The Art Institute of Chicago offers a large collection of paintings and sculptures on display. All of the presented pieces of art belong to different periods and allow one to follow the development of art throughout the human history. The current paper is devoted to the formal analysis of one of the contemporary paintings that are exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago – After Xhorkum (1940-42) by Arshile Gorky, an American painter who was born in Armenia.
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This painting is oil on canvas and its size is rather large (91 cm x 121 cm). This size makes all the elements of the painting very impressive and persuasive. After Xhorkum belongs to the category of abstract art, as it is not possible to define the things that are depicted by the artist.
Although the painting consists of a large variety of different bright shapes, the composition is still stable and harmonious. Some shapes of lighter colors (white, soft yellow, pink and beige) form the special background. Almost all the foreground of the art work is occupied by chaotic shapes of more intense and dense colors, such as black, red, blue or bright yellow. This contrast between the shapes creates a slight illusion of depth, but, in fact, this paining cannot be called three-dimensional. Gorky did not pay any attention to the shades of these shapes, both organic and geometrical, so they look flat. However, the shapes are not covered with even and homogeneous layers of paint. The brushstrokes of the artist are loose and free, so, in some places, it is possible to see a background color looking through the main one. Primary colors (red, yellow and blue) play an important role in this painting, but Gorky skillfully strengthened them with various hues of complimentary colors. In many parts of the painting, the artist also employs the visible contrast between warm and cold colors that make these areas too bright and even irritating. He often puts the shapes of red hues on colder blue and purple colors.
Although lines are not as outstanding in After Xhorkum as the shapes, they still function as an important and supportive element. There are no lines of direction here, as the shapes do not move and the whole composition is very static. Nevertheless, some of the shapes have pronounced contour lines that significantly intensify the general impression of the painting. The majority of lines here are white, but there are also some darker contours. For example, the rhombus of deep blue color in the left upper part of the painting has white coontour and the purple triangular shapes closer to the right edge has two contour lines; the first is black and the outer one is white. These lines also function as certain borders that help the viewer’s eyes to move around the painting. However, it must be mentioned that despite the fact that there are some focus centers, such as three oval yellow and orange shapes at the right upper part, the viewer’s gaze moves in quite a chaotic manner.
Gorky does not introduce any source of light into the painting, but it is possible to suggest that it is located in front of the shapes, as the darker shapes are situated closer to the background. Moreover, the texture of the foreground shapes is easier to see than the ones at the background that are more homogeneous. It also proves that the artist’s technique in applying the oil paints varies in different parts of the painting.
All things being considered, After Xhorkum is an impressive example of abstract art, where the artist relies primarily on the meaning and power of various shapes and colors. Gorky also paid much attention to the stability and balance of the composition and the division of the foreground and the background. Lines, textures and other elements only play supportive role.