Nick Gammon

Where’s Dora?
by Olga Gambari translated from the Italian by Miriam Hurley and Claudia Ricci (catalogue essay for “Where’s Dora” Mar & Partners, Turin 2007)

Perhaps they were already in his work, in the abstract forms that he had painted for years, with a minimalism enamored of the historic lesson of America. Maybe they were camouflaged, transformed, in the profusion of colors that dominated the geometric precision of the patterns, marked out like mathematical modules. No doubt he had them in his eyes and in his heart. Now Nick Gammon dreams only of more and more flowers and leaves, all plants of paradise, symbols of an Eden in an exotic, tropical land.

The shapes of hibiscus and monstera deliciosa have become modules, forms that detach from reality and turn abstract, with which he creates patterns as precisely considered as a theorem in everything from their compositional structure to their chromatic values. There is an essay by the American artist Ad Reinhardt, written for a 1949 exhibition, which had been painted in the Virgin Islands, where he lists, by negation, a series of subjects denials that in some way “live” in his almost monochrome paintings, based on the darkest hues of the Pantone colors. He names: “no seashells or undersea caves, no blinding sand or wild winds or superstitions ... no trace or taste oflobster or turtle, mango or mongoose, no rum or coca-cola, no bamboo or barracuda ... no fish or fowl ... sea or sky-scape, no abstractings from nature ...”. His negations are in a way affirmations, suggesting that the dark monochrome abstract paintings in reality contain references to all these things. It ties in with the idea of a “paradise on the other side of the world”, a concept that runs through Western culture, from classical literature, to the discovery of the “New World”, and even the hippy’s pilgrimage to India.

Nick Gammon is a Welsh artist, who lived in Ireland and London, and travelled extensively in the United States and Central America before moving to Biarritz. The story behind his latest body of work begins way back in 1974, when he was twelve years old and started surfing in Wales. It’s a sport, a passion, with a whole philosophy and mythology of it’s own, inspired by the search for freedom Surfing means challenging the waves, the sea as nature’s defining element, the epitome of water and sky, the infinite, life and death. Human beings seek to tame the ocean with a board, putting to use their courage, intelligence and intuition in a game in which one stands alone with the infinite. Surfing is also a word that excites the imagination with warm seas, sun-baked sand and skin, an easygoing lifestyle, free from the rules of everyday life, where you can go barefoot in boardshorts – a world often seen as a stereotype. Against a backdrop of tropical flowers, palm trees and sunsets.

Hawaii is idealized as the archetypical tropical paradise for Americans, along with other exotic locales, and, of course, California. Here originates the coding of floral patterns inspired by tropical plants that once embellished shirts and sarongs and now are the patterns for all vacation and leisure clothing. This iconographic world mingles with Beach Boys music, a collection of movies including the famous John Milius film from 1978, Big Wednesday, and a line of heroes, surfers with “stage names”, characters defining the type of life they incarnated. One such figure was Dora, to whom Gammon dedicated the first work in the Green Room series, in 2003, a large diptych dominated by blue: Where’s Dora?

As if he’s surfing on waves, Gammon glides over a world of sensations and reflections, delving into a collection of codified images, hibiscus and lush leaves. In each work, he breaks up those forms, he jumps on them and through them, doubles them, observes them from different perspectives and overlaps them. They become abstract modules, outlines that are stylized to the point of verging on the, in the meticulous plan that underpins every work. The trajectory for the artist starts from realit geometric. Nothing is left to chance, as minimalism’s lesson lingers in the highly precise layout of the compositional structure, in the exactness of the mark and then departs from it at the iconographic level. Realism becomes abstract, modular mannerism, a viewthat detaches from the familiar, recognizable landscape to delve into a narrative of sensations and perceptions. Here, in this parallel dimension, Gammon surfs, as if he were gliding through layers of water, taking on the distorted view that the eyes see under the water’s surface, when looking up at the light from below, and all seems to be governed by new laws of sight and gravity. Gammon is interested in having his paintings work with perception. The concepts of optical and kinetic art therefore come into play, tied to shifting the bounds of forms, the application of color, and optical effects. Shadings, juxtapositions, sudden shifts in hue, combinations and tonings. Oil paint and wax expressed through a theoretical and technical experience that makes the surface move, creates dynamic planes, makes the fields of color vibrate and depart from the two-dimensional. This is a totally virtual concept of three-dimensionality that approaches a hallucinogenic vision. An essential element, both in terms of material and aesthetics, is wax, the final contribution to his works, informing refrains and pacing, turning the painting into a velvet fabric. “Even in profile, the surface seems to move, in the slight layering of the forms, flapping like a flag”, Gammon says.

So who was Dora anyway?
Dora was a legend. He was someone who used to disappear from time to time, no-one knew where to. A bit of a pirate, slightly crazy, always with his board under his arm. It was in the sixties in California that the graffiti started appearing on walls, at Dana Point where he surfed, asking “Where’s Dora?” No-one was ever quite sure. And it’s still being painted on walls today, his name represents a whole way of life, it’s a symbol of youth and rebellion.

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