly transformed with ceaseless variation. In Abstract Still Life with Classical Bust, Gorky plays angular and geometrically "hard" shapes against rounded, curvilinear ones, biomorphic against a grid like box (M. P. Lader, "What the Drawings Reveal: Some Observations on Arshile Gorky's Working Method," Arshile Gorky: A Retrospective of Drawings, New York, 2003, p. 31). The work on paper bespeaks the near limitless formal possibilities of Gorky's drawing: a teeming landscape, perhaps one of loss, seen in ever shifting detail.
As Gorky would later write to his sister in 1942:
"Dreams form the bristles of the artist's brush. And as the eye functions as the brain's sentry, I communicate my most private perceptions through art, my view of the world. In trying to probe beyond the ordinary and the known, I create an inner infinity. I probe within the confines of the finite to crate an infinity. Liver. Bones. Living rocks and living plants and animals. Living dreams. Vartoosh dearest, to this I owe my debt to our Armenian art. Its hybrids, its many opposites. The inventions of our folk imagination. These I attempt to capture directly, I mean the folklore and physical beauty of our homeland in our work" (M. Auping, "An Erotic Garden," Arshile Gorky: The Breakthrough Years, The Modern Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1995, p. 66).