Robert Gordy | Artists’ Chronicles: 2020

Robert Gordy is considered one of the most original and creative Southern painters of the twentieth century. In the early 1980s, late in Robert Gordy’s notable career as one of New Orleans’ leading artists, he began to produce monotypes, by painting directly onto a printing plate. Increasingly, Gordy’s monotypes were expressionistic portraits presenting highly emotional subject matter. 

Many of his paintings contain the artist’s clean-edged and stylized forms, melodic patterns, and flawless color harmonies so characteristic of his work prior to 1982. The elegant paintings executed in his signature style through 1981 evidence a mastery particularly over hue and value of color and keeping dynamics of shape in varied balance. In the works prior to 1982, there are often intense emotional realities beneath the apparent calm of the marvelous paintings and drawings.

Robert Gordy achieved far more beyond exquisite compositional patterning of forms — a technique self-described as “knitting” — and sensitivity to layers of color nuance. Perceptive art critics noted that Robert Gordy invigorated his formalism through careful interest and attention to the French Symbolist-Surrealist tradition. Even in his “aesthetic phase” Gordy had a penchant for an emotional release that would surface fully in his later riveting monotypes. 

Gordy worked up until the weeks before his death in 1986. His profound, incredibly forceful late monotypes are moving, even terrifying, and almost overwhelming portraits. Gordy’s mastery of the monotype medium and his compositional skills remain evident. But most of all his monotypes are a moving testament to Gordy’s courage in the face of his imminent death. His companion had died and Gordy was diagnosed with a then little-understood fatal disease, AIDS. His unfortunate death from AIDS in 1986 at the age of 52 was an enormous loss.

Born in Louisiana in 1933, Gordy received his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts from Louisiana State University. He had numerous solo exhibitions and was included in the 1973 Whitney Biennial and the 21st National Print Exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. He received several accolades including a Ford Foundation Fellowship, Yale-Norfolk Fellowship, and National Endowment for the Arts Purchase Award. His work is in several collections including the National Collection of Fine Art, Washington, D.C.; the Metropolitan Museum in New York, NY; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY.