Interview with Allan Gorman
All art submitted by Allan Gorman. Published interview can be found here.
Allan Gorman is a realistic oil painter born in 1947 in Brooklyn, New York. He spent about 40 years as a marketing consultant and graphic designer, and made the switch to full-time professional artist in 2013. His art reveals his intrinsic fascination with machines and industry, subjects not typically exalted for their artistic merit. Nevertheless, Gorman has transformed the mundane into the extraordinary in his work. By highlighting the romance, mystery, and visual tension of manufactured objects, Gorman invites his audience to look at the everyday world around them with a new perspective.
Although Gorman seems to have mastered the technique of hyperrealism, he stresses that his work is about so much more than capturing an object in perfect detail. He primarily seeks to unveil the magic hidden in reality, and to showcase the aesthetic quality of subjects like construction beams and interstate overpasses. In a way, his paintings are not so much a perfect rendering of reality, but rather a distortion of reality into something transcendent and beautiful. Gorman photographs visually interesting architecture or machinery as his reference, then transforms these images into paintings. He works primarily in oils, but experiments with other mediums including watercolor and charcoal.
“I ask viewers to share a journey of discovery with me and hope they’ll become as excited and fascinated and moved as I am about the beauty that can be found in what’s often taken for commonplace.”
You’ve self-defined your work as “abstract compositions nested in the guise of realism.” Can you say more on this idea that your art is more abstract than it is realistic?
A number of years ago, while driving in the rain, I found myself stuck behind a few big 18-wheelers on a back road. No way around them, and the wake from the mud flaps kept splashing on my windshield. It was a bit claustrophobic and scary. I was actively searching for something good to paint, and so had the thought: “maybe I could capture that feeling of claustrophobia in a painting?” I tried. But since I was only working from sense memory (couldn’t take any reference photos while driving), it wasn’t a very good painting–not something I would show anyone. But that sparked the idea of big trucks as an interesting subject for painting. I would run around truck stops looking for ideas and taking reference photos and became fascinated with the reflections and designs made by the chrome and structural parts over the actual truck itself. That started a journey of exploring the geometries and tensions created by the shapes of machined objects and the positive and negative spaces.
Since then, my work has continued to evolve and I’ve come to understand that what I choose to depict aren’t the objects per se, but rather the drama that I find within — or created by — those objects. I like to say that “I’m not painting a picture of a thing, I’m painting the dance.”
What aspects of your long-time career in marketing do you think prepared you for your career as an artist?
It certainly helped me understand the difference between the making of art and the selling of art – which are two totally unrelated endeavors.
Forty years in the marketing business led me to understand that for a brand to be successful, it needs to be perceived as a more attractive alternative for the people who engage with it. In other words, you have to find out what might make the customer think “it’s better over there – I really want that!” Following that logic, if you want to succeed commercially as an artist, you might want to do research into what could make a potential customer love your art, and then make art to address their desires. But then, even if you make more money, you’d just be making commercial art. And I don’t believe that’s the reason why artists create art.
As an artist, I think you need to define success on your own terms – not on what you think a customer or a gallery might like. As I mature, I care less and less about what others may think, and simply try to challenge myself to grow with each new effort. If people like it, that’s great. If they don’t, that’s okay too. The important thing is, did I give it my best shot? If the answer is “Yes!”, to me that’s success. These days, I’m doing the best work I’ve ever done, and am happier than I’ve ever been.
Can you tell us about your artistic process and mediums, and specifically about how you use the camera as a tool?
When I’m working on a series of paintings, I establish certain criteria to define what the series will be about. I’ve just started a new body of work that will push abstract compositional elements more than I have before by combining large, formal flat fields of color as a design element, juxtaposed against realistically rendered pictorial areas. (See: “Shadows on the Lobby Wall”)
Once I’m fixated on an idea, I’ll constantly be on the lookout for things that I’ll be able to photograph and use in a new painting. I’ll take hundreds of shots. Then edit and compose my “blueprint” on the computer to create and print out a mock-up of what the final painting will look like.
When it’s time to paint, I project the image onto the support of my choice. The size will be determined by what feels right for the composition, not necessarily by the confines of a pre-determined, off-the-shelf size. For bigger works, I’ll work on un-stretched linen, taped to a flat wall. I’ll mount them later – after they’re dried and varnished.
Your ability to find beauty in subjects whose artistic value is often overlooked seems to be one of your defining characteristic as an artist and as a person. What has your experience been with encountering art in the places you least expect it? Do you think any other aspects of your life or your personality influence your ability to see beauty in the commonplace?
The joy of dumping a bunch of silverware into a washing machine rack and saying to myself “Hey, look at that!” has no parallel. I think that everything about my experiences and my personality shapes the way I process and see things. I’ve trained myself to look at details ever since I was a young child and I guess I’ve gotten pretty good at it – and I love being able to share that perspective with others. But isn’t that the same for a lot of artists?
Can you tell us a little bit about your current exhibit at 350 Bleecker, NYC?
The show at 350 Bleecker features work from my Under the El series. This started as another “happy discovery” experience that happened while I was visiting art galleries in the River North District of Chicago. I looked down the end of the street and there was this rusted and crusty infrastructure of the elevated train line that made me think: “Hey, look at that!” For the past couple of years, I’ve been systematically making photo safaris to all the elevated lines in NYC – there’s plenty of material to explore there. The show features seven paintings and three graphite drawings and runs until March 10, 2018.
What accomplishment or exhibition are you most proud of, and why?
A couple of years ago, my good friend and fellow artist Jan Nelson reached out to me to help him curate a show at the Nicole Longnecker Gallery in Houston, TX. Because I was excited about the Under the El paintings and Jan was working on some cool stuff from a Salmon Cannery, we took the opportunity to mount a show called Industrialism in the 21st Century. The exhibit featured ten artists and photographers from across the US and Canada whose work carries on the tradition of early 20th Century Precisionism started by artists like Charles Sheeler, Ralston Crawford, Charles DeMuth, et. al. It was a joy rounding up some great artists and artwork, creating a beautiful catalogue, and seeing such a great turnout in such beautiful gallery.
What advice do you have for aspiring artists trying to navigate the art world for business opportunities?
Keep exploring to find your own “truth” in your art – regardless of what others have to say. The artists we all admire the most are the ones who have the courage to let their own integrity and spirit shine through. You can’t hide who you are, so make it your life-long mission to be the best “you” you can possibly be. And get out there! Build your community. Participate. Use every tool at your disposal to expose your work to as many as you can.
What would you most like people to take away from viewing your art?
I hope that my artwork brings joy to the viewers, lifts their spirit, makes them think, and invites them to see the world around them a little differently.