NARRATOR: Barbara Haskell is Curator of Prewar Art at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
HASKELL: Arshile Gorky’s Betrothal acts as a bridge between realism and abstraction. It incorporates realistic subjects but so camouflages them as to, as to hide them from the viewer. The title, Betrothal, suggests that it has something to do with the relationship between a man and a woman. Although the images in the painting itself are not suggestive enough to either rule out one explanation or to suggest that another predominates so that in some ways it’s a very open ended picture that he’s created, one that allows the viewer, him or herself to read it and interpret the different images in a way that, that seems fit. Gorky treats his paint almost as if it’s a watercolor medium. He lays down an initial coat of paint and then applies these almost translucent layers of paint on top of that so that one reads his paint as if one is seeing through an atmosphere.
He also leaves the accidental drips and marks of the paint on the canvas. Uses them to create other forms and in that way very much served as a precursor to the abstract expressionists who followed and who took advantage of the, the accidental markings of the paint as, in fact, the subject matter, in some cases, of their art.