Nathlie Provosty for Brooklyn Rail - 2 April 2014
In his typically charming and laissez-faire manner, the artist Ron Gorchov, when asked to conduct a public presentation of his watercolor work within the container of his concurrent show at Lesley Heller Workspace, instead invited his friend Nathlie Provosty to spare him the preparation and engage in a conversation, which she did with great pleasure. The conversation took place on October 2, 2013, and what follows is an edited version that incorporates some of the robust audience participation.
Nathlie Provosty (Rail): On the occasion of a watercolor show I thought I would ask you about water, wetness, liquidity, and fluidity. When you moved to New York in 1953, your first job was as a lifeguard and swimming instructor, and it seems that you’ve had an affinity for wetness, in a way. Was there a certain point in your life when you wanted to make your life or your paint more fluid?
Gorchov: I never thought about that. [Laughter.] But it’s a very good theory. I do like very thin, wet paint. When I was young I worked through all the different ways to paint. I used pasty paint and built it up. I fell in love with Matisse’s way of using very little paint. I liked the elegance of using thin paint. When I was really young and painting, I really didn’t have a way that I knew I could put paint down. I hadn’t figured out what I liked. I didn’t want to lean towards subjective motivation, where the brush stroke is totally subjectively motivated. I wanted to be more like a sign painter, where it was objectively motivated. In other words, I wanted to know where the paint was going. I made a decision, I thought, that’s the kind of artist I wanted to be.
Rail: Did you make that decision off the bat?
Gorchov: Through a long amount of thought. I feel like the subjective element—where you have an impulse to put the paint down and you know where it’s going—that impulse, and the feeling you have when you’re putting it down, gives the work life. But I didn’t want to make that the main issue.
Rail: You say impulse creates life in the work, and you chose to be a lifeguard, which is an interesting position in that it’s a job that has pleasure and leisure, and a constant threat of life or death situations.
Gorchov: Oh there’s no leisure. We were always at the beach; we were always afraid of having a case we would lose. I have to say, I really feel like a big success as a lifeguard because I did it for a long time. I did it when I was 15 because the service men were still away for World War II so they were hiring younger: if you were over six feet tall and you were 15, you could get a job. So, we never said anything, but we were always happy at the end of the season and we didn’t lose a case. On the beach you have many cases where you have to pull people out.
Rail: Do you think there’s any parallel between that and making a painting?
Gorchov: I never thought of it. No, I don’t. I wasn’t a great swimmer, but I was an okay swimmer. I swam in competitions in high school. It was a job that I liked because I could stay in shape, and it was outdoors. I think people think that guys become lifeguards for the girls, but I didn’t do that.