Allan Gorman is an American artist painting cityscapes and interiorscapes in a range of eye-catching compositions that vary from striking panoramas to intriguing close-ups. His style cannot easily be labeled, but could be described as loosely-painted realism merged with intrepid areas of abstraction.
After a long and successful career as an advertising art director, Gorman closed his business in 2013 to paint fulltime. He didn’t come to the artworld as an utter novice; Gorman dabbled in painting before, has been an avid art collector since his late twenties, and brings with him decades’ worth of design sense. However, it typically takes many years for an artist to go from beginner to serious professional. It takes time and experience to hone technical skills, develop a personal style, and to find one’s artistic direction and preferred subject matter. So to me it’s been fascinating to witness how Gorman’s artistic journey has evolved on a condensed high-speed trajectory. In the span of just ten years he not only found his voice but also developed remarkable skill, and most importantly, a fascinating and poignant visual language that is entirely his own.
While Gorman’s career in graphic design instilled a sophisticated eye for esthetic content, it also affected his artistic direction. A mindset devoted to business and making money is hard to shake — an attitude he has needed to struggle with in order to truly devote himself to painting that what excites him personally without automatically thinking about approval in the form of sales, popularity, and other non-artistic goals.
Gorman’s highly prolific artistic voyage started a decade ago with paintings that were inspired by a claustrophobic experience when he found himself stuck behind a truck during a rainy car trip. In those days he was consciously looking for marketable subject matter, his mind on the commercial side of art with the intention of giving galleries something they could sell. He went from painting transportation, such as trucks and trains, to zeroing in on the details of grills and lights, then moving on to watch mechanisms, which led to all sorts of subject matter with geometric shapes, such as machinery, gears, tractor tires, eventually leading to motorcycle engines and reflections on shiny surfaces.
A creative breakthrough occurred in 2014 when Gorman painted SteamPunk, a steam engine located at The Colonel Ward Pumping Station in Buffalo, NY. Five of these huge engines were used for pumping water from the Niagara River through the City of Buffalo. Because the facility only opens for photography once a year, this project required planning, which made him realize he intensely enjoys the hunt to find stirring visual subject matter. Up until that leap forward, Gorman feels his work had been an exercise in learning how to paint and become fluid in his pictorial language.
SteamPunk was a milestone, not only for the important insights it gave but also for its originality and impressive opulence — it catapulted Gorman onto a path towards his current body of work and hailed a new phase of artistic maturity that characterizes his art today. Less commercially minded, he determinedly stepped away from trying to please viewers, collectors, and gallerists, focusing instead on painting what he loves. He explains his compositions as a way of saying, “Hey, look at this!” A way of sharing the beauty he sees in objects and places that others may not immediately notice.
The follow-up to the steam engine was his painting Rocket, an Arianne II engine used to power French Satellite Rockets. Then another aha-moment occurred during a visit to Chicago for an exhibition opening, when he found himself staring up at the rusted infrastructure under the train system known as the ‘L’ — the now-official name originally short for “elevated” — which resulted in a series of about twenty paintings entitled Under the El.
Subsequently, these ironscapes evolved and led him to painting cityscapes, interiorscapes, and reflections in glass buildings, concentrating on interesting angles and forms, and the effects of shadows, light, and colors on manmade objects and spaces. He admires architects and engineers, and has become an intermediary who renders the notable allure in things originally made by others. By creating captivating compositions emphasized by a dramatic color palette, he magnifies and elevates his subject matter, either in its entirety or as an interesting cropped close-up.
When an artist finds his or her authentic voice there’s always an unintentional autobiographical element within the artwork. Gorman’s choice of subject matter is shaped by his childhood as a New York street kid. He loves the city and seeks to capture the visual emotions of its tension, danger, edginess, and grittiness. He’s also influenced by the Ashcan School of painters, known for their blunt urban subject matter, dark palette, and gestural brushwork. While he doesn’t think his work reflects theirs, he suspects it may have the same origin or vibe, an affinity and unsentimental affection for the rhythms and pulse of city life.
Besides showing the tenuous allure of the city’s dilapidated cragginess and rawness, to me, Gorman’s paintings seem to also convey an underlying sense of isolation and sadness, which he admits is a large part of who he is. Always feeling like an outsider — more an observer than a participant in life — he’s comfortable baring this aspect of himself in his artwork. Touching upon darker emotions, such as pain and anger, Gorman believes it could prove cathartic to dissect and address them through his work.
Yet he surmises that targeting grim, unhappy memories would radically change the look of his paintings — and besides, he doesn’t want to let go of his scars, frustrations, and disappointments. “Maybe being fucked-up is why I’m an artist,” he chuckles. “Could I deal with that? I probably could. Am I going to? Probably not.” This psychological baggage is an integral part of who he is, and more importantly, it spurs him onward and motivates him to work harder than ever. He finds peace of mind and validation through painting, translating what he sees and feels onto canvas, the only way he knows how to communicate and share the unlikely yet ever present splendor around him.
Currently Gorman works in a large studio, committed to a rigorous studio discipline on weekdays, painting five or six hours a session, the rest of the time is spent on peripheral artist’s chores. He lightheartedly describes himself as a “sloppy painter fixing mistakes.” Working exclusively in oils, his brushwork is intrepidly bold yet smooth, masterly suggesting details, often adding subtle color variations by delicate glazing. He determinedly avoids overworking his paintings, resulting in a highly recognizable yet hard-to-define pictorial style that from a distance is quite realistic but up close is deliciously painterly. He’s incredibly productive; depending on the topic and size, on average he finishes two pieces a month. Of course, another important aspect of creativity includes the mental work of taking on compositional challenges; he loves to figure out what is needed to interpret an intangible idea and render it into a visual representation.
He doesn’t know where his art will lead him, but he hopes it will develop, make him grow as an artist. He doesn’t want to be seen as a one-trick-pony, doesn’t want to be labeled. Constantly looking to be stirred by his next subject matter, he describes it as a visceral process that searches for tension and release. He explains that he’s not painting “this thing,” not replicating accurately, but showing how he felt at the moment he took the reference photos. He wants to convey his excitement and pleasure in capturing the essence of that moment. He believes that when his art touches the viewer, it forms an emotional connection between them. And that precious connection — however fleeting and distant — is what brings meaning to his existence as an artist.