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 R. C. Gorman  (1932 - 2005)

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Lived/Active: New Mexico/Arizona/California / Mexico      Known for: abstract female Indian figure painting, lithographs

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BIOGRAPHY for R. C. Gorman
Facts/Data
Birth
1932 (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)
 
Death
2005 (Santa Fe, New Mexico)

Lived/Active
New Mexico/Arizona/California / Mexico

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abstract female Indian figure painting, lithographs

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:

Courtesy of Jina Brenneman, Curator of Collections and Exhibitions, Harwood Museum of Art, University of New Mexico:

"I've always felt successful. Even when I wasn't making any money, I just knew it was all there. I always believed in myself. I knew I had talent and there was just no doubt about it. I just didn't give up."

          - R.C. Gorman

Photographs of Taos' Ledoux Street taken by Mildred Tolbert in 1968 show an exotic, charming, untamed, third-world, block-long, dirt path. The beginning of the street was lined exclusively with private residences with the exception of one gallery, The Navajo Gallery.   Its owner was Taos legend R.C. Gorman.

The end of the road led to what was then the Harwood Library - now the Harwood Museum of Art. Imagine the visitors to the gallery trudging down the little street with no parking and no signage - the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Onassis, Arnold Schwartzenegger, Tab Hunter, Alan Ginsberg, Gregory Peck, Lee Marvin, Senator Barry Goldwater, Arlo Guthrie, and fellow artist Andy Warhol.  As Virginia Dooley writes in The Taos Diaries 1968-1998,  “Whenever Gorman visited the Big Apple, Warhol gave him the grand tour a la Studio 54 and other underbelly haunts. In 1978, they mounted a successful exhibit together in New York that was jokingly referred to as the show of ‘the odd couple."  

Dooley notes that visitors to the Navajo Gallery " . . . would have to find the entrance to the driveway, walk up to the gallery window, duck under a low archway into a hidden courtyard, and find the swinging door which led, finally, to a surprisingly spacious gallery. ‘Where is the Navajo Gallery?’ became the most-asked question of people roaming around with confusing street maps in hand.” If visitors managed to find  the gallery, they would be greeted by a bejeweled handsome Navajo man, larger than life, surrounded by his cats, with either a Cadillac a or Mercedes parked nearby. Gorman’s charm and humor enchanted the locals. He trademarked himself with flamboyant accessories - bandana headbands, Hawaiian shirts, sunglasses, beads and gold.  His attire would foretell the immense popularity and celebrity that would emerge from the little dusty street in Taos.

The artist was born Rudolph Carl Gorman in 1931 in Chinle (pronounced Chin-lee), Arizona. Chinle is near the geographic center of the Navajo Nation, the largest tract of land reserved for Native Americans in the United States. Gorman was the son of Adele Katherine Brown and Carl Gorman - the reknowned artist, teacher and Navajo Code Talker.  Carl Gorman was the oldest of the original twenty-nine Navajos who volunteered to form a secret division of the Marine Corps.  Carl recalls that  "R.C. always carried a tablet and drew, wherever we were. We were dipping sheep once, and he got a little girl to model for him. A white man working with us saw the drawing, got me, and said, 'Look. Someday he's going to be a great artist.' As a boy, Gorman modeled animals and toys out of clay from the local swimming hole. Later he drew with charcoal on rocks. When he started school and discovered pencils, papers, and books, he began drawing with abandon. His first school, Chinle Public School, was a one-room structure heated with a wood stove. He recalled that his first work of art in school was a drawing of a naked woman; it brought spankings from both his teacher and his mother.” (excerpt from R.C. Gorman: A Portrait).

In 1943, Gorman enrolled in a Catholic boarding school on the Navajo reservation. In the fall of 1944 he switched to the Ganado Presbyterian Mission School. In the seventh grade, Gorman began selling his artwork to nurses and doctors at the mission school. After graduating in 1951, Gorman joined the Navy before entering college. The Navy did not deflect Gorman’s need to draw. He sketched the girlfriends of his colleagues, collecting pocket change in exchange. At the Navy’s Guam Territorial College and later at Arizona State College (Northern Arizona University) Gorman studied literature and creative writing, always with an emphasis or minor in art.

“In the summer of 1956, he worked at Disneyland, where he dressed as a Native American and paddled a canoe. In 1958, he received the first scholarship from the Navajo Tribal Council to study outside of the United States, and enrolled in the art program at Mexico City College. There he learned of and was influenced by the work Diego Rivera. He later studied art at San Francisco State University, where he also worked as a model. R.C. worked as an artists’ model for several university and private classes throughout the Bay area. This proved an invaluable experience in his training. While posing, he wasn’t able to participate in the classes, or receive critiques from the instructors, but he listened, observed, and absorbed the knowledge of several masters.” (http://nativeamerican-art.com).

The Navajo Tribal Council awarded Gorman a grant to attend Mexico City College in 1958, shortly after he returned to San Francisco. During that time he worked as a nude model. In the bay area, he worked in a post office branch in the evenings and painted during the day.  Then came a pivotal event in Gorman’s life: his discovery of Taos, New Mexico.  It was love with at first sight. That year, 1964, Dorothy Brett agreed to handle Gorman's work and exhibited it at the Manchester Gallery on Ledoux Street.  Gorman continued to make long trips, living and studying in San Fransisco and Mexico City. During an important visit to Mexico City in 1966, Gorman did his first work in lithography under the tutelage of noted Mexican printmaker Jose Sanchez. Back in Taos, Gorman’s shows continued to sell out. With his hard-earned money and a loan from his parents, Gorman bought the Manchester Gallery and opened the Navajo Gallery, the first Native American-owned gallery.  The Navajo Gallery held its first group exhibition in May 1969. The gallery roster included Patrick Swazo Hinds, Robert Draper, Al Momaday, Helen Hardin, Pablita Velarde, Charles Lovato, Cynthia Bissell, Dorothy Brett, and R.C.’s father, Carl Gorman.

R.C. Gorman died at age 74 in Albuqurque's University Hospital. New Mexico's Governor, Bill Richardson, ordered that flags be flown at half-mast in Gorman's honor. During his lifetime R.C Gorman was honored in important and unusual ways, including an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts, College of Ganado, Ganado, Arizona (1978), R. C. Gorman Day, State of New Mexico (January 8, 1979), Doctorate of Humane Letters, Eastern New Mexico University, Portales, New Mexico (1980), R. C. Gorman Day, San Francisco, California (March 18, 1986), Humanitarian Award in Fine Art, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts (May 1986), New Mexico’s Governor’s Award of Excellence (1988), Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Arizona (1995), Honorary United Nations 50-year Chairman for New Mexico (1995), A Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars (2002) . Harvard University recognized Gorman for notable contributions to American art and Native American culture. Gorman was the only living artist included in Masterworks from the Museum of the American Indian, a 1973 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The Metropolitan bought both Gorman drawings included in the exhibition, and the New York Times dubbed Gorman “the Picasso of American Indian art.”

Gorman’s sensitive approach to human form, natural gifts, and outrageous and extravagant imagination made him one of the most influential and fascinating artists of his time. Out-glitzing the likes of Andy Warhol, Gorman turned brilliance into a commodity--often at the cost of his original raw and striking talent, and at the risk of compromising his place in the history of art.

This exhibition focuses on the years prior to Gorman’s commercial success, when - as Gorman stated -  “Even when I wasn't making any money, I just knew it was all there. I always believed in myself."


This biography from the Archives of AskART:

Born in Canyon de Chelly, Arizona and raised in a hogan on the Navajo Reservation, R.C. Gorman became one of the Southwest's best known late 20th-century artists.  His signature works were Navajo women in a variety of poses.  Many persons have been fascinated by the fact that he, an Indian artist, became famous in the white man's world with some calling him the "Picasso of Indian artists".  Of this kind of attention, he said: "I wish people would quit pushing my being Indian.  The only time I was interviewed as If I were a normal person was by the Jewish Press in Tucson.  It was the first time I felt international and almost white". (Samuels 222)

His parents were Carl Nelson Gorman, artist, and Adella Katherine Brown. He abandoned the name "Rudolph" and signed his artwork with the initials R.C.  He grew up during the Depression years, and he later said his first materials were "sand, rocks, and mud."  His father, Carl, was one of the first Indian artists to depart from tradition and paint from his own personal expression, but R.C. seldom saw his father during his early childhood because he was away during the war, serving in the South Pacific as one of the Code Talkers---Navajos who used their language as secret code to foil the enemy..

Women, particularly his maternal grandmother, were primary influences and remain the focus of most of his paintings and prints.  She spent much time with him during his childhood, and they herded sheep together, and he often drew on the rocks including a depiction of a nude woman that brought him a scolding.  She told him the Navajo traditions and legends, sang the old songs, and taught him about plants and animals.

His mother, who had been sent away to government schools, directed him more towards the Anglo world and spoke to him only in English.  She oversaw his education, and he first attended Chinle Public School.  At age 10, he went to Flagstaff, shipped there in a cattle car with his mother, to work in the Navajo Ordnance.  On the way, he saw his first painting at a stop at Hopiland at Moencopi Trading Post, and couldn't get it out of his mind.

After that he attended St. Michael's, a Catholic boarding school on the Navajo Reservation, from where he was expelled.  Next he went to Ganado Presbyterian Mission School where well-known Southwest trader Don Lorenzo Hubbell had a trading post nearby and was a key figure in helping with the organizing of the school.  A Dr. Clarence Salsbury was Director of Education and encouraged Gorman with his unique talents, which were recognized by many students and faculty members.  Many years later, in 1978, The College of Ganado awarded Gorman an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts, which he later said was the highest honor he had received.

He went to college in Flagstaff at Northern Arizona University, and in 1951 enlisted in the Navy for four years during the Korean War, but never quit drawing.  In 1955, he re-enrolled at Northern Arizona University, studying literature and art, and illustrated for a school magazine.

A trip to Mexico and later a year long study scholarship really excited him, especially viewing murals by Orozco, Rivera, and Siqueiros, and sculpture by Zuniga because these artists were depicting realistic people.  Their works were a catalyst for his decision to paint likenesses and create lithographs of people from his own heritage.

However, Gorman did not stay long on the Navajo reservation.  In 1962, he left and would return only for visits.  He moved to San Francisco where he had successful exhibitions of his work and earned the patronage of Charles and Ruth de Young Elkus, who encouraged young Indian talent.

In 1964, he went to Taos, New Mexico, and shortly after had an exhibition there in the Manchester Gallery.  He returned to San Francisco where he went through a period of doing surreal landscapes but made frequent trips to Taos.  He also had several joint exhibitions with his father, Carl Gorman, and in 1968 purchased the Manchester Gallery in Taos, renaming it the Navajo Gallery.  From then it was his studio and home.

In the 1970s, he became a nationally known artist, and visitors to the Southwest were taking his work to all parts of the country.  He also opened a gallery in Tubac, Arizona, about 40 miles south of Tucson, and conducted numerous workshops.  During that decade, he first experimented with lithography, studying with Jose Sanchez in Mexico City.  He did etchings, silk screen, sculpture, and ceramics and also began his pastel, watercolor wash full-bodied Indian women that became his trademark.  Of this subject matter, he said: "I choose models who have full bodies--something you can put your two arms around and feel a real woman. I like the ample figure because it fills space softly" (Monthan, "R.C. Gorman, 29).

His daily work schedule has been one of arriving at his studio about 8:30 AM, working intensely, eating a long lunch with a glass of wine, returning to work for an hour or so, and then disappearing until the next day.


Sources:
Doris Monthan, R.C. Gorman, A Retrospective; Peggy and Harold Samuels, Contemporary Western Artists


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Navajo artist R.C. (Rudolph Carl) Gorman died on November 3, 2005 at a hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico of pneumonia related to a blood infection.  He was a long-time resident of Taos, New Mexico and "best known for his paintings, sculptures and lithographs depicting American Indian women---typically corpulent, barefoot and wrapped in shawls or blankets. . . . While some critics dismissed Mr. Gorman as a commercial artist who prized quantity over quality, others praised his flowing line; his warm, saturated colors; and the strength and spirituality and universality of his subjects."


Source:
Margalita Fox, "R.C. Gorman, Painter Of Strong Navajo Women", The New York Times, November 5, 2005, A15

Biography from GallArt.com:
R.C. GORMAN was a master of three mediums - drawing, painting, and sculpting.

In his linear portrayal of the human figure, he has no peers. The whole body of his work is directed toward the Indian - Navajo women moving placidly among their chores.

Gorman was born on the Navajo reservation in Chinle, Arizona in 1931 into a family of artisans. In 1955 after his U.S. Army discharge, Gorman enrolled in Northern Arizona University. In 1958, he received the first scholarship ever given by the Navajo tribe for study outside the United States.

He attended Mexico City College for a brief time, and this exposure caused a change in the direction of his art.

He has exhibited in untold numbers of one-man shows throughout the United States and the world. In 1973, he was the only living artist to be included at the show "MASTERWORKS OF THE MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Gorman's work is in many permanent museum collections. A few include: The Museum of Indian Arts, San Fransisco, CA; The Heard Museum, Phoenix, AZ; Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff, AZ; Philbrook Art Center, Tulsa, OK; U.S. Department of Interior, Washington, D.C.; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX; Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, IN; and the New Mexico Museum of Fine Art.

His private celebrity collectors include Erma Bombeck, Former Senator Barry Goldwater, David Hartman, Martha Hyer, Lee Marvin, Gregory Peck, and Ruth Warwick.

R.C. Gorman died of pneumonia on Thursday, November 3, 2005 at 12:20 pm MST, after a lengthy illness. Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico made the announcement at a news conference in Santa Fe. The Governor ordered flags in New Mexico to be flown at half-staff.

Gorman was legendary for his drawings, paintings and sculptures of colorful, blanketed, generously sized women. Gorman was quoted as stating, “I revere women…they are my greatest inspiration.”

New Mexico Cultural Affairs Secretary Stuart Ashman said that “Gorman will be remembered as one of the greatest Native American artists.”

A rosary was held on Sunday, November 6th and his funeral was on Monday, November 7th at 10am in Taos, New Mexico. He was buried in the cemetery on his property near his home in Taos.

Those of us who knew him, will always remember his humor, his personality and his beautiful artwork.

Biography from American Design Ltd.:
Rudolph Carl Gorman, a native American, was born in Chinle, Arizona.  During his early years he lived in a hogan and had little experience with the world beyond the Navajo reservation.  He was raised by his grandmother who ignited his ambition by recounting Navajo legends and by acquainting him with his artistic ancestors.

In 1958 he received the first scholarship ever given by the Navajo tribe for study outside the United States.  At Mexico City College, Gorman had exposure to the artists Rivera, Siqueiros, and Tamayo, who inspired him to change the direction of his art.  He also met Jose Sanchez, a master printer, and, under his direction, made his first lithographs.

Gorman has had more than twenty one-man shows and participated in thirty group shows, including the exhibit Masterworks of the American Indian held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (he was the only living artist represented). That museum is one of fourteen American art institutions to include his work in their collections.

Biography from Adobe Gallery:
R. C. Gorman (1932-2005) - Navajo was reservation raised.  He received a scholarship from the Navajo Tribe in 1958 to study in Mexico at the University of the Americas.  The strong influence of Mexican artists Tamayo, Rivera, and Zuniga is evident in his work.  The classic simplicity of Zuniga's work is so apparent in the drawings of Navajo women by Gorman.

R. C. Gorman was probably the most famous Navajo artist.  He was charming, flamboyant and fascinating.  He had spent most of his adult life in Taos, New Mexico where he lived and worked.  .


Biography from Artistic Gallery:
R.C. Gorman used three mediums - drawing, painting, and sculpting.

The whole body of his work is directed toward the Indian - Navajo women moving placidly among their chores.

Gorman was born on the Navajo reservation in Chinle, Arizona in 1931 into a family of artisans.  In 1955 after his U.S. Army discharge, Gorman enrolled in Northern Arizona University.  In 1958, he received the first scholarship ever given by the Navajo tribe for study outside the United States.

He attended Mexico City College for a brief time, and this exposure caused a change in the direction of his art.

He has exhibited in untold numbers of one-man shows throughout the United States and the world.  In 1973, he was the only living artist to be included at the show "MASTERWORKS OF THE MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Gorman's work is in many permanent museum collections. including The Museum of Indian Arts, San Fransisco, CA; The Heard Museum, Phoenix, AZ; Museum of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff, AZ; Philbrook Art Center, Tulsa, OK; U.S. Department of Interior, Washington, D.C.; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX; Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, IN; and the New Mexico Museum of Fine Art.

His private celebrity collectors include Erma Bombeck, Former Senator Barry Goldwater, David Hartman, Martha Hyer, Lee Marvin, Gregory Peck, and Ruth Warwick.

R.C. Gorman died of pneumonia on Thursday, November 3, 2005 at 12:20 pm MST, after a lengthy illness.  Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico made the announcement at a news conference in Santa Fe.  The Governor ordered flags in New Mexico to be flown at half-staff.

Gorman was legendary for his drawings, paintings and sculptures of colorful, blanketed, generously sized women.  Gorman was quoted as stating, “I revere women…they are my greatest inspiration.”

New Mexico Cultural Affairs Secretary Stuart Ashman said that “Gorman will be remembered as one of the greatest Native American artists.”

A rosary was held on Sunday, November 6th and his funeral was on Monday, November 7th at 10am in Taos, New Mexico. He was buried in the cemetery on his property near his home in Taos.

Those of us who knew him, will always remember his humor, his personality and his beautiful artwork.

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