Ron Gorchov’s painting “Serapis” looms like a guardian over those who enter the artist’s current exhibition at Nicholas Robinson Gallery. “Serapis” is unmistakable as the work of any other painter than Gorchov. At 14 feet in height, it is composed of four of his concave and rounded “saddle” canvases, slightly scalloped from the bottom up. In form, “Serapis” recalls Gorchov’s monumental works of the ’70s, “Set” and “Entrance,” which made similar use of multi-colored monochrome canvases arranged into freestanding totems anchored by cables strung through the backs of their heavy wooden frames.
Serapis was a syncretic Hellenistic-Egyptian god. Syncretism is the practice of melding disparate or contradictory beliefs into a single philosophical system. Gorchov’s work, which has always blurred the line between sculpture, architecture, and painting, is perfectly represented in this title (which is equally evocative of the artist’s singular devotion to a visceral and vital painterly method throughout decades often hostile to this preference). What, but a synthesizing mind, could allow for such constancy? This is one of the most striking things about Gorchov’s work: it combines a gestural expressiveness with an evenhanded cool (and a shaped canvas), elements associated with different, often opposed movements in 20th-century painting. No wonder: Gorchov, a fifty-year veteran of New York, has been around to see these approaches come and go.
Gorchov’s imagery exudes the earthy scent of antiquity, even as his idiosyncratic supports speak to 21st-century preoccupations. The paintings at Nicholas Robinson are consistent with the imagery the artist has been employing for decades. Gorchov floats two to four loosely painted elements on an atmospheric ground. The forms, when evenly distributed, may evoke the post and lintel structure of classical architecture. Otherwise they recall fragments of bone and pottery or glimpses of landscapes and clouds; it is an imagery deriving strictly from things, not concepts, and in this evokes the work of younger painters such as Chris Martin and Peter Acheson. Each of Gorchov’s paintings relies for its particular effect on the balance struck between the imagery and the rounded form of the supports.
Other than a quiet (seemingly by choice) decade around the millennium, Gorchov has had frequent exhibitions in New York since the early ’60s, often at excellent venues. Despite some promising attention from recent exhibitions with Vito Schnabel and at P.S. 1, or, more importantly, the increasingly large influence of his work on a generation of painters still in their twenties and thirties, Gorchov’s level of renown has yet to reach the canonical level. This is likely due to the hybrid style to which he has committed himself. He cannot be shoehorned into a singular movement of 20th-century painting. In other words, the sheer uniqueness of his project has so far prevented his being elevated to the iconic status he deserves. Perhaps it is better so. The full-bodied swaths of time condensed into these paintings should not be flattened into the singular dimension of an icon. “I don’t know if many artists thought about picking their time,” said Gorchov, in a recent interview in these pages. “But I’d like it to be now.” Touché. Perhaps a new sort of art-historical category shall have to be invented for Ron Gorchov.