Andrea Gomez is fearless. No, that’s not quite right. She has many fears, which she examines pitilessly, then steps over in her pursuit of knowledge and understanding through painting. The paintings’ startling perspectives and Fauvelike brilliance of color might make her seem bolder than she is, and the ambitious nature of her undertaking might seem a mark of hubris. But in reality, Gomez is, with her trained eye and hands, her questing mind and her unusually open heart, just doing the artist’s job particularly well.
Still, I had to gulp when I saw the title of her new show of recent paintings at the Horace Williams House. Having been privileged to follow the development of these works from formless ideas through sketches to finished oil paintings, watercolors and drawings, I was already aware that Gomez had based the series on her intent study of the first five verses of the Book of Genesis, along with the Kabbalah and chaos theory. But Pictures from the Birth of the World has a powerful ring to it. Oh boy, I thought. The girl ain’t messing around now. This sounds like another whole order of magnitude of seriousness beyond the large figurative drawings of the Burdens series, and even beyond the earlier Ishmael in the Wilderness installation, in which Gomez and collaborating artist Mickey Gault examined the stories of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael in paintings, drawings and sculptures.
And it is. This is as serious as you can get. Imagining not-life, before-life, is not quite the same as imagining death, which is hard enough. Gomez imaginatively sent herself on a journey, not to the end–not into the jaws of death or across the River Styx–but to the beginning of time, and the pictures she brought back are full of reverence, awe and passion. They speak more clearly than words of the astonishing miracle of living. This miracle is vastly old, yet daily it occurs again. Eyes open, and light separates from darkness. Form emerges from chaos in living color, shimmering delicate color, blazing saturated color. Without light, there is no color; without light there is no life, and it is life itself that concerns Gomez.
“You know, I’ve tried to get interested in the Apocalypse, but it’s creation that I love,” she says.
Unless they are merely assemblers, what artists do is create–make something from nothing, bring form out of the void–and consequently many artists have dealt more or less explicitly with the idea or theme of creation. For some, it is a way to honor God or religion; for others, it is a way to honor themselves as godlike. For still others, like Gomez, painting about the creation of the world becomes an ecstatic act. “I don’t see religiosity in my work,” she says. “It is a mistake to confuse source imagery with faith … I think that all my work is about humanity, about how wonderful it is to be human in this world.”
Before Gomez returned to painting and drawing in the late 1980s, she worked for many years as an experimental filmmaker and animator, and she has never abandoned her interest in non-verbal, temporal narrative (“I’m not talking about illustration here!”). That is not always evident in individual paintings, but has been clear in every series of work she’s done, whether figurative or landscape. Her intention to visually manifest her ethical and spiritual values, along with her aesthetic ones, has been equally clear, but rarely has Gomez succeeded so well as in Pictures from the Birth of the World. Conceptually, technically and formally, this is the most powerful body of work she has yet produced.
Andrea Gomez turned 50 last week, and in her sixth decade she is working with tremendous strength, assurance and directness, balancing representation and abstraction, drawing and painting, line and color, with the deftness of maturity. Yet in the very directness of these paintings, in the intensity of their feeling for life, one senses the artist’s acute knowledge of mortality, the awareness that her own temporal narrative will end. There’s no time to waste, these paintings remind us. Not one tender morning, or bright afternoon, or flaming evening or velvet night. For all too soon, time will be over and light will not separate from the darkness again.
But meanwhile, there is cadmium orange (“the color of sex”), chrome yellow, viridian, alizarin, ultramarine, and there is the daily miracle of creation.