Detail: Untitled "Doodle," Ted Gordon, AVAM Perm. Collection
For more than 30 years, the artistry of Ted Gordon has been sought after and collected throughout the world and exhibited in Japan, Switzerland, France, England, Slovakia, and the United States. Intensely private, Ted has never left his modest home in California to attend any exhibition opening. Nonetheless Gordon revels in the fact that his prolific "doodling" has won him such far-flung recognition explaining, "These doodles are my only legacy... each face is mine at the moment of execution, a tentative installment of one interminable self-portrait."
Harold Theodore (Ted) Gordon was born on June 23, 1924 in Louisville, Kentucky to an emotionally distant mother. The eldest of three children, Ted was sent upstairs to live and be raised by his paternal grandparents. He grew up speaking Yiddish with a loving, Lithuanian-born grandmother who sometimes mistook Ted for her beloved brother tragically killed in the last week of World War I. Ted's father traveled throughout a tri-state area to sell overalls for the family business, The Goodwear Overall Company. Gordon remembers his father had a gift for sketching. Only 14 when his father died unexpectedly, Ted began doodling and drawing caricatures of his own. Attending one semester at The University of Louisville and then transferring to New York University, Ted dropped out of college to become an apprentice bricklayer sponsored by Local 9, the Brooklyn branch of the AFL/CIO. In this capacity Ted worked on major construction projects in Manhattan and Brooklyn before starting out west, ending up in San Francisco. There, Ted met and married Zona Chern and returned to finish college earning a B. A. degree with a major in social welfare. Ted and his beautiful wife Zona formed a very private, mutually creative partnership, living simply with a dog and a cat and few possessions. "Like the book, we were 'Pioneers in Paradise'." Both were voracious readers—Ted the student of history and Zona ever interested in politics and civil liberties. Social Security lists 47 different employers for Ted, which he claims is really a conservative accounting of the total jobs he has held. Retired and now in his 80s, Ted remains proud of his flawless record of 25 consecutive years of government service working as a clerk in west coast federal hospitals without ever using one day of sick leave.
The Smithsonian's curator Linda Hartigan first took notice of Gordon's work from a letter he wrote to her in 1976. Soon after, prominent art collectors Chuck and Jan Rosenak visited Ted. By 1981 Ted was represented by San Francisco's Braunstein/Quay Galley, a relationship that continued through 1995. Ted also corresponded with famed artist Jean Dubuffet, the founder of The Art Brut Collection in Lausanne, Switzerland. By 1993 Gordon's doodles were featured in an exhibition at The Art Brut Collection entitled, "Les Obessionnels." Ted Gordon's biographer Roger Cardinal explains the intensity of Gordon's pictorial expression as "a short-circuit in the creative current, whereby the self-taught draftsman, absorbed by his image-making, becomes a perpetual motion machine, an instrument of what the Surrealists called 'automatism' or spontaneous, unmonitored creation. The mind gives free rein to the hand, whose gestures in turn provoke the mind, in a sustained circle of impulses."
In 1998, Ted Gordon generously donated to the permanent collection of the American Visionary Art Museum what is the largest and most representative collection of the artist in the United States. Since Zona's death in 2000, Gordon continues to make his art, living as a recluse, sleeping on the floor and walking an average of 50 miles a week around his suburban complex. He has disciplined himself to drink only water and to eat fruits and vegetables, plus two cans of sardines and two hard-boiled eggs a week. Ted explains, "Spinoza said virtue is its own reward. I lead an ascetic's life."