The Gorsky Variations

Hidden Paintings make a big splash in a small town!

Morton County Mailer

It is unknown whether Stanislav Gorsky was a real artist, a collective of like-minded individuals, or perhaps even an established artist playing tricks on the art world at large. Certainly the only solid evidence found thus far for their existence is a stack of paintings in the Waylonville Hall of Color and Light.(est. 1972) The curator and sole surviving member of the Committee for Arts, Gerry Orton(73) says all are equally plausible. Gerry gives us his interview in an office slanted with late-afternoon sunlight—a dusty closet more suited to a school custodian than a well-known street artist. Rough mock-ups of his various chalk “dust-ups” festoon the walls, his only ornamentation. Gerry has been the sole fixture of the committee, founded in 1968 and disbanded seventeen years later, and curator of the town’s one and only art gallery. “Beats digging a ditch,” he laughs, as he clicks on the various panel lights jury-rigged throughout the gallery. Inhabiting the leftover building from the First Episcopalian church on Norvak lane, the structure was not set up for exhibiting artworks, or anything at all. Gerry leads us through a tangle of furniture and sculpture, the floor plan he laid out for us was an architect’s nightmare. “In those days, you took what you could. Now notoriety and nostalgia stop me from selling the place.” The notoriety he speaks of is the sudden upturn in interest the gallery has received, following the re-discovery of the Gorsky paintings.

Gerry claims that fellow committee member Miette(surname unknown) was responsible for discovering them tucked in between a number of monoprints and a single abstract canvas. At the time they were improperly labeled as the work of minor German expressionist Klaus Gorman, and so languished in storage as more popular modern prints rotated in the front galleries. This changed when the committeewoman loosed the wrappings on the painting in order to catalogue it for the new record system. “Her face was just pure, pure horror,” Gerry recalls, “and y’know she was a holocaust survivor, so that made her doubly sick.” Certainly the paintings aren’t easy to look at for even the most grounded individuals. The paintings depict a series of bizarre scenes, various surreal tableaus and landscapes, in an almost reverent light. Gerry proudly displayed us his personal favorite, titled simply “Heads.” The subjects of the painting, if they can be said to resemble any body part, do not immediately recall heads. Gerry led us to note that the artist often stuck to the same color palate as a reformation artist, though deliberately using one color definitely confined to the modern palette. Pthalocynanine blue shares the scene with various umbers and ochres, dripping from crevasses and thatching cliffs, giving a somewhat alien effect.

The paintings, in both their subject matter and color usage, often defy description (to trot out a well-worn cliché) as well as photography in the characteristic they became truly notorious for. Gerry kindly propped up “Heads” for our photographer as he attempted, with both digital and traditional photography, to capture the canvas. “It’s the creepy part about it,” Gerry says, wrinkling his nose, “they’re like vampires or something. He must’ve made his own paint.” Indeed, the article as published runs un-illustrated as hours of Photoshop and every kind of exposure could not produce anything discernible. Gerry assured us that it has been the same with every single picture, since the first day they were brought out of storage and photographed for the catalog. Now Gerry is forced to keep them under padlock from over-enthusiastic amateurs. He dons white cotton gloves as he walks us through the rest of the collection, all with as non sequitur titles as the first: “The Benediction,” “Host,” “Coffee Break.” The brush techniques are sophisticated, analysis has shown them to be made with a traditional sable round. The afternoon turned a corner into the shocking when Gerry beckoned us forward with portable lamp containing a UV lightbulb. The painting, when bathed with the light, changed completely. “It’s the same with the others,” Gerry tells us in a whisper. Indeed, it seemed more proper to whisper around the objets d’art, which had almost taken on a personality of their own. Gerry assured us that it was the same under different wavelengths as well; the canvas donated to the Morton laboratory for analysis has shown change even in infrared.

Psychoanalysis of the paintings indicate the subject matter and style as being similar to many schizophrenic patients. Often hyper-real to the point of being disturbing, the paintings seem to follow dream logic with the story they tell. In “Communion,” various long-necked humanoids sip golden light seemingly poured into their veins by a nearby bird creature who dwarfs the moon. “Daphne,” the sole painting with a proper name, seems to retell the fable of the nymph in a concrete nightmare, with the subject herself composed of various derrick-like structures. Gerry, art teacher at Teddy Roosevelt Junior High for many years, merely shakes his head and laughs. “Whoever could do this would have to be seriously [expletive deleted] in the head.” The subject and perhaps the cause of the paintings’ macabre manner is still unsolved, though to Gerry’s best guess it was a war of some kind, judging by Miette’s emphatic reaction.

The possibility that the artist was a member of the committee popped up early in the inquiry and has yet to be dismissed. Even Gerry says it’s possible, though he discounts himself on the grounds that “I was never that good.” He also vouches for Miette, citing her obvious disturbance at the paintings and her shock as evidence. “It’s possible we were harboring a frustrated Magritte or Dali for years and never knew. It’s easy to get discouraged in a little town like this, and the city only gives us the crumbs left over from the Rotary Club.” The paintings have stirred a certain amount of civic interest, and the city had even offered to buy the gallery another building. But Gerry says the asking price, five of the paintings to sell for city benefit, was too high. “The way I see it,” the septuagenarian says, “these paintings were here waiting for something. Now, I don’t know if it was me, or anyone even alive, but I know [expletive deleted] it wasn’t for some collector.”

The gallery is open on weekends 4-9pm, 6-9pm on Sundays. Gerry Orville can be reached through his nephew at


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