‘I know of few artists whose work communicates such a sense of joy in life as that which comes from these beautifully quiet, very modest and English paintings, so accurate in their evocation of the changing moods and feeling of nature. The landscapes …show that in his use of colour and simplified shapes he has found a personal and eloquent language, perfectly suited to its purpose; and an important part of that purpose is the expression of wonderment and delight in nature.’ (Ian Mayes writing in a review of David Gommon’s 1975 exhibition at St Catherines’ College, Cambridge)
The exhibition opening at The Art Stable on 4th March has an intriguing history and a rooted Dorset connection. David Gommon’s son, Peter, contacted The Art Stable a couple of years ago regarding his collection of paintings by his father, many of which were images of Dorset. We were delighted to see a body of such high quality work from the mid twentieth century which still felt so fresh and interesting. Since then we have been displaying individual paintings in the gallery, with enthusiastic response, and are delighted now to be presenting a full exhibition of his work.
To begin with, David Gommon painted the landscapes of Dorset in real time, having fallen in love with the county in the 1930’s on a cycling trip away from Battersea, where he grew up. He would stay with the Pooley family in Hartgrove, just 10 minutes drive from The Art Stable. Some of these early paintings would have been exhibited at the Wertheim Gallery, where he held his first solo exhibition when he was only 19 years old.
Subsequently, David Gommon was taken up by Lucy Wertheim and exhibited in her influential gallery during the 1930’s, alongside Barbara Hepworth, Robert Medley, Henry Moore, Cedric Morris and Christopher Wood. His early work was influenced by the Neo Romantic group of artists that emerged in the 1930’s which included Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland.
It was during that first trip to Dorset that Gommon experienced what Ian Mayes described as an ‘elemental bonding’ between the young man from Battersea and the English landscape. He went to Chesil Beach and recalled being ‘overwhelmed by the revelation of beach, the sea, the sky!’ One stormy night Gommon and a friend, staying in a beach hut on Chesil Beach, sat listening to Uncle Vanya on a battery wireless. Gommon remembered that the sound of the rain ‘intensified on our wooden roof - but the voice from the radio continued ‘and you and I, uncle, dear Uncle Vanya, shall see a life that is bright, lovely, beautiful. We shall rejoice.’
That idealistic world was to come to an end with the outbreak of the Second World War, during which he stopped painting altogether. After the war, settling in Northampton, he taught at the Grammar School and began painting again. Dorset remained an important imaginative part of his life and he returned to it again and again in his paintings with images of that landscape, developing an eye for what lay beneath the surface, the forces that had formed it and a sense of its history. Thomas Hardy was a particular interest and his shadowy figure appears in some of the paintings.
Gommon’s later watercolours paintings in the 70’s and 80’s became increasingly bold and his colours stronger and brighter, similar in feel to David Hockneys more recent landscapes, as seen in his recent retrospective at the RA.
Gommon exhibited regularly during his life time and has work in a number of public collections including the Whitworth, Manchester, Salford Museum and Art Gallery, The Northampton Museum & Art Gallery, The Towner, Eastbourne, Auckland Art Gallery, New Zealand and Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane.