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Sunday, January 1, 2012

R.C. Gorman

Gorman with Gorman self-portrait
It's a trite expression to refer to someone as a "legend in their own time." Dali and Picasso undoubtedly deserved such a distinction, along with American artists Norman Rockwell, Jackson Pollock, Georgia O'Keefe and a few others. Let me add to that list a name with which many people won't be familiar--Rudolph Carl Gorman. Known as R.C., there was nothing about the name to suggest his Navajo background or his thirty years of artistic achievement in Southwestern Art. Indeed, today, collections of his work cut across geography and Native American subject matter with admirers all around the world. To add yet another trite designation to his persona, many have called him the "Picasso of American Indian Art," or sometimes the "Navajo Picasso." He confessed to being somewhat startled the first time he heard the phrase, but it was not something to which he objected or gave much thought. In fact, it may be more PR than fact, in that there is little in his many styles or subject matter that even remotely resembles Picasso. Perhaps the only valid comparison would be that like Picasso, he had many styles and tried nearly ever artistic medium known to man.

Woman with Shawl, 1980, R.C. Goman
R.C. was always flippant when asked about his influences. "I'm a genius. I've never been influenced by anyone or anything. Then he would ramble on to list Dali, O'Keefe, Rivera, Siqueiros, Orozco, and a half-dozen others who "inspired" him. His training was as varied as his inspirations, from Northern Arizona University, to Guam Territorial Collage, along with extensive studies in Mexico where he picked up a background in Spanish Academic art. During the early 1960s Gorman lived and worked in San Francisco--worked at the post office, lived on almost nothing, and moonlighted as a Native American model, though he noted that his services were often more in demand minus his native American garb. Perhaps as a consequence of this, Gorman always worked from live models himself. His most consistent subject was the Navajo woman whom he drew and painted in nearly every conceivable circumstances from seductress to septuagenarian.

Seated Navajo, 1978, Bronze, R.C. Gorman
Though originally a painter, R.C. Gorman's work can be found in media as diverse bronze sculpture, lithographs, monoprints, ceramics, etchings, charcoal, and cast paper, as well as oils, acrylics, and watercolor. In 1968 he purchased his own gallery in Taos, New Mexico, where he became something of a living breathing symbol of this overwhelming "arty" community. He was also something of a tourist attraction. For years, he lived and worked "on display" from his gallery, where he signed autographs like a movie star. In later years, he warmly greeted perfect strangers from a solitary table in his favorite eating establishment. As his reputation grew, Gorman became a one-man industry, a tribute to his marketing genius as well as his art. He employed a retinue of accountants, managers, PR agents, sales reps, printers, craftsmen, and various assistants. He liked to tell stories about of meeting American presidents and sharing an elevator with (and being recognized by) Salvador Dali. Gorman came to Taos in 1964. Eventually he bought a lavish mansion on the outskirts of town where he lived and worked and, like many of us, fought off the bane of all artists--laziness. Given his international fame, many were surprised when he took up permanent residence in Taos. Gorman reminded them that he owned a small cemetery next door to his home which boasted a modest marker with his name on it. Today, he's taken up residence beneath it. He died in 2005 at the age of 74.
Three Women, 1985, painted Vase, R.C. Gorman
(only two of the three figures are visible in photo)

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