Dumitru Gorzo: Economies of Possibility

—Amy Owen

Dumitru Gorzo’s vivid works are efficient, rhythmic, and methodical while maintaining an acute idiosyncrasy. This kind of palpable tension pervades his prolific body of work, which takes shape in a multitude of forms though Gorzo considers drawing paramount to his practice. He approaches his work with an economy of means evident in his execution, materials, and subject matter — a firm commitment to doing, and hence saying, more with less.

Originally from the small village of Leud in Romania, Gorzo has been influenced by various disciplines. He employs methods of working that range from street prankster to performance artist to studio painter and sculptor — effectively evading any strict categorization. It would make sense, then, that this known-to-break-all-the-rules artist would tend toward abstract forms in his work given Romania’s history of powerful, distinct, realist traditions. In turn, his pieces are often reflective of the mythical, chaotic worlds through which he grapples with the confines of his past.

Here, the new works that populate the exhibition Core, including a suite of drawings and watercolors on paper, a sculptural installation, and a series of large-scale oil and clay paintings on canvas, seem to merge Gorzo’s past and imaginary worlds. The subjects that these bodies of work tackle are myriad, ranging from abstract crypto-zoological investigations and hybrid form studies that mesh human, animal and plant-like characteristics to more realistic historical renderings on canvas.

What unites these works is Gorzo’s unique utilization of materials, including a formula of clay and glue on paper and canvas. Surfaces become of extreme importance, in particular paper, as its’ properties possess a vulnerability, or permeability of sorts, that allows the surface to vibrate with feeling. Given the earthen qualities of these materials, it is no surprise that the artist often drew with mud as a child and found the Romanian landscape as an early inspiration, further pointing to his works’ direct connection to his homeland. Watercolor also abounds in the suite of paintings on paper, and is often seen combined with clay. The intensity of pigment attained through watercolor, coupled with the tactility of clay, coalesce in a way that could be seen as bringing sculpture to paper.

Gorzo’s vivid watercolors and drawings include, for example, Medieval Plants, a work in which an inverted man, planted as a tree, is rendered with his crowned head planted firmly in the soil and his arms and legs reaching up to the sky, sprouting buds and leaves as they spiral upward. In another piece, we see the profile of a young woman, reminiscent of an Egyptian funerary mask with five severely pointed noses, who seems to slyly smirk at a scene just off the page. A third work, TRI, conjoins three suited bodies with the head of a Cyclops peering eerily and knowingly outward, while a fourth piece portrays a comely sword-wielding woman with male genitals. These powerful, direct images, both playful and violent, work in stark contrast to the simplicity of the white page.

While visiting with the artist in his Bushwick studio, Gorzo mentioned an affinity for the writings of Polish author Witold Gombrowicz, whose work has depicted Poland in times of war when the system of traditional culture, based on faith in God, collapsed. Gorzo’s provocative, manic investigations could read as a visual narrative to these writings that convey a new, drastic reality, in which creatures collide bringing fantastical dreams, streaked with eroticism, to life.

The tight salon-style hang of these watercolors and drawings in this exhibition is important to note. It allows for a viewing experience akin to reading “choose-your-own–adventure” books, allowing for multiple readings between the vast array of characters on display. The iconic, raw pictures are simply pinned to the wall, as the theme of immediacy is extremely important to the artist. To mount and frame the works behind glass would only deaden them. For Gorzo, there should be no boundaries between the work and the viewer.

Taking this a step further, Gorzo includes a sculptural installation here entitled Dual Absence, which consists of three figures, made of hollow business suits cast in resin, that literally seem to enter the work of art. Headless, the sculpture’s necklines lean flush against a movable wall swathed in canvas. These vacant forms claim a fragility reminiscent of the delicate surface of a painting on paper.

Another important element of this installation are the intricately carved clay patterns, not unlike shoeprints, covering the canvas backdrop. They emerge from the surface of the wall, coated in red oil paint and created with the use of handmade rubber stamps. These forms, small tag-like logos as seen in Gorzo’s street-based practice, include an insect-like creature with fangs. The fanged insect is a symbol the artist claims as a self-portrait and that could be read as an acute, invisible observer of the surrounding world.

Gorzo’s work conjures at times references to George Baselitz, Louise Bourgeois, and more directly, Constantin Brancusi. In a more distinct body of work on view here, the artist has taken the subject of Brancusi’s World War I monument Endless Column as a point of departure for a number of large-scale clay and oil on canvas paintings. Brancusi’s work was completed in 1938 in the town of Târgu-Jiu, Romania where he spent much of his childhood. The towering cast iron sculpture was commissioned (as part of a three-piece project) to commemorate the courage and sacrifice of Romanian civilians who fought off a German invasion in 1916.

Gorzo’s paintings look behind the scenes of this project to the construction site of the column, to Brancusi’s workshop and to the community of craftsmen and women who contributed to the creation of the memorial. Working from photographs, Gorzo hints at figures from his past paintings of peasants from his own Romanian village — a series of older works, overlaid on hand-carved wood, previously on display at Slag Gallery in June 2008. In them, the artist tests the limits of clay and watercolor, experimenting with varying levels of light and shadow to form intense patches of color and texture. In the painting Avenue of the Heroes and Endless Column we see Brancusi’s monument teetering in the background simply and elegantly, a chain of diamond-like shapes reaching toward the sky. The diamond is a compact unit, but it is a dynamic, multi-dimensional form with limitless possibilities. It is a poignant object that perhaps provides a cornerstone for contemplating Gorzo’s seemingly divergent bodies of work. There is a tension of binary opposites and an economy of elements — of possibilities. Within these simple forms and subtle gestures lie a taut balance of multiple entry points and endless outcomes.

Amy Owen is an independent curator based in New York and Director of Exhibitions at Artists Space.

The exhibition catalogue design and curator’s essay have been supported by the Romanian Cultural Institute in New York