Somewhere in Cabell Gorman's life, there’s a street sign at an intersection. One sign says “family,” another “art,” another “grief,” and another “animals.” Gorman stands in the middle of the intersection.
For the Richmond-area woman, noted for her oil portraits of pets and paintings of sporting animals, art includes family tributes, grief therapy and a love of animals, especially dogs. She has trod all these streets in her journey to artistic success.
You may have seen Gorman’s work in local art shows and galleries, or perhaps you know someone who owns one of her dog portraits or whose beach house is adorned with a painting of blue crabs. She does both commissions for pet owners and her own scenes of horses and sporting dogs, but always focuses on the animal world.
What you haven’t seen is the path that led to these works, for the art comes from a very personal place: the loss of a teenage son and the need to overcome her grief.
Gorman’s son Patrick died, shortly before what would have been his 18th birthday. Born with pulmonary hypertension, Patrick had numerous health problems that took him in and out of hospitals in his early years and led to early hearing loss. Despite his problems, he became a talented young artist, attending the Henrico Center for the Arts and planning to go to art school before his health issues unexpectedly took him away.
Gorman, who had shared a love of art with her son, was devastated. “I always had the vision that I would be marketing his art,” she says. “Once he died, I didn’t pick up a brush for a long time.” Adding to her grief, the family dog died shortly after Patrick.
She worked hard at pushing through the emotions, trying to give herself “reasons to get out of bed each day,” such as becoming a docent at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. She also relied on the help of her husband, Breck, and son Jack, but it turned out that two puppies were the ones who brought her back to art.
“I had a show planned at the University of Virginia that I was going to cancel, but then these puppies came into my life and I started painting them.” Others liked the paintings and requested portraits of their pets, and Gorman found her art going in a new direction. “The show was so well-received that it gave me new purpose.”
She switches between commissions and her own work, which blends her lifelong interest in horses with Breck’s interest in working dogs and memories of Patrick’s abilities in skeet shooting. She says she loves meeting new dogs for the pet portraits.