Painted primarily in shades of gray and divided roughly along its horizontal axis into a velvety upper expanse and a mostly lighter lower half, Diary of a Seducer evokes a landscape, even as Gorky’s sinuous drawing and a smattering of orifice-like ovals suggest a distinctly erotic context. Set within the shadowy, indeterminate space opened up visually by the artist’s thin washes of pigment and intermittently blurred lines, smoldering zones of yellow and burnt-orange paint evoke the heat of desire. Gorky’s handling insists equally on the literal constituents of painting, highlighting both the woven nature of his cloth support and the liquidity of oil—as evinced, for example, by the long, lone drip leading down to the artist’s signature at lower left.
Upon moving to New York in 1924, Gorky developed a style of painting that drew on the work of various prominent modern artists, including Pablo Picasso and Paul Cezanne. By the early 1940s, he had come in close contact with the Surrealist artists living in exile in the city, particularly the French writer André Breton. Gorky absorbed their aesthetic strategies and their interest in the subconscious while developing his own unique approach: rather than depicting recognizable imagery, his paintings are entirely abstract. As a result, Gorky’s work is often seen as a bridge between Surrealism and the Abstract Expressionism of the subsequent generation.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)