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“Enigmatic Combat” by Arshile Gorky

"Enigmatic Combat" by Arshile Gorky

“Enigmatic Combat” by Arshile Gorky

“Enigmatic Combat” by Arshile Gorky depicts his transition from Cubism to Surrealism. In this painting, his abstractions unite memories of his Armenian youth with surrealist fantasies characterized by billowing shapes and exotic colors.

This painting’s style fits into a surrealistic abstraction influenced by Picasso, Kandinsky, and Miró. It shows his “Enigmatic Combat” through his life’s challenges.

The composition is a drama of enigmatic biomorphic and spiky shapes in combat. Gorky explained his artistic vision as follows:

“Abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot see physically with his eyes…
Abstract art enables the artist to perceive beyond the tangible, to extract the infinite out of the finite.
It is the emancipation of the mind. It is an exploration into unknown areas.”

Gorky’s work was informed by the suffering and loss he experienced in the Armenian Genocide.

“One big war, an epidemic, and we collapse into ignorance and darkness, fit sons of chimpanzees.”


Biomorphism models artistic elements on naturally occurring patterns or shapes reminiscent of nature and living organisms. 

The use of metamorphosis influenced Surrealism in the 1920s, and it appeared both as subject matter and as a technique in figurative paintings.


Surrealism was a cultural movement that developed in Europe after World War I and was influenced by Dada. The movement is best known for its visual artworks and the juxtaposition of fantastic imagery.

Artists painted illogical scenes, sometimes with photographic precision, creating strange creatures from everyday objects, and developing painting techniques that allowed the unconscious to express itself.

Many surrealist artists regard their work as an expression of the philosophical movement primarily, with the works themselves being an artifact.

At the time, the movement was associated with political causes such as communism and anarchism.

Arshile Gorky

Arshile Gorky (1904 – 1948) was a painter who had a seminal influence on Abstract Expressionism.  Gorky has been hailed as one of the most influential American painters of the 20th century.

Gorky’s innovative art used an abstract vocabulary to convey memories of his Armenian childhood alongside his observations of nature.

His oeuvre synthesizes Surrealism and sensuous color with his own highly personal formal vocabulary. His paintings and drawings hang in every major American museum and many worldwide.

Enigmatic Combat

  • Title:                  Enigmatic Combat  
  • Artist:                Arshile Gorky
  • Medium:            oil on canvas
  • Date:                 1936 and 1937
  • Dimensions:      Height: 90.8 cm (35.7 in) Edit this at Wikidata; Width: 121.9 cm (48 in)
  • Museum:           San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Arshile Gorky

  • Artist:               Arshile Gorky
  • Born:                Vostanik Manoug Adoian
  • Born:                1904, Khorgom, Vilayet of Van, Ottoman Empire
  • Died:                1948 (aged 44), Sherman, Connecticut
  • Nationality:      Armenian-American
  • Notable works:

Arshile Gorky

Virtual Tour of Museums in San Francisco

Arshile Gorky

Virtual Tour of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art


Arshile Gorky Art

Arshile Gorky


“Abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot see physically with his eyes.”
– Arshile Gorky


Photo Credit: Arshile Gorky / Public domain

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