A Lifetime’s Adventure in Art
29 April - 27 May 2023
In the summer of 2022 The Towner Gallery in Eastbourne celebrated the life and influence of Lucy Wertheim, a dynamic force in British art in the C20th who through calling into being her Twenties Group, promoted young painters.
The exhibition, A Life in Art; Lucy Wertheim and reuniting the Twenties Group celebrated her and her protégés with an exhibition that brought together works by the group and by publishing a new edition of her book, Adventure in Art expanded with new illustrations in colour and three new commissioned essays which contextualised Wertheim’s story and showed the depth of her legacy.
David Gommon owed his own life in art to this remarkable woman, who gave him a weekly allowance and painting materials, in return for the work he produced. He was free to live the life of a young artist, following his creative drive, painting every day and finding his subjects and expression. Here in Dorset it was thanks to the Pooley family in nearby Hartgrove that he had a roof over his head, sustenance and a critical audience.
Lucy Wertheim and David Gommon remained lifelong friends; she never wavered in her conviction that he was a gifted and creative painter. She became a friend of art critic, writer and journalist Ian Mayes, who like her was always aware of the depth of David’s qualities as a painter.
As is always the case in art, distinctions and rankings are always made by critics to establish the successful and important artists. Looking at the Towner exhibition it was striking how good Lucy Wertheim’s eye for talent was, and how good so much of the work was, not just by the celebrated painters. David Gommon’s work on display there demonstrated his gift for colour and form; Music Hall in the Towner’s permanent collection and Red Horse from the Lucy Werthem Estate are particular striking paintings, both distinctly different in character.
In this new exhibition at the Art Stable, a C21st version of Lucy’s Burlington Gallery there is a range of work from the early days in Dorset-another Red Horse-and a homage to Tess, through to his later Zen like garden paintings. What is striking about David Gommon’s work is that it consistently expresses an ecstatic joy in the visual world, in the form and colour of the landscape, in song birds and gardens. His was a life in art well lived which expressed directly his own faith in the Creation and certainty that All Shall be Well.
Peter Gommon, March 2023
‘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 Catharines’ College, Cambridge)
David Gommon’s son, Peter, contacted The Art Stable a few 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.
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.