André Breton, the leader of the Surrealist group, assigned this work its title based on a meal he shared with Gorky, during which Breton associated an artichoke leaf with an owl. Both artists were members of the European artistic avant-garde living in exile in New York during World War II. Gorky’s interest in unpremeditated or automatic gestures was aided by his use of thin, liquid paint, which he poured onto the canvas, allowing it to seep freely into the support. The shapes in this painting, while vaguely recognizable, never fully describe any one thing and therefore encourage free association— a mainstay of Surrealist intellectual activities.
Gallery label from 2007.