If you could live with just one work of art, what would it be?
I’m endlessly mesmerised by Arshile Gorky’s painting The Liver is the Cock’s Comb (1944). In this kinetic landscape of memories and experiences, Gorky, a refugee from war-torn Armenia, celebrates life, love and the convergence of myth and reality. The painting never ceases to uplift me, while also inspiring a profound sense of humility and gratitude. How could Gorky, who had seen so much tragedy and experienced such loss, paint such a joyful landscape, and where does that leave those of us whose backpacks of hardships are far lighter?
Which cultural experience changed the way you see the world?
I left Europe for America in 1989 with a diehard determination not to involve myself in matters of art—coming from a lineage of three generations of artists, I felt like Obelix [in the Asterix graphic novels], who was overexposed to the magic potion at an early age. It was not to be. A particularly transformative moment during those years was a visit to MoMA in New York in the autumn of 1991 with my mentor, Professor Joanna Ziegler, and some fellow students. Abstract Expressionism and non-figurative art in all its incarnations became my lifelong passion.
Which writer or poet do you return to the most?
Eino Leino, Finland’s national poet, because he makes this Finno-Ugric tongue sing. He plays the Finnish language like Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello, creating from scratch verbal images and windows that open onto unforeseen yet somehow familiar landscapes.
Do you listen to music or other audio while you’re working?
I listen to music on my daily walk or jog to and from the museum. These soundtracks range from classical to rock, depending on my mood. Listening to music helps me gather my thoughts and decompress. Music also makes me think of others—others who are, have been or might be.
What is art for?
Art in all its various manifestations tells us from where we come, who we are, what we aspire to be and where we might be going. Visual art, despite its historically perceived exclusivity, is for everyone, but unlike music, it speaks to the crowd in a manner that prioritises individual delectation over universalising, shared emotions and collective applause. Visual art empowers the individual to become the poet.
• Buffalo AKG, formerly known as the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, opens on 25 May