Robert Gordy was an American artist born in Jefferson Island, Louisiana in 1933. Best known for his colorful, playful compositions and cubist headshots, Gordy dabbled in a multitude of twentieth century styles – everything from Impressionism to Art Deco – while adding a distinctive touch that made the works recognizably his own. Having studied under Hans Hofmann in the early 1950s, Gordy went on to receive his Master of Arts at Louisiana State in 1956, and became one of the most influential artists of the New Orleans art scene in the latter half of the 1900s.
“Hesperides”, completed in 1972, is a perfect example of Gordy’s early 70s style. Bright and colorful, it depicts an image of a nude woman running across a green field dotted with spheres of orange. The woman and the field exist inside what appear to be cleanly perforated cutouts, suspended upon a blue sky full of small white clouds. Going by the title, the work seems to be referencing the Greek myth of the Hesperides – a trio of goddesses that lived in a lush garden on the far west side of the world, possessing dominion over the evening and sunset. This assumption is readily reflected in the work, as the abstract, smooth and cherubic women run lightly in what could be taken for an orchard composed of lush green trees and plentiful orange fruit. The blue cloudy background takes our minds skyward, and the women’s progression from left to right is like reading words on a page, mimicking the daily progression of the sun from beginning to end.
This piece also gives a good example of how Gordy would reference earlier styles while inserting his own personal flair. Almost immediately, Matisse comes to mind: the repetitious patterns, simplified designs and nearly-flat colors are all reminiscent of “La Danse” (1909). The perforated “cutouts” are similar to Picasso’s collage works, although in this piece they are part of the actual painting. The airbrushed colors give the piece a beveled quality much like an Art Deco relief, the bright palette is very much indicative of the 70-80s pop art scene. Gordy makes his lines and colors very clean – almost cartoon-like – in a way that was ahead of its time for the early 1970s and would become popular in the 1980s.
Is Gordy making some kind of social or political statement here? If so it’s not readily apparent, but when examined closely, the way in which the women and the garden are “cut out” along dotted lines and suspended in the air amongst a cloudy void does seem a bit jarring. Of course, the arc of the cutouts could be simply to mimic the movement of the sun across the sky, but given the women’s rights movement that was in full force in the early 1970s, it wouldn’t be out of the question.
Gordy’s career continued into the ’80s; some of his best-known work included cubist-style portraits. His career was cut short when he died of AIDS in 1986, at the age of 52.
Author Greg Crothers is a senior enrolled in ART 3683: History of 20th Century Art.