Arshile Gorky was born Vosdanic Adoian on 15 April 1904 in Khorkom, a village on the shores of Lake Van in Turkish Armenia. Under the pressure of persecution he fled Turkey with other members of his family and arrived in the United States in 1920. In 1922 he enrolled at the New School of Design, Boston. He went on, in 1924, to become was an assistant instructor in the life-drawing class. It was at this time that he began to use the name Arshile (the Caucasian form of the Armenian royal name Arshak, or the Greek Achilles) Gorky (Russian for 'bitter'). He moved to New York at the end of 1924 and, the following year, studied briefly at the National Academy of Design. He then enrolled at the Grand Central School of Art and, by 1926, had become an instructor of painting there, a position that he held until 1931.
By 1929 he had met John Graham, David Burliuk, Willem de Kooning and Stuart Davis and, in 1930, participated in a group exhibition of young artists that was held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gorky had his first solo exhibition at the Mellon Galeries, Philadelphia, in 1934. From 1935 until 1941 he was employed in the mural division of the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration and regularly submitted paintings to the annual exhibition of contemporary American painting that was held at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. His first museum exhibition was held at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1941 and, in 1944, he participated in the touring exhibition Abstract and Surrealist art in the United States, which was organised by Sidney Janis. Julien Levy became his dealer in 1945 and Gorky held regular solo exhibitions with Levy from then on. In 1945 he moved from New York to Sherman, Connecticut. His studio there caught fire in 1946, destroying the contents. Sickness and several accidents also plagued Gorky at this time and, when his marriage broke down in 1948, he was unable to cope. He took his own life in Sherman on 21 July 1948. A retrospective of Gorky’s work was shown at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1982. The Whitney Museum held a survey of his drawings in 2003, and another touring retrospective was at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Tate Modern, London, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, in 2009–10.