Allan Gorman is an advertising guy by day and artist by night. I met him online and saw his fantastic work on his website, www.allangorman.com His work is very hip and contemporary, but begs to differ. Read on and find out why he dwells in American nostalgia.
MICHAEL: Hey Allan. Your work is fantastic. It's fresh and modern, yet very American and nostalgic ... I guess "retro" is the term. You obviously love highways, bridges and travel. What motivates you to paint these things?
ALLAN: Oh, thanks for the compliment. I think it's more the "retro-ness" of it (as you say) that draws me to the subject matter. Since I was a little kid, I've been drawn to the nostalgic. Visual objects that recall days past have always made me feel grounded, peaceful and secure. When I began painting many years ago, I made pictures from old nostalgic photos. They were mostly paintings of people, but had that same, quiet nostalgic feel as the current work. I picked up the brushes again a few years ago after a hiatus of more than 20 years and just didn't want to go back to what I did before. So, instead of people, I started painting industrial architecture and old objects like gas pumps. That eventually led to highways, byways and big-rig trucks. Now I'm hooked on the form and beauty of big 18-wheelers and am exploring them in a new series of big paintings that are pretty cool and unique. I'm most attracted to the brands that kind of look nostalgic -- Peterbilt, Kenworth, Autocar. These paintings are very dramatic and I'm having a great time doing them.
MICHAEL: Another thing that I notice about your work ... it's very cinematic. Your use of blocks of color reminds me of the old technicolor films. Is cinema an influence for you?
ALLAN: I love movies and have done my share of commercials and movies and can see how some of the images could remind you of old technicolor films, but there's no conscious effort on my part to make any movie reference. It's more that I'm drawn to contrasts created by bright light and hard shadows that give them that look.
MICHAEL: You mentioned earlier that after dabbling in art you took a 20 year hiatus. What happened during those 20 years? Was art still in the back of your mind?
ALLAN: Always. When I started painting in the 1980's, this style just kind of popped out and I was making people paintings from old photos. The paintings were good when the photo source material was good -- it was all about the story in the picture. However, since I wasn't actually taking these photos myself, it started to feel a bit disingenuous and (it felt) more about the craft and technical aspects of copying than it was about the creativity of making art. Since my real job as an adman and designer entailed solving communications problems, I decided to put more energy into that. I tried to get back to painting a few times in fits and starts, but a vacation to Santa Fe, New Mexico about three years ago gave me the bug again. Now I'm loving it again and I'm committed to becoming a full time fine artist as soon as I can. But I still have to feed my family, so I currently make my living helping folks with their marketing and advertising needs, and paint most nights and weekends.
MICHAEL: You're yet another example of an artist doing something else to make a living. While there are many full time artists out there, they're really the minority. Any thoughts about what this says about contemporary art in our society?
ALLAN: I wish I had all the money in the world and all the wall space to be a patron as I love all sorts of art and would love to surround myself with it all the time, Michael. But we're all faced with the realities of getting through every day and art isn't at the top of everyone's list as an absolute necessity -- it never was.
MICHAEL: I guess that’s true. Buying it always feels like a guilty pleasure for me.
ALLAN: It's a luxury -- even for the well heeled. It's just that some (like you) have an emotional habit that needs to be fed. But I do think that art is worthy of support and it's good to know that we now have a leader in Washington who thinks so too. Also, with the advent of the internet, the game has changed no matter what business you're in. Nobody is local anymore -- everything is international.
MICHAEL: Absolutely. It feels like heaven. There’s always more to experience.
ALLAN: More competition, more choices, more opportunity for exposure for everyone too. I don't know what the future holds for artists who dream about earning a living loving what they do -- I know I do. But it was always a hard thing to achieve -- except for a very small minority. It takes skill, it takes hustle and it takes a bit of luck to succeed at anything. But it's a bit easier to make money selling the public something that they perceive as having a practical application (like an Iphone), than by trying to sell a painting. But it's already been established that I have a nostalgic bent and that I get more comfort by turning to the past. I'd rather not dwell on what's contemporary or next -- it's too scary.
MICHAEL: It's interesting that you don't consider your work contemporary. I think your approach is very contemporary. I think the fact that you work in advertising probably subconsciously influences your work. It gives it sort of a "commercial" bent. That may be a bad word, but I do see it in your work.
ALLAN: Working in advertising is a definite plus. I'm all about trying to put myself in the audience's shoes to make an emotional connection and I take the same approach when making paintings. I'm a story-teller at heart and certainly show my art because I have a need to be heard. Also, I approach the marketing of my art with a commercial mindset. For the type of work I do, a "commercial" gallery is the best conduit to the ultimate customers -- collectors, companies and museums. And so, in the back of my mind, is making art that will have appeal to the gallery first.
MICHAEL: Not many artists would happily admit to this, but art IS a business.
ALLAN: They’re running a retail business and certainly are not waiting around for me. They have limited wall space and are looking for artwork that will fly off it. The quality of the art they show is certainly important, but they're in business to make money. They're also gonna look at whether or not the art will have appeal to their particular clientele, if the price points are fair, if there's a consistent inventory and if the manufacturer (artist) is going to be honest and easy to deal with. Yes, it's a business. And I guess the marketing lessons I've learned in the business world have a very definite influence on my art. I have no delusions of being the next art world wunderkind, but I do believe that I can certainly hold up my end of the bargain on the art business end.
MICHAEL: Good for you. I hope young artists read this and learn your views on the business side of things. I think that in order to survive, art really has to be more about business than art ... unfortunately. I'm still wondering about your influences because when I look at your work ... I hate to compare but ... I see elements of Wayne Thiebaud, Edward Hopper and even photorealist Richard Estes. Perhaps it's because they're also very cinematic and nostalgic, yet modern?
ALLAN: Well, I've been an art director since the late 60's and of course Richard Estes, Robert Cottingham and other early pioneers of photo-realism and modern realism opened my eyes and made me take notice. I've been a big Edward Hopper fan and George Bellows and other story-telling artists from the depression era, even as a child. Also, Wayne Theibaud is my absolute fabulously, best ever, lifelong hero!!! My work has also been compared to Charles Sheeler and Ralston Crawford and the American Precisionists and I certainly find the references flattering because I admire everyone you've mentioned. These days I especially like the work of Kim Cogan and David Kapp. Look them up if you don't know them. They are realist painters too, but also introduce abstract ideas and their styles are very "painterly". In other words, you can see the hand of the artist in their paintings, which makes them unique. That's what I aspire to as well. I'm not set on fooling the eye by replicating reality as the photo-realists try to do. I'd rather have my art seen as "paintings" that are unique with my own stamp. Maybe someday, a journalist will compare a young artist's work to Allan Gorman.
MICHAEL: You never know. Finally Allan, I love all of the old, celebrated artists, but what do you think it's going to take to get people to realize that there are thousands of talented, working artists today?
ALLAN: Given that media is so fragmented, it's really much harder to go out and achieve stardom as it was in Wayne Thiebaud's day. It wasn't so easy then either. But, with consistency and vision, I still think it's possible to grow a viable brand. How to get the public to notice? The Art Star reality show certainly was a start. We'll see if there's a second season. Perhaps exposure of artists through other "in the public eye" media ... Oprah, Ellen, etc will help. Maybe also a great movie about an interesting artist, followed by a bunch of me-too sequels … or a new breakthrough ad campaign, like the absolute Vodka campaign, where young artists are featured.
MICHAEL: Those all sound like good ideas.
ALLAN: Hey, maybe even a reality show about art schools around the country? "A Peek at Pratt,” "BS at BU,” "Inside the Ivy League Art Scene,” or maybe one that scours the great art neighborhood in the out-lying areas of our cities. Maybe even a show like "The Wire" or "Entourage" featuring a group of young artists. Of course, also great websites and books like "artbookguy.com.” Thanks for inviting me to your living room Michael. It was interesting and fun for me and I hope your readers will like it too. Thanks again.
MICHAEL: Thanks Allan. This was enlightening and great fun for me too.
See Allan’s work for yourself by visiting his website at www.allangorman.com