Ron Gorchov: A Conversation at Lesley Heller Workspace; A Lesson on Creative Process

RonGorchov.10.2013Last evening Lesley Heller welcomed artist Ron Gorchov for an artist talk. Gorchov is currently featured in a solo exhibition at Lesley Heller’s Workspace. Born in Chicago in 1930, he is recognized for working with curved surfaces, and shaped canvases.  He is also known for speaking with facile wisdom about the Creative Process, and his relationship with it.  His painting career began at the age of fourteen at the Art Institute of Chicago where he began taking classes.  He landed in the New York art scene in 1960.  According to Artnet, his first solo show was at the prominent Tibor de Nagy Gallery, in New York.  His work is in the public collections of the Whitney, Guggenheim, and The Detroit Museum of Art just to name a few.

I arrived early to the talk, I even had time to stop for a pick-me-up artisanal iced coffee (I didn’t want to miss a word of what this Master would have to say).  It’s a good thing too, because Heller’s space was packed… standing room only for the latecomers.  Chairs were appropriately crescent set in the narrow central of the gallery.  Gorchov would talk foregrounding the immediate space of some of his works.

Gorchov chose a more conversational approach to the talk, asking his friend, and artist Nathlie Provosty to be his interviewer.  Aside from this gentle man beautifully possessing the gift of creativity, I can see why so many came to hear him speak.  He opened up the room by explaining that he wanted this to be participatory, and why he chose Nathlie:  She is a friend, he also admires her work as an artist.  At some point in their friendship they took a drive to upstate New York, they had a lovely conversation… and she’s a good driver!  [Warm laughter fills the room.]

Nathlie conducted a wonderful dialogue, creating a rich context with points of reference ranging from the artist’s lifelong relationship with water, wetness, and fluidity (his first job in New York City was as a Lifeguard), as well as Roland Barthes, John Graham, and even Keanu Reeves.  The intersubjectivity between the two was rich, there was an easiness about the pleasant exchange of questions and answers.   At a particular moment early on, I noticed Nathlie pushing an idea of relationship to liquidity that wasn’t going anywhere.  Not that Gorchov didn’t oblige, it simply didn’t connect for him.  I only mention it because a moment later she realizes this, and lets it go, moves on, and how apropos that action would be for what was to unfold. I’ve chosen a few highlights of the evening’s conversation, that lasted just over one hour.  [Here I will use interview formats as I see fit.]

Nathlie: You had said in a 2006 interview in the Brooklyn Rail with Rob Stoor and Phong Bui.  A number of your friends are such hard workers, and producers, it must annoy them that my work comes out of leisure.  I wonder what you mean when you say your work comes out of leisure?  I recently read Roland Barthe’s The Pleasure of the Text, and he talks about the difference between leisure and pleasure he said leisure is a social activity, and pleasure is solitary.  I wonder what you mean when you say your painting comes out of leisure.

Ron: …I’ve never had an idea that I’ve consciously tried to figure out, that stays with me. They would come to me for no reason, when I was relaxed.  To me the idea of just hanging around in your studio, having friends around, making coffee, reading a bit, and then you’re on your feet with a brush in your hand—not remembering how you got there.  And then it just happens.  I really think 99% of our lives we live completely unconscious.  

Nathlie:  Last night I saw Keanu Reaves’ new movie Man of Tai Chi…  there’s a certain point when the main character Tiger is about to lose to his arch nemesis, which means death.  His Master gives him wise advice. Then  his enemy tries to provoke him, and said to him that You are nothing.  He closes his eyes, and realized that he was nothing, and then he became very powerful and defeated his opponent.  What you just said about picking up your paint brush, and not knowing how you got there sounds a lot like this non-being space.  Do you resonate with that?

Ron: Yes.  Also one of the great things about painting is that you can have a painting you’re working on, you start trying to figure out what to do with it.  And you don’t have to show up on time, or you can do it when you feel like it.  Musicians have to make performance dates and can’t do that, and Im sure that is why they use drugs!

You also said in the same interview, Nathlie continues, that you’re paintings are made of revery and luck, and what does that mean? Gorchov felt that it’s “extremely abstract… it’s spacing out, its not thinking of anything.” “When you get an impulse,” he continues “and you feel like you know what color what form… whenever you can grasp something it feels to me like life.”

On perfection, that great big myth, Ron Gorchov doesn’t want to be the type of artist that feels he has to make perfect work.  “The illusion is great of perfection.  Like Brâncuși, looks so perfect, but it isn’t.  The bronzes have all kinds of pits.”

One of Gorchov’s creative processes, is to write the time he thinks it will take to complete a work.  Hanging above the work, when he reaches the half point mark, and halves the time written down, each time he gets to that new half way point.  (32, 16, 8, 4, 2, 1) Essentially, he makes his own creative tension on his own terms, even in the face of a real deadline.  Gorchov mentions following his impulse several times over the course of the talk.  Provosty asks him what is the difference between impulse and intuition? “Intuition is where you, the way I would explain it, is when you see things a certain way.” he goes on to explain “I think intuition tends to be wrong, and I mean with all of the impulse control, impulse can be wrong too!”

How important is rationality, and the decisions that go into the paintings. To me it is about the irrational, to me the what strikes me as being art is when it is much better than it should be, in other words you can’t find anything wrong with it, yet something can be really good and nothing is right about it.  Is that relevant to living? Well, Im not known for being that rational.

The interview continues on, perhaps an official audio transcript will be made available. It was a pleasure to take part in last night’s talk… to have this man’s love of creativity fill a room.  It was a meditation.

He speaks in such ease about many things, I’ll leave you with this uncomplicated gem: “I notice consciousness when I feel that a painting is going somewhere, just that feeling that it is going somewhere, that’s great when you feel that.”

Gorchov has an exhibition opening tonight at Vito Schnabel’s new salon at 42 Clarkson Street, New York, 6-8pm.