New York

Ron Gorchov

Fischbach Gallery

If clumsiness is primarily a by-product of Humphrey’s articulate use of too much paint, it is the modus operandi of Ron Gorchov. Gorchov had his first New York show since 1966 this spring. Unlike Humphrey, he is explicitly involved with physical gesture, with a personalized mark and style of drawing which extends itself into a painted surface. Yet gesture occurs within a very restricted format, and it is this format which accounts for much of the clumsiness. Gorchov paints on an awkwardly shaped canvas, generally rectangular, but which curves out on the horizontal and in on the vertical. (This means that the top and bottom of the canvas are further forward than the center section which in turn is further forward than the sides.) He paints with two colors, one for most of the surface and another for two marks which he makes in the middle of the surface, painting the right mark with his right hand, the left with his left. The shaped surface and this method of two-handed painting, the strangeness of some of his marks are what I call clumsy. They give his work a primitive quality which is powerful; these are raw pictures, a little like Matisse in their blunt hedonism.

Right now, this format works for Gorchov and he proceeds to reveal its potential through the variety of his paintings. All of them are quite different. The relationship between the colors and between the marks and the rest of the surface is what changes most noticeably from painting to painting, other than the size and proportions of the canvases themselves. In a painting from 1972 called Promise, the marks are streamlined, thin and bulge out at the top and bottom. They are black painted over green which shows through around the edges, making them indistinct. The rest of the painting is pale yellow painted over some orange which shows through toward the middle and like the green, adds to this optical fuzziness. The black marks seem to shift on the surface and are hard to locate. Gorchov’s color and its frequent opticality remind me of Larry Poons’s dot paintings. In another painting, Passion, a red horizontal rectangle has two marks, almost circular, which are behind the surface, as if roughly burned through. In a third painting, Comet, a brushy white green (comet color) surface has two wide brown marks which are opaque and solid; they are forward of and more stable than the absorbent surface. A completely different kind of surface tension results in Divine Light, a smaller, narrow painting with an ultramarine surface and sharp yellow marks; both are laid on in a single tight layer and the painting jumps withlight.

Gorchov’s work is open and inviting in the warmth of his color, the vulnerability of his crude marks. Its intimacy is countered by immensity—the marks seem enormous in relationship to the canvas size. And the shaping of the canvas into space means that from a certain distance it envelops your vision, again seeming larger than it actually is. The paintings also envelop you physically, not so much spatially but because they are explicitly bilateral. The canvas forces you into a centered position when viewing it. (As I’ve said before, you really can’t see them from the side or off-center, the stretchers are too weird looking.) You must look at them straight on, confronting the two marks and the surface in the position that Gorchov took to make them. These paintings are exuberant and yet there is something despairing about some of the marks, about the centered quality, about the way the marks do not extend beyond his reach and are obviously related to single static gestures. The despair is also part of the primitive quality of his work. I don’t completely like the childlike aspects of this primitivism, but it is more complicated than that. The paintings remind me of the Barnett Newman line that the first man was an artist. Gorchov’s marks are something like the first marks; they are boisterous and tentative, slightly inarticulate. They seem like the result of an intense search, the first or last gesture of someone who wants desperately to make art. By clearly establishing the simple static gestures which formed them, Gorchov’s work brings us close to the feeling an artist must have before a blank canvas and the impetus which causes him- to eliminate that blankness.

I have objections to Gorchov’s work right now. The shapes and some of the marks sometimes seem gimmicky to me. I think the format has some problems that need to be worked out. (I also dislike his titles, with the exception of Comet.) Nonetheless, it is a format which enables Gorchov to paint and paint well. And in terms of feeling, these paintings are moving, generous and a little scary, because they remind us about the loneliness of making art.

Roberta Smith