Carl Gombert believes in magic.
And if you were to meet him, in person you might sense some magical vibe – the good kind that tells you if a person has been to Narnia, knows talking beasts and believes in Aslan. It’s the magic of play and imagination.
Gombert is currently the featured artist at Tomato Head Market Square, and while you probably won’t catch him there to share his personal magic, the works in his exhibit have a magic all their own. The exhibit consists of rubber stamped decorative pieces that have been Gombert’s focus for the last five years.
Gombert owns a series of little rubber stamps – things like butterflies, guitars, and fish and so on – very much like something you’d buy for your kids. These varied images become the building blocks of Gombert’s work – he combines them in ever widening shapes. In one instance the shapes form a circle of alternating banjos and guitars, in another you might find a stamp of a fish next to one of a skull and crossbones. The results, in both black and white and color prints, are all visually alluring – but they aren’t always what they seem.
The individual pieces vary in size and shape, but they all share a seemingly deliberate structure. And yet, Gombert insists that “They’re a lot more improvisational than they look. They look like they’re incredibly planned out – all I can really tell you is that they start with an image in the middle that’s vaguely round and then will get bigger and bigger. I just try to make decisions that don’t reckon.”
Still, one look at these pieces may make you wonder if Gombert is telling the truth. He is adamant that he is, but, he adds, “I know now from a lot of experience that certain kinds of repetition and rotation will yield very geometric, mandala like organization; and yet I don’t have a preset idea of what images I’ll use – one thing will suggest another. And so that improvisational nature versus the highly structured underpinnings really appeals to me as an artist. I’m all about the dichotomies of planned chaos or ordered disarray.”
One particular piece is an alluring series of what appear to be pinwheels, perhaps even flowers, and yet if you get close to the image, you’ll notice that the prominent stamp is the image of a pistol. Likewise, a series of decorative triangles, upon closer inspection, reveal themselves to be a series of butterflies.
Gombert avoids defining his work in terms of specific style, but for this amateur observer, it’s hard not to make general comparisons to pointillism or the photomosaic technique which is probably best known through Dali’s Lincoln in Dalivision. Gombert chuckles at the thought and proceeds to talk about Dali’s work, Mae West’s Face which May be Used as a Surrealist Apartment (which is definitely worth a visit with your favorite search engine).
The dichotomy of things that look like one thing but are really something entirely different appeals to him – but one wonders if the appeal arises from the artist’s aesthetic or comes from a more mischievous place where lions speak and fauns make tea for young ladies who travel via wardrobe.
Gombert, who is also a professor of Art at Maryville College, will display his work at Market Square through the end of May and then the show will move westward to the Gallery for the month of June.