Date of birth: 9/9/1964
In his work London born artist John Gorman focuses on the problem of space, 1907-1914. Many of his works highlight the question of cubism and the question of a figurative art.
Self trained and admitted at 16 to the National College of Art and Design (Dublin) John has also studied art history, architecture, philosophy and English literature at both University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin. He now teaches art history and English literature at secondary level.
Awards: Texaco National Art award (1980)
Pewter Medal: Académie des Arts, Sciences et Lettres, Paris, 2020
Grand Prix de la Presse, Galerie Thuillier, Paris, 2020
John Gorman has exhibited in New York (gallery Art Mora), London, Bruxelles, Vienna, many times in Paris (2016-2021), Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing…
He has been selected by MvVO Art to exhibit in New York in 2022 and will participate in Art Shopping Art Fair in October 2021.
Other exhibitions will come in 2022 (Art Mora solo exhibition, New York, and Galerie Thuillier, Paris, for example).
As a PhD art and architecture historian, also graduate in archaeology, I have studied John J Gorman’s work for more than five years. Since his childhood, the artist, born in London in 1964, has created installations, mural paintings, oil on canvas paintings, and several drawings using pastel, charcoal, and a wide variety of pencils. His work is imbued by a great scholarship, as he has studied art and architecture history, mathematics, philosophy, literature and poetry at both University College and Trinity College in Dublin. He also self trained and has been at 16 admitted to the National College of Art and Design in the same town. Andre Malraux’ ‘’Musée Imaginaire” is highly present in his work, which convokes an incredible richness of references, coming as well from the ancient Greeks and Romans, as from medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque art. Fascinated by Masaccio, Michelangelo and Picasso, John J Gorman has explored Cubism through the centuries, and owns a particular sensitivity regarding Jacques Derrida’s writings. His work shows also how he grasps the more recent artists of the second part of the 20th century to nowadays. In current production, he distinguished himself by creations in which line, irradiated by light, charged by the pressure of space, the amazing volumes, and inventiveness, give birth to exquisite and powerful figures, mastered compositions, and are incredibly timeless, as each masterpiece has to be. The art of the greatest masters of all times is, in his work, transposed and transcended, and stretched to nowadays. He also revisits art iconography and keeps inventing new themes, which questions one’s way of seeing and thinking art history. His drawings are both landscapes, paintings, engravings, sculptures, architectures, and he achieves the rare combination to create works which are neither abstract nor figurative. The strength his work owns, its meaning, embody, for me, a great hope for the future of art in the 21st century.
Delphine Costedoat, University of Bordeaux, France
Bathers, graphite, oil pastels on paper, 30x30cm
The title of the work refers us, of course, to Paul Cézanne’s Les Baigneuses, and, thanks to clues gathered from the author, especially to his three Grandes Baigneuses (respectively kept at the Barnes Foundation, the National Gallery, and the Phildelphia Museum of Art, and painted between 1894 and 1906). It is therefore interesting to note the similarities and differences between the works of the pre-Cubist master of Aix and the post-Cubist John Gorman. First of all, while Cézanne’s figures remain, although greatly simplified, quite legible, and flourish in front of a post-naturalist background, those of John Gorman, on the contrary, offer to the eye cut, chopped, collided forms, bodies made of ovals, circles, lozenges, limbs detached from their trunks, and only the silhouette on the right, seated, arms dangling, is easily discernible. In addition, the background is vaguely indicated by a few blue-green streaks. If we look at the faces, those in Cézanne’s three works are often masked but because the figures turn their backs on the viewer, or oversimplified, while those of John Gorman are all hidden under a thick layer of pigment, which is characteristic of the artist’s style. In terms of tonality and luminosity, his work is closer to that of the Barnes Foundation, begun earliest in Cézanne’s life, and differs most sharply from those of the Museum of Art in Phildadelphia, so brightly lit. The National Gallery’s Grandes Baigneuses, which are very abstract and lackluster, are also closer to the artist’s drawing of the twenty-first century, in intention and meaning if not in the choice of colours, which are different in the two works. In fact, although the reference to these last works of the master of Aix is tacitly expressed, John Gorman’s drawing lifts the veil on the avant-gardist movements to which they gave rise, particularly Cubism, therefore, but also on his own work, which is not currently comparable to that of any artist in activity. These very compact compositions, in which the figures press against each other, in a fusion that leads to a kind of sharing of the same bodies and limbs, this crowd that seems innumerable by a trickery effect, when in fact only a handful of models are present, refers once again, and beyond the centuries, more to the works of Michelangelo and his few brilliant successors, of Caravaggio, but also to the medieval bas-reliefs with their religious iconography, or to the Ghiberti or Donatello of the abundant works, then to the marbles of ancient Greece. Thanks to his astonishing mastery, John Gorman multiplies the lines, playing with their different thicknesses and intensities, just as he does with oil pastel, applied in a smooth touch partially on the bodies, or with graphite, determining the striations and hatchings and lines, or dark flat tints as on the heads of the figures. Only the choice of an ochre hue refers to the shades of the Philadelphia Big Bathers. But it is as if John Gorman’s work is still bathed in the faint carver’s glow of northern winters and takes us back to prehistoric times. The overwhelming chain of references and memories that leads us there, at this point in our contemporary history, is both terrifying by the majesty with which the artist of the 21st century plays with our own ‘’homelands”, real or imaginary, our perception, our memories, all singular, and bearer of immense hope for the future of art.
Bacchanalia study 2, 30x30cm, black pencil, pulp paper
This bacchanal, in black and white, is completely different from Watteau’s Fêtes galantes, and rather evokes Goya’s witchcraft scenes, if not in form, at least in spirit. In the foreground, a voluptuous female silhouette, defined by a line that is either thick or very thin and blurred, seems about to slump over the group, she is seen from behind, and her croup is pierced by an evil arrow. Her rare hair is emaciated, as if she were half bald, and her body hangs in the void, except for a fine bumpy line which may evoke a moving ground. Behind her, in the centre, we can see the puffy face, with revolting eyes, of another female figure, her left arm totally abandoned and her breasts. On the left, another woman is tilted over, her arm hanging down, her face with her mouth wide open, seemingly suffering from the throes of agony or the abyss of alcohol. A being of indeterminate sex seems to either hold her down in her fall, or to have strangled her, with his wide slug-like arm. In the background in the centre, two indistinct heads and a vigorous arm emerge from this confusion of bodies, while on the right stands the disturbing silhouette of a man with the head of a bird, threatening. All these worshippers of a dyonisiac or satanic cult mix and intertwine, fragments of bodies also appearing here and there. The deep black and dull white make this drawing look like an old photograph. Little realism though! The lines, all different, the absence of a frame, the delicacy of the line and its variety, the changing textures, everything here is masterfully orchestrated and gives rise to a scene of immense beauty, despite its highly terrifying character.
Executioner, John the Baptist, Salomé. Ink. Khadi paper, 30x30cm
They appear and disappear simultaneously, while the gaze tries to embrace them. Each one of them alone, detached although on the same plane as the others. The executioner and Salome turn away the head of the Baptist, hooded in black, as is fitting for the condemned man. Only the female body is legible for the most part. The other two bodies are emanations of beings. It is a trap for the gaze that reconstitutes the missing or rather non-figurative parts. Towards the god of what celestial hell does the executioner, seen from the side, raise his face and his scarred eyes? His skin is covered with features like scars, more or less densely grouped. It is not the skin of a human, but that of a monster. With a reptilian brain. In the general indifference and coldness, the Baptist stands, a colossal figure, whose fragmented limbs are mentally reconstructed by the spectator, grasping his left arm as if deprived of life and charred, hanging, dead, down to his inert hand. Like the Baptist himself, a living dead man with a sealed fate. Whose immediate past and future are gone with the coldness of disdain. Carefree. For what is to come no longer matters. Is for all already happened. It is this suspended time that space restores. The closeness of the bodies moves them further apart. From the powerful stature, but with flesh and bones as if decomposed, of the Baptist, the central figure, himself scarred, crossed by horizontal hatching like poisoned arrows, emanates, pouring from his head, a series of hard but also blurred waves in the direction of Salome. They reach her at head height, and this is perhaps the only link in this composition between two of its characters. One can of course think here of Giacometti’s attempts, but of a Giacometti who would be like an actualised, of course out-of-date, whose work of capturing the essence of Being would finally be completed, and not doomed to the nothingness in which it remains forever. Once again, John Gorman uses writing as the sole medium in his composition. And the power of his commas, semicolons, dashes, parentheses, inverted commas, combines with his very particular way of drawing letters, vowels, consonants, like musical notes, to give his thoughtful work the only possible character of a work or language endowed with meaning: knowledge. (Wittgenstein).
Europa, 20x20cm, pencil and chalk on paper
The composition shows the broad figure of Europa, which occupies the centre, with her voluptuous hips and thighs revealing her sex, her thighs as if covered with fishnet stockings, her slender waist and small breasts, then, as if lifted from the trunk, her head seen from three-quarters, eyes closed, mouth open, and the start of her left arm and hand hanging down. To his right, an avatar of Zeus is represented, transformed according to the myth into a white bull, in order to approach her without frightening her and escape the jealousy of his wife Hera, on a beach in Sidon (now Lebanon). Let us note immediatly that, contrary to Picasso, the said bull is only represented here by a vaguely anthropomorphic head drowned in a flow of red pigment, only two small pin-headed eyes being perceptible. This head, half human, half monstrous, seems to rest on Europa’s right shoulder blade, while the body tries to wrap itself behind and around that of the princess via a non-figurative curvilinear shape and a series of vigorous red lines that express the ardour of its assault. The colour red is found to the right of the composition, in the form of a simulated frame and/or landscape, as well as to represent the young woman’s nipples and her sex. The pseudo red frame is also used to close the scene, at the height of Europa’s right knee, in the form of a horizontal line which the latter overflows. A bright white colour marks this drawing, probably inspired by the southern light, but the use of blood red puts an end to any harmony between the two protagonists, although it may also indicate the ardour of the sun. When contemplating the iconic face of Europa, one cannot help but imagine her wearing a Phrygian cap, and evoke the equally iconic figure used by Delacroix to represent Greece on the ruins of Missolonghi, one of his masterpieces, and, of course, his Liberty leading the people. John Gorman’s game of veiling and unveiling is thus extremely subtle. First of all, with regard to the figure of Europa, the cow “with a wide gaze” that unites with the “bull” Zeus, the designator of the earth “where the gaze is on the far side” comes from the same root eurús, “wide” and ὤψ / ṓps, “eye, sight”. The “broad-looking” earth is an old epithet of the earth that can be found in several Indo-European traditions: “the broad earth” in Greek, “the broad earth” or simply “the broad” in Sanskrit, and similarly in Germanic languages. This leads us to Heidegger in particular, which strives to make us think together in veiling and unveiling. He uses the German translation, which allows him to interpret the “hiding” of the Heraklian sentence as a “hiding place” as well as a “shelter”; the Phusis, according to the thinker, would like to “shelter” because, in the shelter of the veil, concealment, occultation, are for it the guarantee of “emergence” and “hatching”.Meditating on this co-appropriation between “blossoming” and “occultation” is not a dialectical game, nor a simple apposition of opposites; but, as Heidegger points out, it is a dynamic that forces us to think of occultation and non-being as an essential part of the Phusis (night of day, the war of peace, the scarcity of abundance), which alone guarantees it to be what it is. In this original thought, non-being is constitutive of being, and this is what is thought in the enigmatic Heraclitus sentence, as well as in the status of saying and speech in archaic times.Even more enigmatic is Heidegger’s insistence on presenting the aletheia, not only as needing the occultation to shine (day needs night) what it would be if it were a mere opening, but “as the unveiling of the occultation itself”. The metaphor of light has been banal since Plato, to designate the condition of the possibility of “appearing” it, Heidegger also uses it in this sense, but he notes that this clarity, this free radiation, requires a dimension, a land where it can spread its radiance and where everything can appear. The enlightenment, die Lichtung, is therefore much more the opening that this clarity presupposes, it says not only what is revealed and this very unveiling, but also that other which is not revealed and which remains hidden. The alétheia is thought of as an unveiling of the being and not as a concordance. It turns out that the being can only be unveiled because of a dimension that does not reveal itself. What is essential and enigmatic in John Gorman’s drawing is that the various occultations (the face and body of Zeus, the closed eyes of Europa) conceal themselves. Appearing in all the brightness of the dazzling light, and in all its unity, the princess veils herself and disappears in the same movement, while the god, clearly showing his monstrosity of an anthropomorphic larva, operates in the same way. We return here to the ulterior quest for a sexuality which, approached more deeply than Heidegger’s, “establishes a kind of negotiation and compromise” that “is constantly in progress” and “obliges us to recast Heidegger’s implicit logic”. ”To say that there is divisibility is not the same as saying that there is only divisibility or division (that would also be death). Death [here blood red] lies in wait on both sides, on the side of the fantasy of the integrity of the proper place and the innocence of sexual difference without war, and on the opposite side, that of radical impropriety or expropriation, or even of a Geschlecht war as sexual dissension”. (Derrida, Geschlecht III, ed. du Seuil, 2018).John Gorman, without denying them, takes us here very far (although some kinship is conceivable) from both the terracotta and statuettes of classical Greece and the Abduction of Europa by Titian (1559-1562), from the same scene reinterpreted by Rubens, Giambattista Tiepolo (1730) or Stefano Ricci (1720). The scope of his work and the ardent thought from which it is the fruit, but also plastically, surpasses the avant-gardes of the beginning of the 20th century, and takes us towards an infinite world (as was Europe), both formally and philosophically speaking.
Two women (after Hans Bellmer, 1946), 45x35cm, grqphite
This composition by John Gorman is clearly indicated by the artist as being inspired by a work by Hans Bellmer of 1946, which we cannot identify but of which we know that in 1945-1946 he made several drawings, which were the starting point for two major projects concerning Sade: À Sade and hisPetit traité de morale, published in 1968 by Éditions Georges Visat. In 1946, he also met Georges Bataille through the publisher Alain Gheerbrant, who edited the second version of Histoire de l’œil in July 1947, illustrated by Bellmer with six etchings and burin engravings. Along with André Masson, Bellmer is undoubtedly the illustrator of Bataille closest to the erotic universe and the writer’s thinking. By disrupting the gaze and anatomy, Bellmer, “a true anatomist of desire”, writes Vincent Teixeira, “a master of formal accidents, […] plays with morphology, the sexual powers of the image and the interchangeable differences between male and female, multiplies erotic metamorphoses, operates ‘transformisms’, creates aberrant chimeras.”Indeed, we see in John Gorman’s composition two bodies of women not only superimposed but also closely intertwined. One, at the bottom of the drawing, seems to be standing on her head, her face marked by a poached eye, the other sewn and small, her mouth wide open, and a long bushy hair that is as much a beard, one might say. She stands balanced on one arm, folded up, and the hairs on her underarm are, for once in John Gorman’s work, indicated. The other arm is reduced to a curved line, indicating rather a shoulder, but there is nothing figurative here. Her large breasts, set wide apart, do not seem to suffer from gravity and stand upright, not sagging. Above them we see the buttocks and thighs, which are also widely apart, perhaps also of another woman, if we follow the title, and her vulva. One leg, dressed in fishnet stockings, rises above them, the knee raised and pointed, and then falls into the very fine line which more or less serves as a frame for the scene. The upper left part is marked by what is perhaps the beginning of a breast, well curved, with a nipple only sketched out, as well as by an abundant quantity of graphite: pubic hair then hair? If this leg and this breast belong to the woman in the upper part, everything is thus shifted, broken, crushed, amalgamated, as in the works cited above by Bellmer, and the twinkling of the two figures is pushed to an extreme that the twentieth-century artist, strongly influenced by Surrealism, was never able to reach.
According to John Gorman himself, this drawing is derived more from Sade than from Bataille, although both authors and their illustrated writings can be found here. According to the artist, his references here are also Egon Schiele’s flayed and quartered figures, but also Cézanne’s nudes, and one cannot but agree with his assertions. For my part, I will add Rodin’s most daring drawings, circa 1900, although none of the masters mentioned here, nor Hans Bellmer, reaches such a degree of legible complexity, rough, as the artist says, without any effect or embellishment. The monochromy of the drawing itself, in fact comparable to Bellmer’s engravings, is nevertheless approached quite differently. This work consists only of elementary lines essential to a possible understanding, of graphite flat areas, hard striations, chopped lines, lines that are both soft and stiff at the same time – this wonder being peculiar to John Gorman. It dispenses with all surrealist Bellmerian artifice, but also with all the attributes that Schiele and Rodin attributed to their contorted wives, such as clothing in particular. The fishnet stockings on the left leg are only summarily and deliberately rendered, and we are dealing with a style which, devoid of everything that makes a work gratuitously pretty, appears in a stunning crudeness. In this, yes, it is more in keeping with Cézanne’s later works, and his summary, pre-Cubist, and stingy figures. Needless to say, John Gorman’s drawing retains absolutely nothing of Bellmer’s surrealist style, Surrealism, seductive in poetry, not even being an art form in drawing and painting, in my opinion. Everything here is therefore new, in spite of the claimed references, and the main model, and illustrates the works of Sade more than those of Bataille, the writing of the former being more sober and economical than that of the latter.
So why did John Gorman choose as a starting point an artist so far removed from his usual artistic tastes?
“As well as the preoccupation as a matter of revealing the usable, belongs to discernment, even mutual concern, guided by respect and indulgence.’’, Heidegger says in Being and Time. Can there be better expressions for the consideration of the other than these concepts of regard and indulgence? Probably not, because there is no real relationship with the other until these realities become a priori principles. Thus, if Heidegger writes these concepts in italics, it is no doubt to show that they must be grasped in a fundamental way, from the perspective of fundamental ontology; that they only receive their true moral sense by situating them in it. So the apriority of these concepts presupposes that they are inscribed in the fundamental constitution of the Dasein’s world-being, in such a way that the latter is freed from the particular and negative considerations where, unfortunately and very often, the other is enclosed. May the Dasein that is mine, have respect for the other and show tolerance towards him or her, participate in the fact that I unquestionably share my being-in-the-world with him or her. And I can only reach the blossoming of my being by integrating the other.
Perhaps there is an explanation for John Gorman’s “borrowing” from a real “other”, if not in the literary reference, at least in the artistic style. According to Heidegger, this “respect”, this “tolerance” for/of the other would therefore be a means to access the blossoming of one’s being. Integrating Bellmer’s work while at the same time distancing himself from it, John Gorman would come out of this concern, this necessary otherness, summoned, then transformed, and restored to his own being, in turn enriched by this opening to a world that is foreign to him (style, not Sade, I repeat).
On the other hand, and finally, Bellmer plays on “with morphology, the sexual powers of the image and the interchangeable differences between the masculine and feminine”, which also brings us back to Heidegger, but also to what Derrida, John Gorman’s favourite philosopher, who has long been concerned with this subject in his works, has to say about it. I quote Derrida in his Geschlecht III : “Of course, it is not impossible that the desire for an innumerable sexuality would still come to protect us, like a dream, against an implacable destiny that seals everything in perpetuity with the number 2. And this ruthless closure would stop the desire at the wall of opposition, no matter how much we struggled, there would never be only two sexes, neither one more nor one less, the tragedy would have this taste, quite contingent in sum, that we would have to affirm, to learn to love, instead of dreaming of the countless. Yes, perhaps, why not? But where would the “dream” of the countless come from, if it is a dream? Doesn’t it alone prove what it dreams about and who must be there to make people dream?”
The dream of an innumerable sexuality must therefore be there to make people dream. It must happen. I spoke about Heidegger’s notion of event in connection with another work by John Gorman, his Deposition, a very recent work, and so I won’t go into it again. But this reference is just as valid in this drawing, as are Heidegger’s and Beaufret’s remarks on the veiling and unveiling and the necessary withdrawal of the Greek being according to the aletheia. Sade, John Gorman’s direct model, did indeed bring about the innumerable sexualities of which Derrida speaks. Bellmer illustrated it. And from the encounter with this other “necessary” to the blossoming of the being was born this work of the artist of the 21st century. A work exposing in the harshness of reality, through its rough and fierce style, this innumerable sexuality.
Salome’s episodes. 25x20cm. Ink, chalk, pencil on paper
The composition is, like a medieval or reborn altar, divided into three parts, a wide line, offset from the centre, defining, on the right, a large female figure whose body is shown simultaneously in profile and three-quarters. As the title indicates, this is one of the episodes in Salome’s life, shown here dancing, with one leg bent, the left arm raised, and wearing a slim waist, small breasts, but voluptuous buttocks and thighs. The features of her face, seen from the side, are apparent, revealing her youth and beauty, her abundant hair falling on her shoulders.The left part of the composition also shows Salome, but two figures of the same heroine occupy this part of the altar, and their scales decrease from bottom to top, and are likewise separated by a line, this time slightly oblique. At the bottom, Salome, with her face hidden under her hair, is depicted as a crucified woman, and evokes many figures from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Her head hangs over her slender torso, while her long emaciated legs adopt the position that the masters of the past gave to Christ in their paintings and sculptures. At the top, an even smaller Salome reveals her rounded, slit buttocks, the rest of her body and head disappearing in a thick network of vertical lines and hatching. Perhaps a partial face shape, a wide-set eye, a gaping mouth can be guessed, which of course goes against all the laws of nature and refers here to the most daring experiments of Cubism.The two Salome’s on the left are a rereading of the ancient predella, normally arranged horizontally on the main scene, although some Renaissance works also split the altar paintings or frescoes into several scenes arranged on the same plane, although changes of scale are rare, especially to this degree. Think of the inventor of modern perspective, Masaccio, for example, and his Payment of the Tribute. In the latter work, however, there is no line separating the various episodes, as there is here. Moreover, the said line, which is made of a reddish-strand pigment, extends downwards to form the outline of the thigh, knee and leg of the great Salome on the left. We are thus escaping the models of the past here. The drawing is neither precise nor imprecise, the pencil plays with ink and charcoal to split and blur the lines, delivering a complex reading of the silhouettes and their movements or immobility. While the larger figure on the right is legible, it nevertheless adopts the same technique as those on the left, whose limbs are either perceptible or ghostly. As for the smaller figure at the top left, and as already indicated, it is only lines, so to speak, and escapes figuration. The artist’s dexterity here is admirable, for his tripartite composition remains unitary in form, despite the changes described. The main emphasis is on Renaissance Classicism-Mannerism, readjusted by Cubism and the even more advanced distortions it uses. On the left, the vertical predella in its lower part refers to the Middle Ages as well as to the Renaissance crucifixions (Michelangelo etc.), which are still being reinterpreted. As for the upper left part, it goes further than the most daring classical Cubism has ever been able to represent, and leaves us haggard and speechless. By showing here three episodes from Salome’s life, John Gorman highlights her duality as a free being, celebrating this freedom (the major figure, dancing), then crucified by the pain of her fault, her sin, then engulfed in mourning and having nothing left to offer but a blurred outline of a body, perhaps a face ravaged and incredulous, before the extent of what she has committed and must now endure.According to Heidegger, in the situation of a Dasein constantly fallen and lost in the “On”, who always thinks as the average person thinks, the reconquest of an “authentic being power” maps out the path to freedom. Wherever man/woman exists, there is always a gap (regression), felt between him/her and the “All” of the “world”. This conquest, in contrast to the devaluation that is always at work, is not easy, it is even costly, because “it will be the object of a choice that has never yet taken place, a choice in the first person, the choice of the Self”. For Heidegger, paradoxically, this devaluation has “the character of an escape”, an escape (see Being and Time, SZ p. 184) which can only mean an escape from oneself, consequently the reverse movement will not be that of an idyllic return to the place of a lost plenitude but something else, “the conquest of a difficult freedom compromised in the On”. A long quest for the wholeness of the Dasein. As a result, in Being and Time, the privileged tonality of this road travelled backwards can only be transient with anguish.
In contrast to Descartes, who also spoke of the need to free oneself from the errors and misconceptions that hinder the natural light of reason, Heidegger considers that given the “locking” of “being there”, fallen into the worldly whirlwind, the latter is unable to extract himself/herself from it (by his/her own will alone), and thus to fulfil the conditions of his/her own freedom of choice. In Heidegger’s case, the extraction of the hold of the “One” will require, in order to break this hold, the appeal to something that can play the role played by the divine, especially in Luther’s case, something extreme, almost eschatological for the human being, over which man has no control, and which can only be for him “death and his advance”. Heidegger’s work is not a matter for the human being. Over and above all the moral interpretations that Heidegger challenges, the recovery of its own possibility implies beforehand for the Dasein to become free for the call, that is to say, to “want to have consciousness “. Heidegger considers that the freedom to “choose” is synonymous with the notion of “being in debt “24,N 10.What belongs to it in its own right (what in the self is properly itself), what is aimed at, does not have the meaning of a content to be fulfilled, but of a way of living the world, Die Weise, a way that would have been lost in the devaluation of things, in the world.
In this so remarkable work by the artist-philosopher John Gorman, we thus find both a rereading of the history of art, its themes and the forms it can observe, but also an interpretation of many philosophers (and we should of course start with Aristotle). Who, when and how did one reach such heights?
Paphos paints her Galatea. Black chalk, sanguine pencil, tan pulp paper
In a lair belonging to an indeterminate but extremely dark age, Paphos’ skin radiates a dazzling white light (I am still thinking of The Baptism of Christ by Piero della Francesca), the splendid figure of the creator, seated on an indeterminate support, and dressed in what look like fishnet and garter stockings, with bracelets adorning her right arm, turns her delicate little head, in a graceful posture, towards her creature, Galatea. This one, to the left of the composition, is extremely disturbing for the witness. Before her eyes become accustomed to the semi-darkness into which she is plunged, and discover that she is standing three-quarters of the way up, her right leg bent and her right arm dangling, this witness may indeed believe he is confronted with a figure gutted from the waist down, like a slaughterhouse piece painted by Chardin. But this is just one more lure into which the artist’s drawing, so complex in its grandeur and simplicity, leads us. A pretty woman à la Manet, therefore, holding her brush in front of a very large frame, and an unfinished but beloved monster, whose skin is kneaded in clay and perhaps still wet although it also seems mummified. A creature out of an infernal and hesitant imagination, the largest frame embracing the whole scene composing her like a wild hair dragging almost to her feet. A sort of Negro or Assyrian totem pole, or even an archaic kora, although the movement she sketches with her legs is more or less akin to the classicism of Ancient Greece. In this drawing, which we find it hard not to call painting, the only artist of the 21st century finds it hard to hide his erudition, his boundless imagination, as well as the incredible brilliance of his talent. Transforming the heroine of an ancient myth into a 19th century Parisian coquette, adding to her, without any hiatus in the composition, a primitive companion in the style of Gauguin or Picasso, but reread according to his own style, he takes us on an infinite journey through the centuries and the history of art, and leaves us haggard, speechless, totally confused…
Narcisse, charcoal, 17x12cm
Narcissus is lost in darkness, an indeterminate space that seems infinite. Who or what is he looking at? Where does the light source that illuminates his arm, his proudly bulging torso, his left thigh come from? We also catch a glimpse of some features of his beautiful face. But what is he sitting on, in what may be a forest, with its trunks, dead leaves on the ground or mud, moving shadows… Of course, one cannot help but compare him to Poussin’s Echo and Narcissus, but the latter work takes place in broad daylight, in an undergrowth too, however, and Narcissus is lying on the ground, damaged in contemplation of his reflection in the water. What they have in common is the superb muscular body. But the comparison stops there. And here, no call resounds to which Narcissus would remain deaf. He is camped like Courbet in his self-portraits, like the male figures (all dressed, however) in Titian’s portraits. But how did he get there, by which path(s), undressed as if preparing for a drowning and contemplating himself one last time but where? At the top of the work, however, we can see that this whole scene is a decoy, because the frame is coming to an end, and turns out to be only a set. So? Does Narcissus pose for Michelangelo by candlelight? He has the type of body that the Master drew, while his smile and enigmatic gaze also refer to the Mona Lisa and Leonardo. Not only to the Mona Lisa, but also to the master’s latest works. As well as Titian’s religious works, the golden reflections on the skin, the mystery, the nocturnal sfumato so rarely used except in these works are all present here. For an extremely disturbing work, also evoking the paintings of Géricault. The so great beauty of the silhouette, the composition that traps the viewer’s gaze, first subjugated by the human figure, then understanding that it is all staged, all this brings us back to the greatest neo-Platonic works of the Renaissance, and to the monstrosities of the sublime developed by the Romantics and by Tuner. By Cézanne at the end of the century, too. A high wonder.
Black pencil, chalk on paper. 40x30cm
Here, John Gorman gives an interpretation of Sandro Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, a panel tempera made in 1483 and kept at the National Gallery in London. Here the goddess, the putti represented as small fauns with goat legs and horned heads, playing with the weapons and attributes of the sleeping god, are absent. However, Mars is depicted in the same attitude as that in which Botticelli painted him, stretched out all the way with his right leg raised to the bent knee overlapping the left leg. His arms similarly echo in their positions those of the god in the Renaissance work, while his head is tilted more deeply on his left shoulder, and no drapery veils his sex, for here the figure is entirely naked. The background, vaguely painted in the form of an uncertain landscape by Botticelli, is replaced here by a dark lair, made up of a flat black area, but also of blue-green streaks at the bottom of the composition, which may evoke this landscape in an abstract form and in a position that is therefore reversed. The stature of Mars is majestic, and his musculature powerful. However, there is nothing to indicate precisely these elements. It is the viewer’s gaze that completes the figure itself, defined only by John Gorman with a fine, serpentine, fragmented line, extremely masterful. The description does not stop there, however. Indeed, while Venus and the small fauns and props are absent, we note as a duplication of the lines that circumscribe the god’s limbs in the lower part of his body, composing a ghostly double, and indicating that invisible presences are at work here. Such as the fragments of one or more bodies incursion at the top of his bent right leg, bending in turn to draw as a sort of arm or several arms and more indistinct shapes, on the left, so that it is impossible to clearly distinguish the extremity of Mars’ body. Moreover, at the left end of the composition, the hindquarters and leg of a goat are visible. This is where the role of colour comes into play. If, on the right, the face, the torso, the arms, most of the thighs of the god are left colourless, adopting the grain of the paper, on the left, grey-brown chalk patches cover all or part of these invading limbs, like creepers. Now, knowing the work to which John Gorman refers here, how can one not think of the fur of the fauns, which would somehow “contaminate” and take possession of the body of the sleeping god? Moreover, are there not little horns adorning his head, which is tilted and has very human features, but whose right ear seems to follow a pointed line? What can be said, finally, of this very strong line of black graphite which follows the outline of his back, then his legs, and composes a sort of resting place for him, but also splits the drawing at the lowest point of the composition, revealing two unusual rounded shapes, one of which, with a firm line drawn around the eye, seems to be a female face? Or, on the contrary, are these two protuberances an avatar of the breasts of the absent and present Venus at the same time? For what is the god Mars dreaming of if not his lover? Thus, far from being faced with a sleeping male figure, we would be dealing with a drawing with multiple meanings, which would extract from Boticelli’s somewhat bland work its most eloquent elements to transpose them here and transmute them, returning the god to a being of primitive savagery, expelling the goddess but transforming her into a post-Cubist artefact. How far we are from the ethereal prettiness of Girodet’s Endymion’s Sleep and neo-classicism! For example and among many other references! If the drawing is divine, The fact remains that this time it escapes classicism, even that of Echo and Narcissus by the great Poussin! Picasso, who at the end of his life sought inspiration in the great works of the past, focused almost exclusively on female figures. And the fragmentary and as it were ‘’crumbled’’ character of the line, in John Gorman’s drawing, departs from the works of the inventor of Cubism. His inventor? Once again, if it was possible to find a model for the 21st artist, it would be in the Renaissance, like the painting by Botticelli, but rather on the side of Michelangelo. The figure of Twilight, in particular, adorning the broken and curvilinear pediment under the statue of Lorenzo, in the Medici Chapel, imprecise, unfinished, his eyes empty, without pupils or irises, blind, symbolising sleep and oblivion, impotence facing destiny, is not very far, by its position, even if it slides on its support, from that of sleeping Mars, himself blind, therefore. And who, more than the divine Michelangelo, comes closer to the work of John Gorman, both in the treatment of figures, of the background when it comes to painting, and in the passages that it operates across centuries, cultures, myths, and styles? Michelangelo, who certainly smiled at Botticelli’s bland work, would not have given any interpretation, this painting being too close in time to him. But time passes, and the works of John Gorman follow one another, more and more close to the absolute Master, to his ideals, to his own obsessions. His own plastic preoccupations and finds reveal a constant work of his boiling brain, and also and more and more brings us back to the human condition, to his more or less latent animality, from where a work blossoms, more and more firm and amazing in its choices, discoveries, and its dazzling, terrifying dexterity.
Seated woman. 20x20cm, charcoal
The composition shows a seated naked woman, her legs crossed in a dynamic movement, her two arms spread apart and joined together by her hands, confused, as if in prayer. Her tilted head, crowned by a high bun from which a few locks of hair escape, reveals fine and delicate features, a pointed chin, and evokes, as often do the faces drawn by John Gorman, that of the women in the silent films of the 1920s. Her breasts are generous but without excess, the left breast being as if crushed and split by a large scar or open wound. Behind her, like a wink to Matisse, a sort of tapestry and screen, defined only by a few lines, a few zigzags, and perhaps the beginning of an empty painting or mirror in the upper left corner. It is therefore an interior scene in the manner of a Manet, a Degas, a Cézanne, a Matisse or a Picasso, but here the pictorial treatment intervenes, which distances this scene considerably from these models. Indeed, this seated woman, perhaps praying, is defined by a series of lines, sometimes fluid, sometimes broken and chopped, sometimes like forearms and hands, dissipating into a bundle of features so fine and inextricable that only the viewer’s informed gaze can identify them as such. Here and there, sinuous traces appear, as if the pale skin had been lacerated by a whip, scars are everywhere, and a thick line of deep black runs across his abdomen to resurface through his left knee. The legs themselves are not really defined, a few furtive, interrupted lines merely indicating them. Note that the zigzags and other signs running through the background merge with the woman’s body, which they gain, as if to deny any dichotomy between an exterior that would be the room, and an interior that would be the female nude. Beautiful and bruised, recollected and seemingly impervious to the arrows that crack her body, the seated woman remains impenetrable in her mystery, her acceptance of pain, that only her hands united in prayer seem capable of saving her from an inner hell that the external elements and signs clearly indicate to us. In this, she joins the great heroines of Greek tragedy, much more than the coquettes, ballerinas, bathers or bourgeois women of the references already mentioned.
Jocasta, Oedipus. 100x70cm, red chalk, a few words added
This very large drawing presents itself to the art historian as an enigma that he must try to decipher. We can see here, helped by the title of the work, inscribed at the bottom of the composition, Jocasta and her husband and son Oedipus. Jocasta’s face, tilted, shows juvenile and fine features, although her eyes are masked by the cascade of hair that also partially covers her shoulders. Her breasts are drawn like two still lifes brought back, in the manner of the sculpted female figures adorning the curved pediments under the statues of Lorenzo and Giuliano in the Medici Chapel, due of course to Michelangelo. Like two circles with pronounced but deformed contours, they also seem to be constrained by the enormous curled fetal shape that the woman’s gigantic and sinuous left arm, as well as her single thigh and leg, hold tightly together. This form, again thanks to the title, would thus be Oedipus, returned to his only true identity, before fate and the gods interfered, that of the foetus that he was, protected and sheltered from his mother’s womb, of which he would be represented here as extruded, semi-living and semi-finished or semi-dead. But this enormous protuberance supported at arm’s length by Jocasta operates such an extreme and extraordinary fusion with the body that it is difficult to see there only a being in gestation. It seems that John Gorman is playing on the myth and tragedy of Sophocles by metamorphosing the body of Oedipus into a fetus on an adult scale, taking possession of its mother/wife as much as she takes care of him. There is nothing human, however, in this flabby form, the red colour of the flesh, that of blood, hugs the soft and indeterminate contours. It is a haunted work and a terrifying vision of both motherhood and his own hauntings and myth that the artist delivers us there, playing on his incredible ability to transform the legible into the unreadable, the literal into the untranslatable, the work of art into a writing with indecipherable graphics… If Cubism has of course gone through it, it is out of place, and if the cryptic form in the upper right is the masked head of Oedipus, hidden under his hair and confused with the background reduced to a frame made of dense blood-red streaks, this is only an interpretation by the art historian. In the absence of any model in art history, our representations of the myth are limited to showing Oedipus the King, Oedipus and the Sphinx, Oedipus and Antigone, but largely neglecting the duo Jocasta/ Oedipus. We can find resonances of this haunting theme in John Gorman’s work, but only in his work. And this theme that haunts him in turn haunts us by its immemorial character, the astonishing dexterity with which the artist takes possession of such a large format, his boundless inventiveness, and the fool’s game he plays with the viewer. In conclusion, I would add that it is impossible not to think of this work as a Pietà, a Pietà Rondanini, the product of the most ancient myths, of biblical history, and the fruit of the most intense contemporaneity.
Frenhofer’s dream. 30x30cm. Pencil. Chalk. Khadi paper
From Balzac's novella The Unknown Masterpiece
Several frames within this composition, which itself has no frame, determine several scales corresponding to the different stages, brought together in the same drawing. In the largest frame, surrounded by a deep, inky black, overflowing here and there in the drawing, the viewer can see Frenhofer kneeling, his long, muscular and tortuous arm extended by his hand clasped on a brush with which he paints in pink the voluptuous, semi-elongated figure of his model, who raises her head, but whose face is blurred. Likewise, Frenhofer’s face, indistinguishable beneath its tangle of lines, like the fine network of a spider’s web. Both faces and bodies are light brown. The pink paint Frenhofer uses only partially tints the model’s body, the contours of her legs, her anal hole… She seems passive and abandoned, but the old painter holds her firmly. Finally, the colour pink fills the whole frame of this upper part of the composition, when black does not encroach on the space.Further down, a change of scale, justified by the fact that it is a painting on an easel. In contrast to the scene in Frenhofer’s dream, the work here is ‘really’ done by the painter, the model lying down, her left arm bent over her head, carrying like a skull of a dying woman, a cry coming out of her mouth, that of condemnation. Has she endured such torment, posing for the old painter, that she opens her mouth to indicate her suffering? This time, in any case, her body, defined or not by a very fine line, also light brown, is painted entirely in pink. With only small and very partial areas left blank. It should be noted that the left leg and foot of the model painted by Frenhofer in his dream encroaches on this painting in its frame, linking in a surprising way the two temporalities, the two spaces, the dream and the reality of the work of art. This thus breaks the fluid reading to which the old masters have accustomed us, since here everything merges, and the different scales, brought together in the same composition, confuse the eye to the utmost. Once again, this phenomenon as well as the inverted poses of the model and the dexterity of the line speak to us of the Real and its double, and raise many questions to which only a long research in the history of art would, one could claim, allow us to find answers.This quest seems to me to be in vain. Quite simply because this remarkable drawing is the fruit of the artist’s personal obsessions, belongs only to him, and his models, whatever they may be, are as much the result of his references and his infinite erudition as of his own cosmogony, of his own research, so new in our century, which no doubt, thanks only to him, will not know the death of art.
Lemons, limes, peaches. 30x30cm, graphite and orange chalk
A splendid demonstration of everything John Gorman says about drawing from nature without having it as a “model”. These ten fruits arranged as if on a place mat elegantly painted in deep orange, but themselves devoid of colour, seem to tell us a story or stories, to converse with each other, to be animated by a life of their own… Some of them sag a little, others stand up proudly and many of them seem to have eyes or even evoke a woman’s naked breast, nipple stretched out. One, in the upper left, is in the shape of a bird. They offer themselves to the eye, naked like a naked woman or man, and the artist seem to grasp here what Giacometti was desperately seeking in his apple still lifes: their deep essence, their “soul”, perhaps… There are many Matisse and Picasso here, who themselves studied the Dutch masters in the Louvre, and this composition is bathed in the imaginary sun of the Mediterranean as well as the rarer sun of the northern countries. What for John Gorman must be only an exercise in passing, shows that in his work, no motif can be too poor to be grasped, with as much talent and inventiveness as the most ambitious compositions…
Deposition, 25x20cm, graphite on Khadi paper
This work of art by John Gorman shows, as the title suggests, a Deposition. We know from the details provided by the artist that Christ, His mother, and Mary Magdalene are depicted here. We also know that the Christ was inspired by one of Michelangelo’s Christs. For me, the closest model to this drawing is the Rondanini Pietà (1564), although Mary Magdalene is absent from the latter work. Indeed, the position of Christ, as far as we can see, as well as the expression on His face, are very close to this work by the Master. The Virgin is also positioned so close to her son, with her head above his, that this hypothesis would be confirmed. Mary Magdalene adds another character to the scene, which becomes a pyramidal composition, culminating in the imperceptible face of the Virgin, the face of Christ being the only one discernible, as well as His body. It should be noted that the line of His legs follows an opposite direction to that of Michelangelo’s Christ, as far as we can tell. The face of the Son of God is both terrifying and extremely moving. It is the face of Death, its mask, and we can make out hollowed out eye sockets, a nose of which only the bridge remains, a half-open mouth (or, on the contrary, with thick, tight lips? ), His torso partly left empty of pigment (we can see His navel), or covered everywhere with a dense network of tangled oblique lines, unfathomable thicknesses of graphite, as if, instead of being taken down from His Cross, He was already covered with the shroud of death. It thus differs from Michelangelo’s entirely naked work, although the latter’s truncated arms and His torso covered with a network of chisel strokes, which are equally dense, bring it closer. As for the Virgin, apart from the position already mentioned, she is treated in a style characteristic of John Gorman, and his play on veiling and unveiling, themes addressed in philosophy in particular and eminently by Heidegger. We can also mention here Jacques Derrida and particularly his Memoirs of the Blind, to which I will return.
In John Gorman’s drawing, the Virgin is wrapped around the body of her Son. She draws a loop, which arabesque lines allow us to guess, and we can mentally restore and see by looking very carefully at the shape of her buttocks, her contoured back because two small breasts can be discerned, her right shoulder, and therefore her head, while her right leg encroaches on those of her son, merging with them, her bent knee partially masking His body.She is plastically treated with a network of lines, more or less fine or thick, and whose network is more or less dense. At the level of Christ’s navel, which is linked to His mother, a nebulous spot appears, a supernatural element, which reinforces the bond that unites them, fusional but complex. It is as if God the Father intervened here to deny this fusion, which He would disapprove of.On the left, Mary Magdalene, whom John Gorman often approaches as Nikos Kazantzakis does in his novel The Last Temptation of Christ, shows only fragments of her flesh left white, the colour of paper, a small mocking puppet’s head perhaps appearing, as if detached from her body. It is located almost exactly at the level of Christ, just a little lower. Apart from these fragments, nothing can be seen of her except her nudity. Graphic elements appear everywhere in the composition: a semblance of a frame on the right, large shreds of material flowing from top to bottom, and thick traces of graphite at the feet of the Virgin and Christ. The body of the Virgin is as if whipped by large, dense ribbons of black pigment. Finally, in the upper left-hand corner, the beginnings of a deep black structure can be seen, which has yet to be interpreted.
It is difficult to compare the graphic or pictorial treatment of this scene with a specific artistic movement or master other than Michelangelo. More terrible than Guernica and Goya’s black paintings, it escapes completely from the manner of these masters. For me, it is more an interpretation of medieval works, from the 12th or 13th centuries. But the dexterity of which it testifies of course also brings it closer to the movements of the second half of the 20th century, and to painters such as Beuys or even the young Pollock for example. But here again, it confronts the works of the latter and reveals an entirely new style, albeit one that is nourished by references. As is always the case in John Gorman’s work. Its beauty, its sublime character, brings it closer to Romanticism, but of course its style distances it from it because it is too new and, in the absence of a term for this new art, which we have already described as discursive and as a new form of writing, I will conclude quoting Jacques Derrida in his aforementioned work:
”What happens when one writes without seeing? A hand of the blind ventures forth alone or disconnected, in a poorly delimited space; it feels its way, it gropes, it caresses as much as it inscribes, trusting in the memory of signs and supplementing sight. It is as if a lidless eye had opened at the tip of the fingers, as if one eye too many had just grown right next to the nail, a single eye, the eye of a cyclops or one-eyed man. This eye guides the tracing or outline [trace}, it is a miner’s lamp at the point of writing, a curious and vigilant substitute, the prosthesis of a seer who is himself invisible. The image of the movement of these letters, of what this finger-eye inscribes, is thus sketched out within me. From the absolute withdrawal of an invisible center or command post, a secret power ensures from a distance a kind of synergy. It coordinates the possibilities of seeing, touching, and moving. And of hearing and understanding, for these are already words of the blind that I draw in this way. One must always remember that the word, the vocable, is heard and understood, the sonorous phenomenon remaining invisible as such. Taking up time rather than space in us, it is addressed not only from the blind to the blind, like a code for the nonseeing, but speaks to us, in truth, all the time of the blindness that constitutes it. Language is spoken, it speaks to itself, which is to say, from/of blindness. It always speaks to us from/of the blindness that constitutes it. But when, in addition, I write without seeing, during those exceptional experiences I just mentioned, in the night or with my eyes glued elsewhere, a schema already comes to life in my memory. At once virtual, potential, and dynamic, this graphic crosses all the borders separating the senses, its being-in-potential at once visual and auditory, motile and tactile. Later, its form will come to light like a developed photograph. But for now, at this very moment when I write, I see literally nothing of these letters. As rare and theatrical as these experiences may be I called them “accidental” they nonetheless impose themselves as an exemplary mise en scène. The extraordinary brings us back to the ordinary and the everyday, back to the experience of the day itself, to what always guides writing through the night, farther or no farther [plus loin] than the seeable or the foreseeable. “Plus loin” can here mean either excess or lack. (No) more knowledge [savoir], (no) more power [pouvoir} writing gives itself over rather to anticipation. To anticipate is to take the initiative, to be out in front, to take (capere) in advance (ante). Different than precipitation, which exposes the head (prae-caput), the head first and ahead of the rest, anticipation would have to do with the hand. The theme of the drawings of the blind is, before all else, the hand. For the hand ventures forth, it precipitates, rushes ahead, certainly, but this time in place of the head, as if to precede, prepare, and protect it. A safeguard, a guardrail. Anticipation guards against precipitation, it makes advances, puts the moves on space in order to be the first to take, in order to be forward in the movement of taking hold, making contact, or apprehending.’’
This seems to me to correspond in almost every aspect to the work of John Gorman.
Stripping of Christ. 30x30cm, black chalk, cotton paper
”We adore Thee O Christ, and we praise Thee – Because by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world.” (The Testament of St. Francis of Assisi, 1182-1226). In this drawing, John Gorman combines a very structural way of representing this heartbreaking scene with an uncanny evanescence. One can’t help but think of Cézanne’s feeling for the ”architecture” which underlies nature and with his statement that ”everything in nature is based on the sphere, cone, and cylinder”. John Gorman’s work also suggests that art is neither an imitation nor an illusion of reality, but, in fact, a new kind of reality, created through the means of a new language of forms, as Michelangelo and the Cubists have explored in their times, but now renewed. Thus the aim of drawing is not to pretend that the spectator is looking through a window, but to make him/her aware of the picture surface itself as well as the subject matter it depicts. Here, John Gorman seems to join Archaic Greek sculpture, inspired by the monumental stone sculpture of Egypt and Mesopotamia, and carved in stone. Free-standing figures share the solidity and frontal stance characteristic of Eastern model, but their forms are more dynamic than those of Egyptian sculpture, which is precisely one can observe in John Gorman’s drawing. Let’s mention for example ”The Lady of Auxerre” and the ”Torso of Hera” (Early Archaic period, 660-580 BC, both in the Louvre). Christ, in John Gorman’s drawing, recalls a kouro, and emphasises the essential features of human anatomy. This artwork makes one think also of sepulchral or votive statues, like ”Apollo” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), an early work; the ”Strangford Apollo from Anafi” (British Museum), a much later work; and the ”Anavyssos Kouros” (National Archaeological Museum of Athens). More of the musculature and skeletal structure is visible in this statue than in earlier works, which allows to establish parallelisms between this artwork and John Gorman’s one. However, the frustoconical shape of Christ, here, the absence of any head, like in so many Rodin’s drawings, the strokes like filaments whose conclude the indiscernible lower body and arms, a deliberate ”blur”, depart this work from any copying of any past model. In Memoirs of the Blind (1990), Jacques Derrida quotes Baudelaire on this subject: ”I refer to Monsieur G’s method of draftsmanship. He draws from memory and not from the model… All good and true draftsmen draw from the image imprinted on their brains, and not from nature. To the objection that there are admirable sketches of the latter type by Raphael, Watteau, and many others, I would reply that these are notes – very scrupulous notes, none the less. When a true artist has come to the point of the final exception of his work, the model would be more of an embarrassment than a help to him.” Derrida adds that ”Baudelaire, it is true, interprets memory as a natural reserve, without history, tragedy, or event, as, in his words, the naturally sacrificial matrix of a visible order that is selected, chosen, filtered. It breaks with the present of visual perception only in order to keep a better eye on drawing. Creative memory, schematization, the time and schema of Kant’s transcendental imagination, with its ”synthesis” and its ”ghosts”. These words from the French poet and the French philosopher seem to have been written to depict John Gorman’s work. I shall only mention another point which seems to me essential, and characterises the draughtsman’s production. Denis Coutagne, President of the Paul Cézanne Society in Aix-en-Provence, emphasises the fact that no matter how tiny Cézanne’s drawings are, they always have a monumentality to them. John Gorman is absolutely unique, his drawings impenetrable and impossible to classify or mistake for those of any master of the past.
Salome mourns. Charcoal. Khadi paper, 30x30cm
The poignant figure of Salome alone occupies the composition. An unfinished sketch of the frame leaves her in the completely empty and vast space where she is recluse, with no possible escape. Lost in space and time, her being is broken without remission. Is there still a possible and formulable thought that would pass through this head hidden by her long hair? Her beautiful naked body, in the image of a nubile Spartan, curls up on itself through a single, masterfully drawn line. If the author evokes a knot to Cubism, this knot is well hidden. For the vehement vigours or the melancholic violence of a Picasso are far removed from this drawing. Just like the famous line, powerful, melodic, a piece by Ravel for left hand played by Wittgenstein. The artist-philosopher’s own bitter melancholy is coiled up there, in this being and its destiny, the sin that no Christ will come to save, for He has not yet come. Or has not yet, by His own death, redeemed the sins of mankind. Salome, responsible for the death of her lover, the one who precisely baptised Christ, responsible for an act of madness intended to celebrate also the power of her own body, sides with the damned visited by Dante and Virgil, with no possible remission, because her crime is too great. John Gorman’s art, which is writing, handwriting, transposed into lines embodying beings, once again reaches heights which, systematically, seem to the viewer to be impassable, and which are each time, and systematically too, still surpassed. Unequalled in his prophetic play on lines, the artist has within him an inner world and a thought so rich, that his art is by inexhaustible dedication, and destined to grow, again and again, both legible and indecipherable, imbued with a mystery that sends him back to the greatest, but, tragically, also always to himself. A hell of its own, which every true creator must accept to be confronted with.
Woman and companions, graphite, chalk on French cream paper, 120x90cm
Ajax, blue chalk, graphite on Khadi paper, 30x30cm
Athena considers Galatea and Pygmalion, graphite, chalk on Khadi paper, 30x30cm
Heloise among Abelard’s images of her, chalk on pulp paper, 45x30cm
Sardanapalus, 40x30cm. Graphite, chalk on sandpaper
Salome and maid bathe, chalk on Khadi paper, 30x30cm
David lifts Bathsheba’s veils, graphite, chalk on Khadi paper, 30x30cm
Studio of Galatea, pencil on Khadi paper, 30x30xm
La Carte postale. Heloise pregnant with Astralabe, graphite, blue chalk, 45x30cm
Minotaur, French paper, graphite. 120x90cm
Salomé, the invention. 120x99cm, sanguine, chalk on paper
Frenhofer's model paints herself
85×65, chalk, khadi paper
This is more than astonishing. The play of portraits-in-the-portrait, mirrors, changes of scales… John’s models now pose like in Picasso’s ”Studies for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”, with more angular figures, narrow waists, large buttocks but their contours are curved or sharp… Sharp are the breasts, also, and John’s unique spiral hatches for ”THE model”! I think of so many works… Picasso, ”Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe after Manet”, 1960, Musée Picasso, Paris, is here in all its variations… The Satyr or Faun – Frenhofer –, observes the scene, impassive… It is a philosophical brothel. Like all the scenes in Frenhofer’s studio, and as John is also a philosopher.
Prix de la Presse, Galerie Thuillier, Paris, 2020
Tragoidas, black pencil on Khadi paper, 30x30cm
Troias Tragōidia: Tempestuous Immortal. Here the heroes and the choir merge into a pyramid-like composition. Some of the silhouettes are discernible at least in their contours, others are only fragments of bodies and/or heads, usually hidden under the thick mass of black pigment, or wearing plaster masks. The density of this group is fusional but not organic. And the scene is devoid of any eroticism. The figures at the bottom of the composition seem to lean with difficulty on their hands or feet, and bear the inexorable fate of those at the middle and upper levels. Although this is a semi-figurative work, what catches the viewer's attention is the inextricable web of lines and strokes that run throughout the work, like thorns and briers embedded in flesh. Like the characters of a linear B brought back to our doors and metamorphosed into frugal and thrifty arabesques. This work, the author tells us, is about Tragōidia. I would therefore add Troias Tragōidia, the Tempestouous immortal chariot, or Achilles' three-horsed chariot that is able to move through the sky. Summoned by whistling with two fingers in his mouth, it appears from the sky, controlled by reigns on the driver's stand, according to legend. But here I use this term as a metaphor for what the artist reveals by veiling it, that is to say precisely that, combined with the written word, leading to the story of the Thinking. I use the word narrative, which does not exist in Heidgger's world, or only in the form of quotations. John Gorman explodes this foreclosure, this sterile retreat into a dead, though timeless, thought, by giving it this title, and by referring it to the great myths and epics of Greece, but this time 'coloured' by the monochromy of the pencil gesture alone. In so doing, he brings to the work of the greatest philosopher of the 20th century the missing piece of his chessboard, i.e. an incarnation of the sign in an artistic form, written but not frozen, composed of graphic characters worked by the artist's hand at the same time as by his brain. The master's work is given a chance to come to life, and, as if the ice that buried it had melted, the permafrost thawed, here comes the supreme and its jewels, the Thinking and the Being, at last, welcome temporality.
Tragoidas (after R.B. Kitaj, 1958, Green Blanket)
Graphite, chalk on Kadi paper, 50x35cm
Frenhofer's studio as gates of hell, black and grey chalks, 90x60cm
This masterpiece shows Frenhofer contemplating, like an Ecce homo as he wears an aura, the tragedy of his many attempts to draw perfectly his loved model Gillette. The accumulation of the paintings makes think of what the past masters did, filling their works with a lot of still lives, other paintings, figures as voyeurs (Courbet's studio). Here are Picasso, Michelangelo, the great Spaniards, Italians, Dutch… The splendour of this drawing is made of a close juxtaposition of paintings of the loved model. Line is so thick, background so dark, the juxtaposition so incredible… The composition is prodigious. Rembrandt's counter-beauty is revisited in the centre panel. He is also present in the darkness, while Velasquez is here in the proliferation of paintings like mirrors to each others. Rodin's world and work are omnipresent. The ancient Greeks, Hebrews, until Delacroix, Caravaggio, are present. This drawing is THE Unknown masterpiece of the 21st century. ''The eye doesn't enjoy boundaries… hence the eye is ethical… shows shame, violence…I think also of species… a new aesthetic'' (John Gorman)
Oedipus meets Jocasta, pencil on paper, 30x30cm.
After having watched “Donald Davidson and Richard Rorty in Conversation (Full + Synced Audio)” https://youtu.be/e6PitPJiN5c
Sisyphus, graphite, 120x90cm
Athena, graphite, blue chalk on Khadi paper, 30x30cm
Galatea paints Spinario and Siren, charcoal, chalk on Khadi paper, 30x30cm
Magdalena, pencil, chalk on pulp paper, 45x30cm
Sardanapalus, pencil on pulp paper, 45x30cm
The Model draws the Minotaur, ink on paper, 30x30cm
Salomé mourns the Baptist. Pencil. Khadi paper.30x30cm
This absolutely stunning drawing shows Salome curled up on the floor, or as if dragging herself across it, leaning on her one visible hand. The rest of her body, majestically encamped, is made of gentle waves as if it were calm water, contrasting with the drama she is experiencing. Her very long hair drags itself across the floor and largely masks her face, whose features are difficult to discern. Entirely covered with veils, light, her beautiful and generous forms give a hint of her youth. The pencil flats, densely applied on the left, gradually fade on the right towards the lower part of her body and her feet, giving way to a bundle of lines so tenuous that they seem to be made up of a different pigment. The powerful line determining the back, the curvature of the buttocks, the bent knees and the start of the legs, is striking. At the far right of the composition, what could be a cast shadow – but from which light source? – composes a ghostly double to the dancer-murderer of her lover.The second part of the composition, in the upper part of the drawing, shows the Baptist lying down on the ground, feet and hands shackled, his head buried in the hollow of his arms. Other chains seem to encircle his torso. His muscular limbs, constrained to the most severe immobility, indicate that in his mourning, Salome relives his last moments, those leading up to his death, the nakedness of the saint giving his funeral reveries a powerfully erotic, albeit morbid, character. The lines here too are powerful, though less precisely drawn than those that define the young woman’s body. They tremble, undulate, under the jolts of this body trying in vain to espe its disastrous destiny. A series of horizontal lines sketch the straw mattress on which he was thrown into his dungeon.The absence of light or luminous shades, the wide gap between the two figures, make this composition unreal. Although this drawing may refer to the multiple studies on the same sheet of paper by the great masters, it is indeed one and the same composition. And it is on this point that it acquires so much interest and novelty.The references here are of course numerous: for the Baptist, one thinks of the male nudes of David, of Géricault, of all the Renaissance masters nourished by the culture of Ancient Greece…For Salomé, Delacroix, Degas, painters who have moved from chiaroscuro and miserable women (for example from Northern Europe) can also be summoned.It is a sublime work in the romantic sense of the term that we are dealing with, although it opens the way to a new apprehension of space, volume, the touch rendered only with a pencil, a remarkable work, a new stage in the artist’s career.
Bacchanalia, Graphite. Pulp paper. 30x30cm
The whole bacchanal scene is filled with a perfume from the 18th century, from the Fêtes galantes of Watteau to the Commedia dell’arte, and the swarms of nudes by Boucher… The variety of postures, gestures, faces, bodies, their swarming, their gaze turned in all directions, drowned in drunkenness, or interrogators, their contortions, frail or more fleshy limbs, fragments of figures superimposed, piled up, intertwined, confused… It is a theatre or opera scene that we are dealing with here, drawn with confounding dexterity and boundless imagination, once again. Heads, buttocks, unfinished bodies, apparitions, a festival of monsters or ghosts and beautiful dishevelled countesses, Pierrots… A painting from the North of Europe brought back to the South, the Netherlands bent to the law of France or Italy… That of ancient Rome, too. The lines here are explicit, there fade away, the silhouettes, in the same way, are figurative or almost indistinguishable, all this sinuous, stirs, agitates in all directions, in an extremely mastered composition despite the frenzy that seizes all the characters…
Nymphs, Faun, Dionysos. 20×20cm, black pencil on paper
A fragmentary sketch of a frame more or less circumscribes this composition, within which various characters can be seen or heard. At the upper left end, two semi-human faces, devoid of body, except for a fragment of arm and hand as a palm leaf that establishes a link with the figure at the bottom of the composition, are as if melted into a mass of tormented black pigment. The lines here are stiff, rough, vertical or oblique, and encircle them. This is the realm of darkness in which these nymphs, as the title of the work indicates, move. Almost in the centre and at the bottom of the composition, one of their companions assumes a human form. At least for the upper part of her body, her head and face seen in profile, her right eye, her small pointed nose and her silent mouth are apparent. A more blurred line defines her straight shoulder and her arm, roughly represented, as her breast, as well as her hand, feeling, uncertain, an invisible surface, as if frightened in advance at the idea of getting burned. The rest of her body dissolves into a few frank, chopped, brutal lines, one of them even piercing her arm. But what is this line other than the one that also defines the faun’s buttocks on the right? The latter, turning his back to the stage, naked but partially dressed in a costume similar to Nijinsky’s, is standing with his legs spread apart, his right arm made of inextricably intertwined lines and dangling along his right flank. His head has two small horns, as is customary. In spite of these more or less decipherable elements, the composition is not as easy to decipher as it seems. The title clearly mentions the presence here of Dyonisos, and what is it about this gigantic muffle, oversized in comparison with the other figures, these foaming nostrils, this tortuous eye with drooping eyelid, which, if one looks more closely, borrows from each being a little of his own? For from this appearance is born the whole scene, from this horrific muffle, and from the lines that define it, are born all the other lines. The indeterminate form we see to the left of the main nymph, but what is it? She seems to have sad eyes and a long pensive muzzle… Is it an emanation of the god? A guest at his celebration? What is to be admired here is the fact that everything is intertwined and seems inexorably confused and linked. Despite the characters’ acquiescence. It is the artist’s will alone that invented this mutant god for them, making them mutate in their turn, and thereby transforming a classic bacchanalian scene into a sinister Goya-style dark caprice, with a nod to Picasso, to all the myths of ancient Greece, and then to Roman myths. And what could be less joyful and more devoid of ardour and fervour than this celebration of the god than this scene of deep sadness and despair? John Gorman’s famous line is transformed once again before the spectator’s eyes: here, no arabesques, no music, except perhaps a slow de profundis, accompanying the powerful strings of these lost figures.
Nessus and Deianira, graphite, 30x30cm
What ardour and fervour in this drawing in which the centaur Nessus seizes Dejanira in an impulse comparable to the beautiful Hercules kills Nessus, by Sebastiano Ricci, 1706-1707 (fresco in Palazzo Fenzi-Marucelli, Florence)! But here, the classicism of the Italian master is overtaken by the formal gigantism of the centaur, his monstrously developed and deformed body, untranslatable, as it is now “de rigueur” in the new classicism invented by John Gorman. With his extremely vigorous right arm, he seizes Déjanira’s two arms and drags her along, without her really showing any disagreement. The passivity of Hercules’ wife seems to prelude the grief that will cause her death and that of her husband, after that of the centaur… In this drawing, everything is line, everything is masterfully orchestrated composition, everything is rhythm and everything is music, everything is writing and signs, everything is writing and harsh contrasts, although tenderness is not excluded, by the consent of the woman. It is an erotic scene, of course, but there is nothing phonographic about it, and it is far from the frenzied embraces of centaurs painted by Picasso. Everything here moves away from Picasso, and joins the old masters, their myths, their visions to which they did not dare or could not give form, everything here is speed, velocity, everything here is admirable of finds, sources of infinite discoveries. And in this chiaroscuro of another age, this is indeed our present time, for a work which, added to others recently produced by John Gorman, is destined for posterity.
Europa lies upon the less favoured, 25x20cm. Black pencil, chalk
Le faune et Galatea. 20x15cm. Graphite, chalk
The composition here shows two figures more or less taken from a frame from which they protrude on the right, while on the left the vertical line defining this frame deports them in a way, giving way to the written title of the work: “The Faun and Galatea”, and the date of its execution, March 6, 2021. Inside this partial frame we see a crouching faun, but with his upper body raised so that his left arm can reach, without touching it, the female figure, which is therefore that of Galatea. The multiple lines that determine the faun’s body are sometimes tenuous but double (the whole of the lower part of his body, his buttocks, his right thigh and the beginning of his left knee and leg), his torso, sometimes denser with more pigment, although they remain elliptical (his arms, especially the left, very muscular, stretched out in the effort, and his face, veiled, only his two horns being visible but separated by a strange oval. Galatea’s body, for its part, seems to emerge from a block of ivory and to be brought back to life. Extremely rare in John Gorman’s work is a very slender silhouette, with a juvenile buttocks, a small breast, the only visible arm also thin, the delicate roundness of her left shoulder, her back barely arched. Situated a little higher than the faun, her legs still buried in the block from which Pygmalion brought her up, she comes to life only slowly, and the fact that a mythical creature such as a faun accompanies her in her birth attests that she still belongs to the realm of dreams, and not yet fully to that of human beings. In contrast to the complex network of lines that define the faun’s body, the line that circumscribes its silhouette is very fine and limpid, although it too is crossed by some discursive incursions. Her face is not only hidden, but even seems to be wearing a helmet, a wire mesh slit that perhaps allows her to see and breathe. A thick but measured length of hair falls on her back.The dense mass of dark grey chalk that indicates the block from which she emerges resonates at the top of the composition in a series of thick, dense zigzags, while the entire interior of the frame is crisscrossed with enigmatic crosses of varying sizes, more or less precisely drawn, and which form the sole background to this scene. A background made of signs, again, therefore.
In Greek mythology, the story of Pygmalion and Galatea refers to a legend telling the story of the sculptor Pygmalion who falls in love with his creation, Galatea, a statue brought to life by Aphrodite, the goddess of love, who understands Pygmalion’s wish. The names of the characters come from ancient Greek: Πυγμαλίων καὶ Γαλατεία (Pugmalíôn kaì Galateía). The legend is mainly told by Ovid in his Metamorphoses. Pygmalion is a sculptor from Cyprus descended from Athena and Hephaestus. Revolted against marriage because of the reprehensible conduct of the Propetides (women of Cyprus), he dedicated himself to celibacy. However, he falls in love with an ivory statue, the work of his chisel. Obtaining from Aphrodite that she gives life to the statue, he marries her in the presence of the goddess and, according to some versions, has two children of her own: Paphos and Matharmé.
Having denied Aphrodite’s divinity, the Propetides are punished by the goddess who kindles the fire of fornication in their hearts. Having finally lost all shame, they are imperceptibly changed into hard rock.The names Πυγμαλίων καὶ Γαλατεία (Pugmalíôn kaì Galateía) evoke respectively the fist / elbow / arm (πύγμα) of the sculptor working with the mallet and chisel, and milk (γάλα), the white colour of the statue, but also of the Propetides transformed into ivory.It seems that Philostephanus of Cyrene (c. 222-206 BC) is one of Ovid’s sources. Specialists rely on an extract from the Protreptic (IV, 57, 3) by Clement of Alexandria and on a text by Arnobius taken from his Adversus nationes libri. Without rejecting the probable influence of Philostephanos of Cyrene, Julien d’Huy situates the first emergence of the narrative in present-day Libya. The story would have appeared there more than 3000 years ago in North Africa, and would have been borrowed by the Greeks between the 7th and 1st century BC. This myth, linked to that of the Propetides, condemns the independence of women’s morals, at the time already associated with prostitution or witchcraft, in contrast to the fidelity of the statue, the creation of the man who modelled it, the only one worthy of love and rewarded by taking life.
The legend of Pygmalion, recounted by Ovid in the Metamorphoses, inspired, among other things, the painting : Pygmalion voit sa statue animée, painting by François Lemoyne, 1729, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Tours; Pygmalion amoureux de sa statue, also known as Pygmalion et Galatée, painting by Girodet, 1819, Musée du Louvre, Paris ; Pygmalion and Galatea, painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1890, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Pygmalion (1939), painting by Paul Delvaux, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium; Pygmalion and the Image (1870), painting by Edward Burne-Jones, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. References in sculpture include: Galatée, by Robert Le Lorrain, 1701 (Washington, National Gallery of Art, inv. 1952.5.105); Pygmalion & Galatée, by Étienne Maurice Falconet, 1763; La Poupée, by Hans Bellmer, 1933-1936, Collection Centre Pompidou, Paris. Noteworthy in the cinema, in 1923: Monsieur de Pygmalion, adaptation of Jacinto Grau’s play by Antonin Artaud.
However, going back to Greek sources, and to the names Πυγμαλίων καὶ Γαλατεία (Pugmalíôn kaì Galateía), which respectively evoke the fist / elbow / arm (πύγμα) of the sculptor working with the mallet and chisel, and milk (γάλα), the white colour of the statue, we see here a possible different interpretation of John Gorman’s drawing. Could the faun, with his fist, elbow, arm, be the real author of this statue? Nothing in this would surprise us, as John Gorman’s work is full of distorted references to ancient myths. He would thus replace Pygmalion. Hence a possible interpretation of the crosses and other discursive signs, which would indicate to the spectator that there is an enigma to be deciphered here. And that the title is not as innocuous as it seems, although it is deliberately inscribed in the work itself.
On the other hand, the link between this drawing and the sculpture is clearly established here. This brings us back to a technique employed by the absolute master of modern sculpture, Michelangelo, although he himself did not depict such a scene. It is interesting to note that John Gorman carefully wrote the date of his drawing in the work, the date corresponding to Michelangelo’s birthday in 1475. We also know that the Divine Master is one of his major references, and we can see in this work an equivalence of the work he did on his marble statues.
Let us remember that Michelangelo was struck by the discovery of ancient statues, such as the Torso of the Belvedere – statues extracted from the earth, mutilated, with forms damaged by time. Michelangelo reproduced some of these characteristics on some of his statues; in his mind, the sculptor’s work is that of a man who set out to discover forms hidden and buried in stone. Not to deform the marble, but to protect the shape it contains: this was Michelangelo’s watchword. He sought to preserve the uniqueness of the block, using all the possibilities of the block he was working on: Condivi insisted on this Michelangelesque feat of always refusing to add anything to the block of marble; he even left a trace of unfinished work at the top of the head of David to show that he had used the whole block, which contained the entire statue. Michelangelo had to sculpt the David in a particularly narrow block of marble, already attacked and badly roughened by another sculptor. The finished statue shows how Michelangelo, by reducing the width of the basin, succeeded in extracting a shape from this difficult block that corresponds to him.
There is nothing obvious about sculpting a statue, or even a group of sculptures, in a single block, and Bernini did not hesitate to use four blocks of marble to make his Longin. Such a technique, limited to a single block, has important consequences, including those of containing movement within the ideal limits of the block of marble and of highlighting the compactness of the work, its undivided uniqueness: one can “feel, on the finished works, the large simple shapes of the block in which they were cut” and the work is ordered from “outside to inside”. Michelangelo is therefore an exception in the history of sculpture, which is haunted by the temptation to go beyond the possibilities of its medium. Conversely, the Florentine sculptor valued the material’s own qualities. Finally, the technique of relief, applied to the round-bump, involves working the block in depth. Michelangelo did not diminish the imposing and massive character of the marble blocks, but rather their aesthetic qualities: the weight of the marble accentuates the impression of imbalance of the Bacchus, and in the Medici Chapel, the statues of Julian and Lorenzo de Medici, which protrude from their niche and are set back from the other statues, have a depth greater than their width, so that, even seen from a distance, they impose themselves by their materiality. As Panofsky writes, Michelangelo’s “relief technique” does not “sacrifice the power of volume to the harmony of two-dimensional drawing”, but on the contrary enhances this volume in space. The form is not conquered by a struggle against the properties of the material: once completed, the work always reminds us of its material dimension through its depth and the impression of heaviness it gives off. This way of working implies a very precise conception of the form to be created: the statue’s shapes were fixed on sketches, as can be seen in the preparatory drawings used to extract the statues from the Medici Chapel, or on scale models, bozzetti, which, according to Rudolf Wittkower, “enabled him to clarify or consolidate his ideas and served as a reference as the work on the marble progressed”.
This preparatory work enabled Michelangelo to refine his disegno, his project and his idea, even before he started working in stone. Working on a model does not contradict the fact that the form is in the marble, since its sole purpose is to specify the shape that the sculptor guesses in the block; it has a role quite similar to drawing, as Vasari points out: “Some sculptors, not used to drawing lines and contours, cannot draw on paper: they therefore prefer to work in relief with clay or wax: shaping figures, animals and other subjects, they thus produce the equivalent of an excellent drawing on paper or any other support. “But unlike the mannerists, Bernini and later Rodin, the model was not for Michelangelo the place where the idea was discovered; it was found in the study of the block of marble. Hence the “extremism” of Michelangelo, who was one of those “sculptors who sought their ideas in the material itself, letting it take precedence over their desire to give form and almost putting themselves at its service”. ”You cannot work,” wrote Michelangelo in a letter of 1525, “with your hands busy with one thing and your brain with another, especially when it comes to marble.”
Drawing, the source of all future work for Michelangelo, who was such a fabulous master of drawing. Source of all future work for John Gorman, too, whose drawings, precisely, reveal so often that there is more of the sculptor in him than of the painter…
But there is also and above all, in John Gorman’s universe, philosophy. Once again, and doubly so, the figures have their faces hidden, and Galatea still remains partially created. The event takes place before our eyes.
This brings us back to Heidegger’s concept of the co-occurrence of veiling and unveiling.The following points are successively highlighted by Marlène Zarader, commenting on Heidegger :The alètheia, or unveiling, says the emergence out of the λήθη because it is an unveiling, alètheia also means “being true”: it is as having appeared, as having emerged from latency that being, “is”. What appears has left the occultation behind.This exit from the ‘occultation’ is inscribed in the word alètheia.The private “ἀ” of ἀλήθεια is not only a grammatical symbol, it indicates a “revealed” which is also and above all a “snatched from occultation”. This is what happens before our eyes in John Gorman’s drawing.The Greek way of thinking is not based on the construction of the word, but on the thought that unveiling, in order to be what it is, needs veiling. Philippe Arjakovsky, for his part, underlines the dynamics of this: “For Heidegger it is the phenomenon that suspends its retreat, the phenomenon, in other words: what is. Heidegger believes that it is the phenomenon that suspends its withdrawal, the phenomenon, in other words: what is.” He understands from alètheia “truth means: Unverborgenheit of being”, “declosion” of being, “desabritement”, suspension of withdrawal”.
Martin Heidegger strives to make us think together veiled and unveiled. To this end, he uses the German translation, which authorises him to interpret the “hiding” of the Heraklian sentence as a “hiding place” as well; the Phusis, according to the thinker, would thus like to “take shelter” because, in the shelter of the veil, concealment, occultation, are for him the guarantee of “rising up” and “hatching”. We are once again fully here, as thinking spectators, confronted with the work of John Gorman.
Meditating on this co-appropriation between “blossoming” and “occultation” is not a dialectical game, nor a simple apposition of opposites; but, as Heidegger points out, a dynamic of its own that forces us to think of occultation and non-being as an essential part of the Phusis (night of day, war of peace, scarcity of abundance), which alone guarantees it to be what it is. In this original thought non-being is constitutive of being, and this is what is thought in the enigmatic Heraclitus sentence, as well as in the status of saying and speech in archaic times. Archaic times to which the artist of the 21st century almost always refers in his work.
Even more enigmatic is Heidegger’s insistence on presenting the alètheia not only as needing the occultation to shine (day needs night) what it would be if it were a simple opening but “as the unveiling of the occultation itself”.
Finally, in his understanding of die Lichtung, usually translated as ‘clearing’, Heidegger appears innovative. The metaphor of light has been banal since Plato, to designate the condition of the possibility of “appearing” it, Heidegger also uses it in this sense, but he notes that this clarity, this free radiation, requires a dimension, a land where it can spread its radiance and where everything can appear. The enlightenment, die Lichtung, is therefore much more the opening that this clarity presupposes, it says not only what is revealed and this very unveiling, but also that other which is not revealed and which remains hidden. Marlène Zarader summarises in three points the essential lines of force for the understanding of the meaning of alètheia in Heidegger’s thought:
The ἀλήθεια is thought as an unveiling of the being and not as a concordance.It turns out that the being can only be unveiled because of a dimension that is not revealed. The ἀλήθεια needs the λήθη, what is concealed, which constitutes like a reserve is, the being.What will finally be essential and enigmatic is that this occultation conceals itself.
The referential system used in his drawing by John Gorman is in fact extremely rich and complex, as usual, and could lead us to many more comparisons and analyses. In order not to exhaust the reader or listener, we will leave it at that for today.
We will only add that on this day, this work could not be a better tribute to Michelangelo.
Baptist dreams of Salomé, 30x30cm. Graphite
Salomé, the Baptist, a predella study. Graphite. Oil red pastel. Pulp paper. 30x30cm
Only the title can allow the viewer to guess the presence of the Baptist in this work where the kneeling figure of Salome, of great beauty, extends his left arm towards what seems to be a ghostly silhouette trying to merge with it. The young woman’s body is perfectly defined by the perfect lines of graphite and oil pastel that follow her forms. Only her head, as usual in the artist’s work, is invisible, at least the features of her face, lost in a mist of brown and deep red pigment that permeates the entire composition. The Baptist’s left arm and hand, ready to grasp his lover, and a part of his long body and hair can be guessed from him. The monochromy of rigour in the last works of the draughtsman gives way here to a two-tone work, of dust and mixed blood. The lines are of great variety, as is the artist’s new style, drawing like a veil, a fishnet, on Salome’s body, scratching the Baptist’s body with bloody scars. The two borders of the predella are made up of wooden pillars painted the same blood red, the weft of the support remaining in fragments perceptible. The fact that the artist tells us that this is a study for a predella is extremely important and interesting. In fact, he is referring to medieval art, an idea that is, however, undermined by the exquisite classicism of the figure of Salome, which takes us back to the nineteenth century and the works of Delacroix, Degas and, beyond these masters, those of the Renaissance and also of the seventeenth century – let us think in particular of Poussin, a master of drawing. However, this accomplished classicism is in turn reread in the light of older masters because of the deliberate archaism that the artist uses to compose his work and add his pictorial touch. The pigment here is either light and discreet or densely applied, in a falsely hesitant manner, as on the borders, the base, but also the runners that melt into the two silhouettes. If cubism is present here, it is in the form of a hidden memory to be determined by the eye of the informed viewer. We are here in a pre- and post-history of the avant-gardes, and ”Thus is the experience of territory. And of sexual territory. And of return. And of ‘homeland’ ”, as Derrida masterfully writes in her work Geschlecht III. Session 13.
Dionysos binds Jocasta, Charcoal, 20x20cm
The composition shows Jocasta, naked, crouching, her face half turned backwards, and Dionysos, as the title of the work indicates, busy blinding her. While the female figure remains legible, although the contours of her body are simply outlined, the figure of the god is more elliptical. His stature does not appear impressive, and his face has a clown-like appearance. Seen from the side, without being able to discern the movement of his arms and hands, he is busy binding Jocasta, as said, as a mass of spiralling and whirling lines at the top of the latter’s head would seem to indicate, while fragmentary frame sketches appear on the left, right and even in the centre, between the two figures, via a vertical line doubled by a very hard horizontal line, which pierce the god’s face and then abruptly interrupt. The rest of the composition consists of non-figurative zigzags, but emphasising the frenetic movement represented here. As the myth relates, Jocasta hanged herself while learning the truth about her husband and son Oedipus. Here the 21st-century artist postulates that Dionysos helped her in this. Was she not deigned to join his worshippers because of her sin and her life of debauchery, which had taken place without her knowledge? But the gods, as is well known, knew the truth, so it is not surprising that this unique scene in the history of art appeared in the mind and under the hand of John Gorman. In Homer’s Odyssey (hymn 11), when he descends into the Underworld, Ulysses sees the mother of Oedipus (here called Epicastus). We can think that here the artist has represented the scene before Jocasta’s descent into the Underworld, who is therefore helped by another god. The space-time in which the scene is played out is therefore perfectly orchestrated. On the other hand, this work bears witness, plastically speaking, to John Gorman’s return to classicism in his most recent drawings. However, I will speak of a certain return to classicism, a classicism here perhaps borrowed from Poussin, but reread by Cézanne and perhaps also certain drawings by Picasso. However, this return to classicism in the 21st century is not pure imitation: here we celebrate the marriage of the great style, of its avatars, of the avant-gardes of the early 20th century, but also the alliance with a new way of representing this concept, as old as the Greek myths. The fabulous line, brutal, hard and thick, or softer and undulating, or muffled, like the hatching that runs through the naked skin of the god, similar in this way to that of a faun, gives a new meaning to this concept, and gives it new life. John Gorman’s drawing belongs to a style that has always belonged only to him. And in this, the exercise is more than successful. If my memory does not fail me, this scene in which Dionysos binds Jocasta does not appear either in Sophocles’ The King Oedipus or in Sophocles’ The Oedipus in Colonus: The title thus immediately indicates that John Gorman, once again, departs from the mimesis, and, as described by Jean Beaufret in his Dialogues with Heidegger, he withdraws to reveal “the existence of intelligible realities”, then, responding to Heidegger’s assertions about aletheia, he uses his own magical-religious wor[l]d to transcend it; it is not the manifestation of a will. Note that for the ancient Greeks, the “Word [World] of Truth” is also a word [work, here] of justice, a word [I add work] that brings into play memory, trust, the faculty of persuasion and ultimate adherence. But, as Heidegger also points out, the ancient Greeks did not know the clear-cut opposition between truth and falsehood, other pairs of opposites disrupt this pattern, “memory/forgetfulness”, “effective/non-effective”, “just/unjust”, “trust/deception”, “persuasion/inaudible”. This interpretation of the myth of Oedipus and Jocasta, the latter’s own story, so unheard of in the tragedies of Sophocles, is for me both anamnesis and aletheia, which, according to the Pseudo-Platon’s Definitions, is the “disposition that allows affirmation and negation”.
Frenhofer’s model and Apollo compete to charm their lovers. Graphite. Khadi paper. 30x30cm
Frenhofer's model paints her lovers, 20x20cm, pencil on paper
This composition of closely related groups, which is characteristic of the artist’s new style, shows Frenhofer’s model – totally absent again – busy painting her own lovers, in the studio of the old master, which they shamelessly took possession of to make it the site of their lovemaking and artistic endeavors. A form of revolt, of rebellion, in the face of the passive role of models that was assigned to them. On the left, the model-painter holds her brush in her right hand and seems to be contemplating it, her head tilted, her face with rather ungrateful features made of triangles (the contour of the face, the nose), while her eyes are reduced to two stretched but rudimentary features. His thick hair seems to be escaping from an undone bun, and to be only little cared for. His head is crisscrossed with abstract and scathing lines, his skull as if split in two. The triangle pattern also draws her small pointed breasts, but everything else on her body, except for the strong line at the top of her right shoulder, is circumscribed only by a very faint line, which sometimes breaks, as on her arm, while her hand is exquisitely drawn. Her posture is disturbing, the torso seen from the front and the buttocks in profile, as is the sketch of his leg. Her left arm is indistinguishable, although a firm, unfinished line may serve as a junction between this figure and those of her lovers. The latter form such a fused group that it is very difficult for the viewer to determine which member belongs to which woman. The one whose face can be seen, similar to that of a 19th century Parisian coquette, and whose head is crowned by a strange headdress with zigzagging hair cascading down her shoulders and upper back, is holding her lover tightly. This embrace is so madly grasped that the coquette appears dismembered, with her right shoulder and arm starting at the top of her head and, as if detached from her, her left arm truncated, one of her voluptuous breasts bursting out like a dented orange, a still life in the drawing, under her armpit… Her hand rests on the buttocks seen from behind her partner’s back, whose knee and right leg can also be seen, and a tiny fragment of head buried in the body of her lover and her folds and contortions. The coquette’s right leg is barely primed, the knee raised high to the left arm, while her left leg, from knee to foot, appears to be strangely bony but clearly defined. We have already touched on the subject and part of the iconography. But, if we link this reading of the image to what we know of Frenhofer’s life and latest work, a cubist work, although this term could not be used by Balzac at the time, perhaps we can try to go further in the interpretation. What if the old artist was not absent but dead? What if his models, having taken possession of his studio only in this 21st century, were trying to continue the research begun by the master, while indulging in the pleasures of the flesh? For it is a highly sexual work, of course, and this cannot be ignored. So we come to a re-reading of the 21st century (Delacroix, Ingres, Manet, Renoir, Cézanne, and Rodin…), and then of the most important avant-garde of the 20th century, Cubism, with the style and work so highly disturbing on the line of John Gorman, and to Picasso’s drawings above all. The memory of the remaining artist, as we know, is filled with ever-present memories of Michelangelo and the Trecento. Thus, with this study we end up with a total work of art, extremely complex, both in its style and in its iconography, and the very fact that it is a quickly brushed study shows how far John Gorman has reached in his art, and foreshadows the masterpieces to come, of which he gives us here a fantastic foretaste.
Theodora, charcoal, white conté pencil on paper, 36x26cm
The story of Theodora, her staging with her maids, eunuchs, ornaments, poses, was not chosen at random by John Gorman. The East, the mythical Orient, has been the object of fantasy for all artists - and few have actually been there - for many centuries, particularly in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In this fantastical East, they projected their own desires that were forbidden in the Western world, and over time they copied each other, drawing their inspiration from the engravings, drawings, paintings that the artists accompanying the kings and emperors had brought back from their travels. John Gorman, in the 21st century, seems to be taking over this tradition, and yet! How many mistakes an art historian can make in sticking to the letter and not to the spirit, fascinated as he/she is by his erotic scenes leading to the apogee of pornography, such as Picasso in his old age did not even dare to produce! Undeniably, John Gorman plays with references, too, but it would be wrong to look for them all on the side of the East and its representations. It would be just as wrong to think that any fascination with Ingres etc. led him to these distant lands and to this distant past. The 'impossible memory', as he keeps repeating, makes any reference suspicious, any model possibly erroneous for those who seek it. Of course, choosing this mysterious empress, because of her past and her dubious morals, allows him to give birth to scenes that are both fascinating and disturbing, and to give free rein to his passion for the naked female body. I do not see, for my part, real "models" for her works, although one can say that they are innumerable. We are groping along, revelation after revelation, but isn't the meaning of this series and its outcome precisely to undermine the referential system, and to lead us elsewhere - ‘’d’ailleurs - , where imagination, inventiveness, an immense culture that would become obsolete, would supplant the desire to follow a tradition? In this work in progress, well, anything seems possible...
Theodora. Sanguine. Tinted paper, 30x25cm
Three ages of Theodora, charcoal on paper, 36x26cm
Over the centuries, artists have represented the three ages of woman or man - more rarely, although Picasso's famous work should obviously be mentioned. Hans Baldung Grien (1484-1545) produced a series of famous paintings representing this trilogy of the same becoming another one as time went by. But then, Death was always present, giggling and brandishing his funeral weapons. We won't forget Klimt and the sweetness of his work. Maybe too sweet? Here, nothing reminds us of the past masters in their evocation of the ravages of time on women. Nor a little girl. This drawing is more reminiscent of the Harems that Picasso made after Delacroix, or Delacroix himself, or the famous Minotauromachies in which Olga becomes the monstrous being she had ended up being in the bosom of the couple she formed with Picasso, in love with Marie-Thérèse Walter. For there is indeed something monstrous in this work, but so subtly depicted that it is very difficult for the spectator to understand what is at stake here, between these three women whose title tells us that they are one and the same woman. Perhaps the one in the centre, turned from behind, in a somewhat grotesque posture, reminds us that Theodora was a circus artist and bear-owner at a young age? The woman on the right, who is herself (older? There is no clear indication of this) seems to be pulling her hair out, as one draws a line under her past. This woman is said to be the empress, half dressed in oriental clothes, her head bent over as if to meditate on her destiny: she would thus chase her unglamorous past from her thoughts via this grabbing. There is no sign of decay, however, in her glorious Ruben-like body, her slender waist and voluptuous hips. On the left, the woman who conquered Justinian, the incarnation of supreme feminine beauty, abandons herself in a lascivious pose, her head turned upside down, her abundant and flowing hair - it would have delighted Baudelaire - framing her languid face but, an important detail, an arm as if atrophied, legs (and this is the case of her sisters or doubles) reduced to dead, frozen, cubist forms in a word. This woman seized in her three ages thus remains the same, and the artist plays with the immemorial theme of the Three Graces, without forgetting, therefore, that Theodora had two sisters... The greatest masters can be summoned as to the supreme beauty of the left Theodora, but what about her legs as caught in vices and which ridicule her somewhat? This play with references from a distant and immemorial past and the experiments of Cubism - and we will not forget Cézanne, Rodin, other key artists of this in-between period from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th who were so important in their experiments on the female body -, makes this enigmatic work, without any real iconographic reference, a free and exceptional version in its lines, its inscription of the figures on a single plane, so many compositions associating naked women. John Gorman's style blossoms, in this freedom that he grants to his wide shot where the three female nudes undulate without really merging. The line dances, passionately free as well, and it would almost seem that a play of mirrors was necessary for this dazzling composition, if we did not know that the artist does not work from the motif. A thrilling drawing.