Ron Gorchov has been making paintings on convex saddle shapes for nearly four decades. The forms that result are both optical and mysterious. For Gorchov, these paintings are iconic signifiers of the post-formalist 70s in that they explore an irregular surface – not rectangular – that defiantly plays with abstract figure-to-ground relationships in painting. One might argue that Gorchov rejected the status of finality given to the allover surface. His shapes are linear, as in "Noli Me Tangere" (2011), yet also volumetric, as in "Erato" (2012). In either case, he resists the hard-edge geometric approach, and instead, advocates the biomorphic. They are neither Surrealist in their conception, like those of Hans Arp, nor arial suspensions as in the work of Alexandre Calder. While they are part of the same family, the forms are not sculpture. Rather they conflate in a manner densely flat over thinly painted fields. Beneath these bifurcated, split-zygote forms, a highly articulated surface evolves, often with light dribbles of paint, streams of wet pigment that have wriggled through the surface and dried in place. "Chase Street Lounge" (2011) is painted in oil on linen with two-biomorphic in bright cadmium red that hover against a gray field that paradoxically appears solid. They hold an obdurate presence, which is nearly indefinable. A related painting, "La Piva" (2012), also has linen stretched over wood, but this time instead of two cadmium red shapes, one is red and the other is black. The saddle shape is less vertical in shape and more horizontal. One may ask why the emphasis on the vertical and horizontal aspects of the format of the painterly field in relation to these biomorphic shapes is so important. Why have they become a signature in Gorchov’s painting? This is not an easy question, but I have a few speculations as to why this might be case.
Gorchov is a dedicated abstract painter, and therefore tries to reveal some essence to abstract form. This essence is both optical in its origin and physical in our ability to perceive it. Put another way, Gorchov is interested in the material surface of a painting. He gives the field of each painting a certain light touch, a definitive light, as the abstract biomorphic aspects of the work are inevitably consistent with one another. One may ask why is consistency essential to abstract painting? Or why is consistency in painting so important for Gorchov? I think the answer is not so complicated. As long as I have been acquainted with Gorchov’s work, which goes back to the late 70s, and as long as I have known Gorchov the painter –which begins in the mid-80s –his approach to abstract painting has remained complex, but not complicated. The difference is not unlike saying that his work carries ambiguity without being vague.
"Thersites (Chastened)", 2012. Oil on linen, 34.75 x 42.25 x 8.75 inches. Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York
More precisely, he knows where he is going without imposing his intentions – not even on himself. I would say Gorchov is as open and clear as any painter I have meant. His idea is his image, and his image is his idea. In recent years he has taken the saddle form – that he employs to accentuate the perceptual aspect of how we see form in painting – as if to ask: "Why does painting require a rectangle?" Gorchov does not paint in the laboratory sense of trying to prove something. Rather he simply states that the convex saddle is closer to how we perceive than the hardened rectangle. This is the given in his work, and he moves ahead from there, often with extraordinarily lyrical results. "Eurydice" (2012) would be a clear example.
The exhibition at Cheim & Read is sparsely hung – a little too sparse from my point of view – but it does allow for a more fluid and focused sense of contemplation without interference. This process is always a matter of adjustment. There are many factors at play, many elements to juggle, as the curator, Phong Bui, clearly knows. The handsome catalog is staple-stitched and over-sized, yet perfect for this type of gallery exhibition. Unfortunately, it does not include the two “stack” paintings – completed shortly before the opening -- that hang in the large gallery where separate slabs of dripping color are mounted vertically together. They could be studies for a monumental-style work, such as what appeared at the Robinson Gallery, maybe three years ago. Even so, they each hold a sense of completeness as if countering the tight modular aluminum and galvanized stacks of sculptor Donald Judd that project outward architectonically within the space. In Gorchov’s case, the canvas saddles cling to one another, while projecting a diversity of color relations. In either case, there is a point that suggests a Modernist difference between what painting and sculpture can do when artists play attention to extending the medium – as Gorchov has superbly accomplished – without demeaning the premises of what painting is still capable of achieving.
"Chase Street Lounge", 2011. Oil on linen, 43 x 36 x 9.25 inches. Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York