description of Enigmatic Combat by Arshile Gorky

This three-foot-tall, four-foot-wide, abstract oil painting features thick black outlines and cloisonné color, like a stained glass window. The canvas has been broken down into dozens of separate, overlapping shapes, some of which are vaguely representational. A face resembling an artist’s palette can be discerned near our upper left, and a large capsule-shaped object with triangular eyes and an open mouth occupies the bottom half of the canvas. Both above and below this creature are triangular shapes which might represent teepee-style conical tents. The forms are filled with intense greens, yellows, and golds, as well as large amounts of white pigment, which gives the canvas a bright, luminous quality. The paint is uniformly thick, and the artist’s brush marks are evident, giving the canvas a waxy texture.

Arshile Gorky, Enigmatic Combat, 1936-1937
Arshile Gorky, Enigmatic Combat, 1936-1937; oil on canvas, 35 3/4 in. x 48 in. (90.81 cm x 121.92 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Jeanne Reynal; © The Arshile Gorky Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Arshile Gorky, Enigmatic Combat, 1936-1937

Artwork Info

Artwork title
Enigmatic Combat
Artist name
Arshile Gorky
Date created
oil on canvas
35 3/4 in. x 48 in. (90.81 cm x 121.92 cm)
Date acquired
Collection SFMOMA
Gift of Jeanne Reynal
© The Arshile Gorky Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Permanent URL
Artwork status
On view on floor 2 as part of Open Ended: Painting and Sculpture Since 1900

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