Robert Gordy is a quintessential visionary. A dreamer. An undauntable dweller in that violet-skied, chimerical world of aesthetic fantasy. Rarely has there been much attention given to this facet of his art; it seemed so latent over the years. But his 1981 survey, assembling twenty years of his paintings and drawings into a remarkable cohesive whole, tacitly proclaims that it is the principle facet and cannot be overlooked any longer.
By the time Robert Gordy died in 1986 at age 52, he had already created two of the most original and influential styles ever to emerge from New Orleans. During his later, briefer (five year) stylistic period, he produced a long series of psychologically intense, Expressionistic portraits that represented the AIDS epidemic. He created those riveting, distorted faces of men with a then-unusual printing technique known as monotype. Monotypes are one-of-a-kind renderings produced by swiftly painting designs directly onto a Formica printing plate, then placing paper over the plate and rolling it through a printing press as if it were an etching. Gordy pioneered the now-popular method locally.
Few artists are willing to expose their souls on the very surface of their work. It takes extraordinary courage. Painter Robert Gordy (1933-1986), in the last years if his life, after a 30-year career ushered chiefly by a beautiful but emotionally harnessed style, had that courage. He also had the skill and intelligence to wield such a personal enterprise into something that would daunt no one, all the while ringing with authenticity. The consequence was a new unfettered posture and a new series of works – mostly portrait heads and mostly monotypes.
For an artist, no event is more significant than a retrospective exhibition. As the word implies, a retrospective provides an occasion for looking back, for identifying themes, both stylistic and pictorial, that characterize a body of work. Usually, a retrospective inevitably entails reflection and reassessment. While everyone has such moments in life – a major anniversary or a birthday marking a decade – an artist is confronted with a tangible record that must be faced with prevarication or self-delusion. For an artist to “dry up” in his/her primary medium after a retrospective is not at all unusual. Often a painter or sculptor will work only in drawings or prints for a few weeks or months on the heels of this hiatus. For an artist to make a radical and prolonged change, not only in style but in medium as well, however, is indeed unusual. But that is exactly what Robert Gordy did after his 1981 retrospective at the New Orleans Museum of Art.
In the summer of 1982 painter Robert Gordy abandoned his arch, patternizing, Art Deco-inflected signature style. Since that time he has devoted most of his energies to making monotypes, and the principal focus of his attention has been the human head. Gordy’s second gallery showing of his new work was a knockout, some two dozen suave yet honest works without a ringer in the lot. The monotype medium has provided Gordy with a form of no-risk, gestural spontaneity, and a genuine “painterliness” emerges in the trailed lines and heavily worked or mottled areas, even as the luminous etching ink and insistent gleam of white paper preserve the essential flatness which has always been fundamental to Gordy’s art.