Michael Oruch’s paintings stand apart from much of today’s post-industrial secular art. These works, both large and small, are an alternate response to the present, perhaps even an implicit critique. On first encounter one may sense that these paintings come off in a flash and what you see at a glance is all. Of course, this is the response conditioned by the shifting of fine art into the cultural ideal of mass consumption. And as such, we have been taught to expect art to come to us, rather than opening ourselves to art. Oruch’s works reveal themselves, by an attentive gaze, as vehicles to a meditative state.
I found myself taken with several recent large works that deploy a symmetrical format of rectangles and bars of contrasting colors. Beginning from the bottom of the canvas, alternating bars move us up toward the the large central square or field, in one or two groups. In several, a bridge is effected by the introduction of another small central rectangle, also animated by horizontal bars. The whole effect is reminiscent of certain Renaissance altarpieces’ where a small crucifixion at the bottom center is the theological entry into the whole.
The central field floats forward against an encompassing color field. Within it, sixty-four squares, each composed of six horizontal bands are organized into columns of eight by eight, sometimes grouped by bars of black and white and or contrasting colors, of some subtlety. Each banded square or hexagram, is further divided by central vertical spacing, intervals that change from square to square, and rotate throughout the field. At this point, one might note the King Wen sequence, more than an echo of I Ching changes, and indeed, it is meant to be seen as such, as it is the series title. Nevertheless, for me, this is only the set up for the magic these works can produce.
Indeed, the effect here is closer to Tibetan Thangkas than Western religious art, with their colored silk striped borders and bamboo scroll rods. Yet Oruch’s paintings’ affect reflects that of an individual spiritual journey, like those of the minimalists: Agnes Martin and Ad Reinhardt. Step aside from analysis and give yourself to the paintings, gaze and wait.
Against all the rigid formatting, an asymmetrical force appears, shifting the grids; colors begin to oscillate and glow. In some squares, circles begin to emerge; in other works, sharp lines splinter into strands of delicately indicated color, and elsewhere we find “phantom” colors dancing at the interstices of these graphic signs.
As we attend, we move from an outward regard to an internal sense of our own cognition; we regain or are returned to ourselves, apart from the distractions of time, place and others. If one could go further, we might even step away from ourselves to a continuity with something beyond us. Each work is an incantation, a divinatory gateway; this is painting as post-industrial shamanism.