Born in Turkey around 1900, Vosdanik Adoian escaped the massacres of Armenians in 1915 only to watch his mother die of starvation and his family scatter in their flight from the Turks. Arriving in America in 1920, Adoian invented the pseudonym Arshile Gorky-and obliterated his past. Claiming to be a distant cousin of the novelist Maxim Gorky, he found work as an art teacher and undertook a program of rigorous study, schooling himself in the modern painters he most admired, especially Cézanne and Picasso. By the early forties, Gorky had entered his most fruitful period and developed the style that is seen as the link between European modernism and American abstract expressionism. His masterpieces influenced the great generation of American painters in the late forties, even as Gorky faced a series of personal catastrophes: a studio fire, cancer, and a car accident that temporarily paralyzed his painting arm. Further demoralized by the dissolution of his seven-year marriage, Gorky hanged himself in 1948.
A sympathetic, sensitive account of artistic and personal triumph as well as tragedy, Hayden Herrera's biography is the first to interpret Gorky's work in depth. The result of more than three decades of scholarship-and a lifelong engagement with Gorky's paintings-Arshile Gorky traces the progress from apprentice to master of the man André Breton called "the most important painter in American history."
In this remarkable biography of the elusive artist, Hayden Herrera observes this driving force of Noguchi's creativity as intimately tied to his deep appreciation of nature. As a boy in Japan, Noguchi would collect wild azaleas and blue mountain flowers for a little garden in front of his home. As Herrera writes, he also included a rock, "to give a feeling of weight and permanence." It was a sensual appreciation he never abandoned. When looking for stones in remote Japanese quarries for his zen-like Paris garden forty years later, he would spend hours actually listening to the stones, scrambling from one to another until he found one that "spoke to him." Constantly striving to "take the essence of nature and distill it," Noguchi moved from sculpture to furniture, and from playgrounds to sets for his friend the choreographer Martha Graham, and back again working in wood, iron, clay, steel, aluminum, and, of course, stone.
Throughout his career, Noguchi traveled constantly, from New York to Paris to India to Japan, forever uprooting himself to reinvigorate what he called the "keen edge of originality." Wherever he went, his needy disposition and boyish charm drew women to him, yet he tended to push them away when things began to feel too settled. Only through his art—now seen as a powerful aesthetic link between the East and the West—did Noguchi ever seem to feel that he belonged.
Combining the personal correspondence of and interviews with Noguchi and those closest to him—from artists, patrons, assistants, and lovers—Herrera has created an authoritative biography of one of the twentieth century's most important sculptors. She locates Noguchi in his friendships with such artists as Buckminster Fuller and Arshile Gorky, and in his affairs with women including Frida Kahlo and Anna Matta Clark. With the attention to detail and scholarship that made her biography of Gorky a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Herrera has written a rich meditation on art in a globalized milieu. Listening to Stone is a moving portrait of an artist compulsively driven to reinvent himself as he searched for his own "essence of sculpture."