Thursday, July 21, 2011

R.C. Gorman: A Ramble Through Indian Time and Space (1984)

Legend has it that R.C. Gorman's life as an artist began when he was a hungry little Navajo boy, drawing with a stick in the wet sand of Canyon de Chelly. His undeniable talent, his urge to express himself and transcend the aesthetic, cultural and economic bonds of his childhood, have carried him to his current status as our most visible, successful, and influential Native American artist.
            Gorman's art has brought joy--and perhaps even a measure of comfort--to his vast number of collectors. Through lithography, his principal medium of the last decade, he has provided tens of thousands of people with that serene but indomitable image of the Indian woman, the personification of grace and strength, of female function and form. She serves as a root with the past, in an age that sometimes seems frantic for roots.
            Though the theme is essentially the same, Gorman's lithographs have changed dramatically since those first tentative, spare works pulled with Jose Sanchez in Mexico City in the late '60s. From his strict reliance on the patented, sensuous Gorman line, the lithographs have developed into full-blown scenes of sophisticated color, fine drawing detail, and dramatic light effects. Apparently, he has returned to the aesthetic concerns of his youth when, as his father, Carl Gorman, says, "R.C. painted in a photographic style, painting every eyelash."
            He has produced a prodigious amount of work, close to 300 lithographs, an uncounted number of drawings and paintings, and sculpture, silkscreens, woodblock and cast paper prints, ceramics, tapestries.... Always his own best promoter, effervescing at hundreds of openings, book signings receptions and celebrity dinners from Heidelberg to Hong Kong, Gorman has insured his own success.
There has been a price, however. Visiting him in his mansion north of Taos, he appeared bone-tired and bored, in need of a long rest.

Do you feel like talking today, Gorman?
I don't know. There's nothing new happening. I'm sort of semi-retired. I haven't been traveling, I've got my show schedule down to a minimum. I'm just enjoying my house.
Is this semi-retirement temporary, or will you like it and make it permanent?
Who knows. I'm just enjoying myself being lazy.
Have you cut back in the number of lithographs you're doing?
I have to fulfill my contracts, but even there, they come up here to me, so I don't have to go down to the studios so much. [Gorman does most of his printing with Western graphics in Albuquerque, Houston Fine Art Press in Houston, and Origins Press in Tubac, Arizona.] I'm asked to do a lot more shows, but I just can't.
What are you doing besides enjoying your house?
Eating. [Laughter] Oh, no, I'm staying here and entertaining friends, and working as casually as I can. I have a new model, Darlene Track, we get together for drawing sessions. And I'm going back to painting, that takes longer. I'll just take it easy and see how much I accomplish within the year. Painting is nothing new for me....
But you're going to concentrate more on painting than you have in recent years?
I'm going to try. It depends on how bored I get.
How do you feel?
I feel fat as a pig.... Good. I'm swimming. It's bad for my skin and hair, but I'm swimming [laughter].
You're so vain!
            Yes. Well, I have only myself to look at. Did you see me on tv the other day? PM magazine did a national thing. They put together all the various segments they've done on me, and re-edited it. I looked frightful, and yet I was clever, I thought. [Laughter] I've juried a couple of shows lately, a children's art show here in Taos, and one for students at Highlands University in Las Vegas [NM]. That was something different for me. I didn't get paid, they sent me a box of empanaditos.
Have you done any painting in the last couple of months?
Have you been thinking about specific paintings you might do?
Yeah, I'm thinking about doing one based on that pastel on the easel [a seated woman in a red robe].
What's the attraction of painting?
Oh, I think you can work slower at it, it's an entirely different feeling. I do large works when I paint, they take up a lot of space, so I'm having to be very choosy about where I show them.
Do you think that, in terms of your career, it's time to go back and do more large paintings? You've done so many lithographs, and to a broad audience, that's what you're known for.
Oh, yes, I suppose I should come up with something different like paint. I'm doing the bronzes all along, and I'm thinking about working with Shidoni, making bigger than life-size sculptures. [Pause] Politicians have been bothering me. Every charity clear from Alaska to here wants something.
Do you get tired of that?
I think so. I mean I'm all for the cause, but I think I should be given a choice of what I want to do. I work just like anybody else.
But not everybody else is quite as visible as you are.
You can say that again! I've gained so much weight! [Laughter] I could be a Santa Claus this winter. That would be a new venture on my part.
R.C. Gorman and Elizabeth Taylor lunching at Gorman's, c.1982
Are you an Indian artist?
I think so. [Pause] Yes. And I'm proud of it.
Do you ever think about going beyond that in subject matter, doing things that are at least less obviously Native American?
Painting seascapes and landscapes, that sort of thing? I doubt it. It's funny, a lot of artists who don't want to be considered Indian artists, that's the only subject they paint. I think I'm pretty well satisfied with what I'm doing.
Fritz Scholder goes to New York and paints the Empire State Building. You don't have any desire to do something like that?
He's trying to get away from the label Indian Artist. I wouldn't do that. The Empire State Building wouldn't interest me to begin with.
What will you be doing ten years from now?
Maybe I'll truly be retired. I don't think that far ahead, maybe just a year at a time. I hope I'm still working. [Pause] I saw Randy Lee White's show the other day [at the Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe]. It was really great, so well-ordered. Very well presented. I think he will emerge as one of the leading artists in the area.
What else have you seen that you like?
Armond Lara, but I've always liked him. I think he's been a little too sophisticated for the area. [Long pause]
Who are you going to vote for next week?
Oh dear, I don't think I can tell. I'm splitting my vote. I'm really still thinking about it.
The country seems to have gotten quite conservative.
Yeah, I'm not really politically minded, except locally. [Long pause]
Let's jump around a little here and do some word associations. Taos.
My home.
Ah...dear. I guess they're a necessity. [Laughter]
Ronald Reagan.
He should make another movie. Born too Late.
Bare feet.
Dear...bare feet. I don't know what to think. I just think of myself, my closeness to the earth.
Canyon de Chelly?
Oh, something beautiful from my past.
Mercedes Benz.
A good car. [Laughter] Should be government issue.
Andy Warhol.
He should be having this interview.
Pablo Picasso.
Somebody said to me on television two weeks ago, that if Pablo Picasso were alive today, he'd probably be called the R.C. Gorman of Europe. [Laughter] R.C. Gorman of Europe.
[Much laughter] My sister.
Salvador Dali. Your brother? [More laughter]
I met him once, in an elevator. I was asked to go visit him in Spain. I went there, but I never did visit him. Now I think it's too late. We're both getting too old.
Ha! A four letter word.
Oh, something people decorate their house with and women put on their face.
Spider Woman.           
She's my theme. She tells me what to do. Spider Woman, I guess, is all women.
Who is she?
Well, according to Navajo mythology, she's the one who gave women the secret of weaving. In a way, she gives knowledge. [Looking out the window] There's my swimming pool girl.
She cleans your pool?
Yeah, I have mostly women working around here.
Lamb is our national dish on the Navajo reservation. I can only look at it as something that is served to me as a lamb chop.
It's been a good year.
It's too far back to remember.
I'm looking forward to it. I hope I will be here to enjoy it.
Oh, I don't know.
No images? Water.
Nothing that would make sense.
I don't care.
Swimming pool.
Keep them three feet away from me. They carry disease. [Laughter]
My favorite color.
Has it always been?
This week.
Thinking of that shawl there [the red robe on the woman in the drawing on his easel]?
What was your favorite color as a kid?
I did most everything in black and white.
Your father [artist Carl Gorman] didn't give you paints?
No, he wasn't around. [Pause] I'm fiddling around more now with ceramics, editions and originals [with Grycner Studios]. The trouble with originals, we're not able to keep any because they're taken right off. I enjoy that [ceramics] very much. My father's book is coming out. It's called Carl Gorman's World [by Henry and Georgia Greenberg, UNM Press]. I'm going to have a reception for him.
Anything else?
I've been entertaining visitors. They've been dropping in from all over. This week, a young artist from Horse Heads, New York is here. Nobody knows where it is. He's an artist who just wanted to drop in. Then I'm having another one from Alaska in December. So I've been busy, giving parties. Gave one for the Duke and Duchess of Albuquerque. They've invited me to Spain, I might just take them up on it. I love Spain, I love being someplace, being in Spain, being in Japan, being in Honolulu. I love being in New York for a little while, but getting there disturbs me. I can't sit still so long. [Laughter] I'm dreading the idea that...a new book is coming out on me, and I'll have to go on the road and promote it. [Gorman's house guest entered] Oh, this is Tom Paine. He's learning how to cook with Rose [Gorman's housekeeper].

            [The artist picked up the new book on his father, and we leafed through it, laughing at pictures--little Rudy bathing in a wash tub, the startlingly handsome young artist in his Mexico City studio in the early '60s, surrounded by his surrealist paintings of that time.]
I've emerged from a lot of different styles. A long time ago, I did a lot of abstracts, and a lot of mythological paintings, everything from unicorns to some of the Navajo myths. One thing I might try and do again, my Rug Series, that was a big joy to me. Pretty messy.
You've done an awful lot of work in the last ten years. It seems to me you deserve to be a little bored for a while.
I think so too. I deserve not to have to do anything at all. I've sort of done it all, so I'll go at a slower pace. [Pause] I've had several interviews this week, one for the Continental Airlines magazine, and the Albuquerque Journal is doing something, so I keep busy.
You must be especially bored with interviews.
Oh...the Albuquerque Journal just wanted to know about some of the celebrities who come in and out of the house. They're making some kind of stir about that. Continental Airlines is doing something on my house, so that sounds interesting--as long as they don't give me a word association test!   November, 1984

R.C. Gorman died in 2005. He was 74.

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