“Each work has a spoken version and in an ideal world, I would stand beside the piece and recite the poem.”
British artist and poet Gommie’s work has poignant beauty that begins with the inscription of poems across paper, a process of mark making that reminds one of the textual work of Philip Guston and Jean Michel Basquiat. However, for Gommie, a self-described pilgrim, these tableaux are not reflections of an inner life, but rather documents of memory of the people and places encountered during his journeys along the coastlines of England and Wales. “Originally I would go for long walks, with no plan for return — stepping into the unknown. I began marking time on the material I had before me — maps. Before I knew it I began writing poetry on the surface, and I had maps with words inscribed across, spattered in mud and marks — a sort of accidental beauty …..”
If Gommie’s painted poems are records of accidental beauty, they also have an esoteric appeal, stories and moments are captured in staccato composition. Notes, symbols, and black lines transect colourful surface: a shoreline drawn in black ink, pattered foliage, and mysterious and comic symbolic images draw the viewer into this world of narratival memory. The admixture of poetry and image allows for an unstructured symbiotic way of expression, calligraphed across the surface of maps and found materials.
The artist describes his process as beginning with a region, building on conversations he has with people he meets, observations of place., recalling the line from the Alan Ginsberg poem ‘A Supermarket in California’: “ In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for image…” It is precisely this richness of image captured in simple words that characterises Gommie’s work: an evocation of quiet or hyperbolic memory and place thrown in high relief.
To make these intriguing works, Gommie demarcates a line on a map, tracing a path, creating along the way symbols gathered from his travel, an approach likened to foraging. Some works have intricate drawings and patterned areas of pigment, while others have a cloudy elemental wash of color. For each unique work there is one constant: the act of layering words with medium creating a spontaneous world of memory and place.
Gommie’s work is about a world outside of self, documenting and synthesizing the sadness and joy encountered, recording, and remembering people met along the way. In this way, the artist’s work differs from much of contemporary practice, in that it expresses not an inner landscape but rather a pattern of seeing outside oneself, observation and documentation rendered in the language of poetry and the pictorial plane of color and impression. “The work is a document of history, of people of the time, looking outward as if on stage.” Today, Gommie lives and works on a boat, and this allows him to travel in our new post Covid world.
Rosa JH Berland