Black and Blue

Ron Gorchov
Cheim & Read
Through April 28, 2012

Endurance is a character trait often overlooked in an artist. Ron Gorchov, who is exhibiting new paintings at Cheim & Read, is definitely a marathoner in the art world, and one to whom more attention should be given. Born in 1930, Gorchov has lived and worked in New York since the early '50s, where he had his first solo show in 1960, was included in the Whitney's Thirty American Painters Under Thirty-Six, and was friends with Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. His most recent museum exhibition, in 2006 at PS1, garnered the attention and support of Vito Schnabel and The Brooklyn Rail publisher Phong Bui, who curated this current exhibit. 

Part of the continued interest in Gorchov's work can be attributed to his signature canvas constructions, where the canvas is stretched and roughly stapled over a precisely crafted wooden armature in a shield or saddle-like shape. Linen or canvas is stretched tenuously around the frame's edges, drawing attention to the artifice of the painting, and creating tension between the work's surface and the usually unseen construction of the stretcher bars. The viewer is drawn to look at the revealed sides and support of the frame, like a magician performing an elaborate card trick and then telling you how it was done. Gorchov draws us in with his sensual yet severe abstraction, then reminds us that painting is just an illusion after all.

It is this duality of image and structure that is the basis of Gorchov's painterly project. Responding to the predetermined structure of the canvas, he delicately layers and abrades the surface, creating a rich, pentimenti ground. Over this he deploys a two-handed technique to paint ovoid, amoeba-like shapes, which often resembled bruises on the surface of the bowed paintings. In his past works these shapes were often mirror images: the shape on the left was painted with his left hand, the right one with the right hand."Artemesia" (2011) with two blue lozenges is a prime example of classic Gorchov. "Adonis" (2010) and "Thersites Chastened" (2012) are Gorchov 2.0: the first, a shield shaped canvas with two ochre shapes that bring to mind Kouros sculpture, stately yet obliquely balanced; the second, a saddle-type canvas, with a roughly textured impasto ground, show him expanding upon the parameters of his formula.

Two other works in the show explore the possibilities of the shaped canvas:"Pegasi" (2012) and "Tan Seti" (2012). Stacked six panels high, in an overlapping, scalloped tower, these two works bear passing resemblance to a spine, or planetary rings, or some other lines of geometric structure. In "Pegasi," the colored panels are white/black/red/blue/yellow/green. We might be tempted to read them as the colors of the chakras—reinforcing our notion of a spine-themed reading of the work. The ochre/teal/rust/evergreen/light blue/pink of "Tan Seti" is more of a geological core sample or, read horizontally, light reflecting off of lapping waves. In either case, it really matters little if we miss the mark—Gorchov's work is all about careful planning and OG painterly painting. He is building spaces for our imaginations to wander around in. - Bradley Rubenstein


Cheim & Read is at 547 West 25th Street in New York, New York.

Mr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.