This drawing is catalogued in the Arshile Gorky Foundation as #D190.
Untitled dates from a period when Arshile Gorky was working on his celebrated series of paintings that included Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia and is an example of the artist’s transformational process of turning visually identifiable sources into abstract motifs. Untitled includes multiple elements taken from Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia’s final composition, in which he investigated the different shading, hatching and cross hatching possibilities. The original sources are stripped of their initial meaning and become suggestive organic shapes. When working on Nighttime, Enigma and Nostalgia, Gorky was looking at de Chirico’s The Fatal Temple, 1914, from which he borrowed several compositional aspects, including dividing the work into four distinct sections, closely following de Chirico’s composition. Here, Gorky gives as much importance to the negative space as he does to the rest of the composition—the play between black and white creates a sense of perspective, leaving the viewer wondering which form is in front of the other. The upper left quadrant of the composition seems like a complete work in its own right, floating over the rest of the composition.
Considered one of the precursors of abstract expressionism, Gorky influenced many of his contemporaries including such luminaries as Willem de Kooning. Despite his early death, Gorky occupies an important place in art history as Melvin P. Lader, professor of art history at George Washington University writes in his essay for the seminal retrospective of Gorky’s drawings at the Whitney Museum of American Art New York: “[Gorky] has managed to marry the structure of still life typical of Cézanne or Picasso with the organic qualities of works produced by the surrealists” (Melvin P. Lader, "What the Drawings Reveal," Arshile Gorky A Retrospective of Drawings, exh. cat., Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, November 2003-February 2004, p. 32).