Article :

Nurtured Vision: Michael Oruch
David Simpson, 1997

Michael Oruch’s Paintings incorporate motifs and ideas that are marginal to or unapparent in the familiar definitions of American high art. Absorbing inspiration and iconography from (among other sources) Amish quilts, American-Indian artifacts, and Japanese domestic objects and architectural motifs, he makes paintings inviting meditation and slow learning. Surfaces that seem flat when viewed from a distance are seen on closer approach to be carefully textures and built up by layers of color, incipiently in motion but always held back from turbulence by the stability of composition and contrast. The play between movement and stillness cannot be ignored but is simultaneously absent of melodrama. It produces in the viewer a contemplative experience that makes possible an access to the rhythms of mind and body. These paintings are things to live with, and live through. As the distance between eye and surface increases or diminishes, so the paintings shift, always quietly, from two-dimensional, formal compositions to paintings within paintings, and colors within colors, open to infinitive re-envisionings.

Once can see here a recreating of European Modernism’s commitment to an imagery derived from other, non-European cultures, and from “folk” sources. But there is no attribution of exoticism or primitivism, so that there are no anxieties of condescension or appropriation of the sort that are so familiar to our generation. The paintngs are gestures of respect – repsect for use-values as well as color and form. The icons of unfamiliar cultures are here imaged as already part of a world we should know, as things we seem to remember without quite knowing why or whence. The post modern habit of multicultural allusion is rendered as something more permanent – a kind of common repository of contemplative tools and aids for reflection. Oruch’s work is in this way noticeably humanized, although no human figures appear in it. Exists, entrances, passages, bridges, tools, fabrics, runic signs, thing to use and live with, all imply a human presence. This is a world that cannot simply be one of abstractions because acts of seeing, of laying hands upon, and of seeing again must continue to occur as part of the human life.

This said, it is appropriate that the interest apparent in Oruch’s recent work – the “Runes” series – is an interest in divination, in the process whereby eye and mind seek for sense and meaning, and for a connection with forces outside but also inside themselves. The habit of divination, always the same but always different, is a fitting model for how one lives with works of art. Divination is frequently scorned because it cannot be falsified, cannot fail – there is always an answer. But this maybe exactly its strength, which fulfills a need that is not simply that of objective knowledge but of making a knowledge, over and over again. What is at work here is not so much an interpretation as a habit of interpreting, of looking again, and again, of measuring personal time and space, of ordering experience through available form, forms like the twenty-five Norse runes from the third and fourth centuries, which are represented in the “runes” panels.

It is hard to find a vocabulary that does not misrepresent the work of these paintings. Such terms a sinergy, harmony, healing, and vision are inevitably associate with religious or alternative subcultures, and are thus received as partial or out of the ordinary. We have traditionally struggled to decide between the sensual and the intellectual, the beautiful and the moral. We have not reached consensus on any terms that bring these alternatives together into concepts. These paintings perform that function for which we do not have words. And yet it is a quite simple function, and should be very much of the everyday, a readjustment of time and space that reminds us to look again at what we already think we know – to divine the ordinary.