Before moving to Taos, R.C. Gorman had enjoyed an active career in several venues. During a stint in the Navy, he drew portraits of his fellow sailors’ girlfriends. Borrowing on the style of Alberto Vargas, he glamorized the home-town girls for a small fee, and always managed to have extra spending money.
After his discharge from the Navy, the Navajo People awarded Gorman their first scholarship to study art abroad. He spent a Bohemian year studying at Mexico City College, now known as the University of the Americas. Gorman thrived under the influence of the Mexican masters: Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros, and Tamayo. He never met any of these artists, and he never studied directly with them, but their influence on his art was tremendous. Their use of color and freedom of style stimulated his imagination. Why couldn’t he apply this same freedom when depicting his own people and traditions?
During this time, the contemporary Indian art movement as we know it today was nonexistent. Indian art was confined to the “traditional” style encouraged by the Indian art schools. Gorman had no bonds to this style. He was unique. He experimented randomly.
His approach to drawing, especially, developed almost by accident during this year in Mexico. As he hurried from an oil painting class to a drawing class, he cleaned his brushes on the butcher paper on which he drew with a grease pencil. Then when he worked on the oily paper, the pencil grease partially dissolved and gave a marvelous washed effect, so he added color using turpentine as a medium. He developed and refined this technique and still uses this approach forty years later.
Gorman says he never mastered Spanish in Mexico (he actually knows more than he claims), but returned speaking broken English instead. “English is still my second language. Navajo is where it’s at.”
After Mexico, Gorman moved to San Francisco and established his first studio. He was the stereotypical struggling, if not starving, up-and-coming artist. To supplement his income, 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.
In San Francisco Gorman’s artistic output was prodigious. It was here that he painted the abstract canvases based on Navajo rug designs and Pueblo pottery patterns that brought him his first recognition. His career started to jell; he had more than a dozen one-man exhibitions and two-man exhibits with his father, Carl N. Gorman. He also competed successfully in Indian art competitions, bringing home first place awards in painting and drawing. In 1967, an oil painting titled “Desert Mother” won first place at the American Indian Heritage Art Exhibition in Oklahoma City. His lithograph “Navajo Mother in Supplication” won second place. “That’s great,” he was heard to remark, “but what happened to my third entry?”
Overall: 22 1/4 x 30 in. (56.5 x 76.2 cm)