On the occasion of his exhibit, Double Trouble at P.S. 1, which will be on view till November 20th, Rail’s Consulting Editor Robert Storr and Publisher Phong Bui paid a visit to Ron Gorchov’s studio in Brooklyn one afternoon to discuss with the painter his life and work.
Phong Bui and Robert Stor for The Brooklyn Rail - 2 September 2006
Robert Storr: Were you ever a student in the conventional sense, or did you paint on your own, moving into the world through a rather unorthodox path?
Ron Gorchov: When I was fourteen I went to Saturday classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. It was in 1944, and a few service men were coming back from WWII at that time. They were taking art classes with great G.I.Bill benefits that paid for art materials. A veteran named Jered Hoffman gave me a paper bag with all his half-squeezed oil paint tubes and a whole bunch of old brushes and he said that they’d be good luck.
Phong Bui: Then you went to college in Mississippi?
Gorchov: I didn’t plan my education. My high school grades were terrible—I read a lot but I hated school. Ol’ Miss was the most unlikely place I could go. The deep south was exotic. I did well in my freshman classes. I went fishing with William Faulkner and friends once when I was down there, so that was a highlight. Anyway, while I was there, because of the horrific racial problem (this was 1947), I was mentally not at all able to think about art; instead I spent a lot of time with people who had more advanced ideas that helped me grasp this intense situation. I was surprised to meet a few such people in a motorcycle club who went further on equal rights and took risks. After spending a year in Mississippi, I went back to Chicago–-Roosevelt College and the Art Institute for academics and art classes.
Storr: When did you come to New York?
Gorchov: We (Joy and my three-month-old son, Michael) landed here in New York with eighty dollars in 1953. We moved immediately into the Marlton Hotel, right across from what was the old Whitney Museum, now the New York Studio School on 8th Street. The next day, there was a listing for lifeguards to test at the 54th Street swimming pool. I went for the test and passed and in less than a week I was working at Coney Island. We found a place near the beach but my paycheck wouldn’t come for almost a month so I sent my family to stay with relatives in Philadelphia for a while until I received a few checks and Joy could get a job. By then I was teaching swimming evenings at the old Summit Hotel across from the Waldorf-Astoria. We moved to a cold-water flat in 12th street between Avenue A and B. It was a small 1st floor with 12 ft ceilings. The room I used for a studio was 64 sq. ft but the high ceiling gave it something extra. I was painting a lot but really I had no idea what I was doing.