Spontaneous Expression: The Art of Gordon Massman

Gordon Massman’s art is inspired by Abstract Expressionism, confessional poetry, and Beat Generation literature; all movements rooted in real-life experiences

The monumental paintings of Gordon Massman are visceral abstractions pulsating with rawness. A writer as well as a painter, Massman studied and taught writing and literature and is the published author of numerous poetry volumes. His art is inspired by Abstract Expressionism, confessional poetry, and Beat Generation literature; all movements are rooted in real-life experiences and characterized by spontaneous expression, candor, and immediacy. The massive surface of his canvases is a free-rein territory, a space where dangerous emotions can safely play out in a catharsis of fierce mark-making and paint hurling.

Based in Rockport, Massachusetts, Massman has been painting behind closed doors all those years. His show at Agora Gallery, opening on April 1, will be his first official exhibition to date. We spoke to him about his artistic process, the ties between poetry and art, and the psychology behind them.

Gordon Massman and Sabrina Gilbertson
Gordon Massman in his studio together with Agora Gallery director Sabrina Gilbertson

How has your background in literature and creative writing influenced your approach to painting, particularly in terms of your process and subject matter?

On the deepest level all art—literature, sculpture, textile, painting, cinema, music, theater—traces back to that infinitesimally tiny pinpoint of human aloneness (not loneliness) crying out in the wilderness for protoplasmic connection. For validation, love, recognition, and interpenetration. It all stems from basic human needs, the baby for the nipple, the scout for the merit badge, the scholar for the applause, and the sybarite for the orgy. Rarely does alone fulfill itself. So, yes, my two genres–poetry and painting–slide back to the resounding heartbeat pulsing for contact.

Gordon Massman in his studioYou mention being inspired by Abstract Expressionism, confessional poetry, and Beat Generation literature. How do you incorporate these influences into your art, and how do you see your work as extending or diverging from these movements?

The confessionalists, beats, and abstract expressionists tore through the straight jacket of universal platitudes which had bound artists for centuries and got personal in their art by excavating themselves. They particularized their own emotions with very personal and difficult observations. They loosened up language and paint in an attempt to expose themselves. I did this in the extreme in my poetry and like to think my paintings follow suit. One must look inward now, ruthlessly to be original.

Your process is described as wholly emotional and physical, guided by instinct. Can you discuss how you balance this intuitive approach with your conscious decision-making as an artist?

Most assuredly I place more emphasis on the heart. On instinct. On impulse. On uncensored emotion. The head wants to tyrannize spontaneity and yet spontaneity just could be the stuff of brilliance. In short, I’d rather see what a capybara could do with a box of paints than the inveterate scholar.
I do not methodically work on my technique but I am always evolving naturally. Stasis bores me. I cannot settle for producing an endless repetition of the same signature painting. Internally, I’m a shapeshifter, struggling to paint something fresh and unrecognizable as a painting by Gordon. This unsettles me; that is, it prevents me from being comfortable. Just as my eyes begin to relax I startle myself from my chair to begin once again the uncharted journey.

How has your experience with psychoanalysis informed your work, particularly in terms of how you approach themes of the forbidden or the taboo?

Psychotherapies of most kinds seek to guide one inward and to accept that nothing external matters or even exists. The individual is the universe and must explore and conquer that terrain. This means grasping the unspeakable truths of one’s own life after peeling off repression and denial. Exposing one’s truths makes gripping art. A splinter in the eye is the best magnifying glass.

Gordon Massman at Agora Gallery
Gordon Massman’s large-scale artworks in the front of Agora Gallery

Your paintings are described as “monumental” and “no-holds-barred.” Can you discuss the scale and physicality of your work, and how this relates to your approach to painting?

I want to explode outward, not inward, and it takes a large canvas to catch the particles. Though I am introverted, quiet, and polite intense feelings rage through me. I have uncontainable TNT.

You mention that every action in your painting process is absolved of its iniquity. Can you discuss the role of morality in your work, and how you navigate the boundaries between artistic expression and social responsibility?

Absolved of iniquity because a piece of art exists outside all moral and legal strictures. Christian morality, legal stipulations, social obligation, and penal punishment have no jurisdiction over art. I can commit murder on a canvas without guilt because murder is not a concept on this canvas. A piece of art bears no responsibility to society. Its sole responsibility is to itself.

Your poetry has been recognized with numerous accolades and awards. Can you discuss the relationship between your poetry and your painting, and how they inform each other?

Poetry and painting to me are like the two vectors of a “V” tracing back to the nexus which is the creative source. Imagistic poetry, that is the poetry movement began in the 1930s with Pound, HD, William Carlos Williams, Richard Aldington, D. H. Lawrence, and others, which replaced metaphysical poetry (abstract ideas such as Love) with the image (particularized things such as a table) fundamentally altered the way modern poets reimagined their artform.

You describe the artist’s psyche as the last frontier in art. Can you expand on this idea, and discuss how your work explores the depths of the human psyche?

Before Kodak, the artist was praised for how perfectly he or she could render a subject. The more precise the image the louder the praise. Such exact verisimilitude studs our museums and homes. They are pre-technology photographs and they can be stunningly timelessly beautiful. I cannot imagine anyone today painting in that vein who can improve upon it. That turf is mastered.

With the invention of the subconscious, Freud luminously spread before artists the last frontier. No more grapes on a plate. That infinite frontier is that of discovering one’s unique self. Every person on the planet has one. The only path forward is into the core of the self.

Can you discuss any upcoming projects or exhibitions, and how you see your work evolving in the future?

I have no events planned. Up until now, I have worked without an audience. I suppose I will evolve in unknowable ways.

April 1 – 21, 2023, Gordon Massman’s works are on view at Agora Gallery for the solo show Gordon Massman: Telegrams from the Sun. All the artworks available for sale, are on the artist’s ARTmine page.

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