High + Low: D. Dominick Lombardi Retrospective at the Marie Walsh Sharpe Gallery in Colorado Springs, features 20 distinct chapters of Lombardi’s career, with artworks spanning nearly five decades. Curated by T. Michael Martin, Director of the Clara M. Eagle Gallery at Murray State University in Kentucky, the exhibition highlights the common thread throughout Lombardi’s work—an interest in blending qualities of highbrow and lowbrow art, through experimentation with various media. Lombardi’s life-long journey began with his exposure to modern art when he first saw a reproduction of Picasso’s Guernica (1939) at a very young age and continued with his introduction to the seductive world of Zap Comix in 1968. Curator T. Michael Martin says, “Lombardi’s masterful mix of high and low culture is as current as the day it was created, showing how little the aesthetics of human behavior have changed. In some ways, Lombardi’s distortions are a more truthful look at society than our daily facade of polite policy and political correctness, especially in the way we prompt contention, as Lombardi offers a much-needed change and disruption through his unique sense of humor.”
This is an extensive show. Tell me a bit about the genesis of this show and how did you work with the curator to select the work?
In 2005, I was a Visiting Artist and Critic at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA. I met T. Michael Martin (the Curator of my retrospective) during a graduate student studio visit, and I was very impressed, so we stayed in touch. In 2006, he asked me to be in an exhibition he was curating in Knoxville, TN. The following year he curated another exhibition for a space in Chicago, IL. The exhibition included the sculpture Self Analysis from 1989, a very important work for me, as it related directly to what I learned from my grandfather in his workshop.
Ten years later, in 2017, Priska Juschka of Lichtundfire gallery wanted to show some of my sculptures including Self Analysis. I go to collect that piece that I always remember being on my fireplace mantel and it’s gone. Somewhat panicked, I start emailing and calling various institutions to see if they have any memory of it. I go through all my storage a few times—I cannot find it. The thing is, since 2007, that piece has not been where I thought it was.
Later that day, Creighton Michael called me, and I told him my predicament. That same day he speaks with T. Michael about returning art to another artist in NY, and he just happens to mention he’s been trying to return a sculpture he has of mine – the missing Self Analysis! While in New York, T. Michael made a visit to my studio when he dropped off my sculpture, and later wondered if I would be interested in either curating a show, or having an exhibition of my own work at one of MSU’s galleries. Eventually, it was decided it would be a 45-year retrospective. I later sent him several hundred digital images of my available work, and he made his final 89 selections from those files.
In early 2020, Donald Fodness had an exhibition at Clara M. Eagle Main Gallery at MSU where T. Michael is the director. T. Michael brought up traveling my show to Daisy McGowan, who is the Director & Chief Curator, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs Galleries of Contemporary Art (GOCA), while she was visiting the Fodness exhibition at MSU. Eventually, after a long series of delays due to COVID, the exhibition opened at UCCS GOCA’s Marie Walsh Sharpe Gallery of Contemporary Art, Ent Center for the Arts, and I am thrilled.
The exhibition begins with the Cyborgs, a sci-fi based series referencing the complex relationship between humans and machines. I am looking at Cyborg Sunbathers (1975). It’s surreal, comics-like, darkly funny, and yes, quite eerie. Tell me about this painting and why painting on the frame?
Cyborg Sunbathers is one of a number of works where I created a world inhabited entirely by Cyborgs, designed to be part machine and part human. The series started when I dropped out of college – I was 20 years old. The comic book-like aesthetic you sense is very accurate, as I was influenced by R. Crumb, Basil Wolverton, Zap Comix, that sort of thing.
As far as painting on the frame goes, I had been very focused on peripheral vision or subconscious thought at that time. So I painted the base colors on the edge of the canvas onto the wood frame. From a young age and through my thirties I was an avid sleepwalker, and I also had a number of out-of-body experiences. My OBEs came in a few different forms. The most fascinating one was observing myself at my easel from above, as if I had just passed through the ceiling of my studio. Other times it was a more focused event, where I would see my hand, my brush and the brush stroke all together, isolated, as if I had somehow connected to that exact same experience from some other place and time.
In your Mixing Isms you seem to be doing exactly that – blurring all “isms” boundaries, while associating some of them to what seems to me like art historical references, such as in Shadows (Goya comes to mind). I am curious about Lemurs in Space (1978). What are your thoughts on this painting?
Lemurs in Space (1978) was the first painting that expressed my concern with our planet. I was very alarmed by the rapidly shrinking natural environment in Madagascar, which all lemurs lived in. So I decided to make a painting about my concerns, and basically say to the viewer, “If we don’t wake up and stop this nonsense, we’ll all have to find another planet to live on.”
It’s also about distortions in memory, changes in dimension, technique and reality that indicate my keen interest in Science Fiction films and books. I have also lived long enough to see the fallibility of Science Fiction author’s speculations. Since we are not driving around in flying cars or burning all books like in Fahrenheit 451, Science Fiction has become more about fantasy, which can be playful and absurd like the film Mon Oncle, starring and directed by Jacques Tati, or quite dark as in the novel The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson.
Let’s jump to your sculptures starting late 80s, onward. How do you see the evolution of your dimensional work – let’s take a closer look at three small sculptures from different periods, like your early Borg (1989), V.S. #9 (1993), and one of your Cross Contamination + Stickers series, CCWS-25 (2018)?
It all started in 1986. I was in a very serious car accident, and toward the end of my recovery I started carving to build up my strength. That eventually brought me to designing and creating freestanding sculptures. Sculpture also connected me to my youth working with my father and grandfather as a carpenter’s helper, when I learned the proper use of hand tools.
Borg was created, as most of my sculptures are, from repurposed materials. All that wood was found or reclaimed, reshaped by hand, some of it painted, then assembled with found metal and plastic. That particular piece speaks of the influence of Alexander Archipenko, Raoul Hausmann, Constructivism and the like. Vessel Assemblage #9 is more Surreal – a pivotal work in the Vessel Series that looked at the meaning of the word ‘vessel’ in the broadest possible context, which in this instance, ended up as a biomorphic figure. CCWS-25 (2018) is very much about humor in art. It features an abstracted street mime, with a 1970’s plastic statue invading its backside. Mimes are often the butt of a joke, pun intended, so I could not resist the juxtaposition, adding that ridiculous statue that once had “I Love You This Much” written on its base before I fashioned it to fit the sculpture. Additionally, this was a very challenging piece to create, as I had to maintain a sort of organic, fun, mixed media approach with great precision.
You travelled extensively in Japan and you mention in the catalogue text that it has impacted your work. What are your thoughts on the Post-Apocalyptic Tattoos series in this context?
In 2005 I went to a lecture by Takashi Murakami at the Japan Society in New York City, when he was touting his Super Flat aesthetic. By 2005 I was heavy into the Post Apocalyptic Tattoo series. I had been working on my reverse paintings on Plexiglas since 1998, which were comprised of acrylic paints applied behind the Plexiglas. When viewed from the front, the paintings appeared to be super flat. Unintended, there was that connection, and a sort of chill, dystopic message.
The Graffoos series, which came at the tail end of the Post Apocalyptic Tattoo series, were meant to suggest both the destructive and creative characteristics of graffiti, combined with the aesthetics of tattoo design. A subsection of that series, Tattooed Tokyo, utilized photographs taken during my first trip to Japan. The photographs were combined with floating Post Apocalyptic Tattoo Heads to create a series of digital prints as with Tattooed Tokyo #14 (2009), or utilized as backdrops for two characters I designed as cute, carefree, mutated figures to drive the narrative as in Tattooed Tokyo #7 (2008).
What would you like to share about Sinners?
The Sinners are a part of the Saints, Sinners and Collective Unconscious series (2014-17). That series was about how behavior in humans is formed. The Sinners are a little dig at the 1950’s and 60’s attitude of some that saw Rock N’ Roll, or more specifically Rockabilly, as “The Devil’s Music,” as it promoted free will, sexual desire and wild behavior. So I utilized various album jackets to make that argument seem silly and dated, but still offering it as a representation of sin. The Saints were depictions of devout martyred figures whose stories intrigued me, while the Collective Unconscious mixed media works were about the total freedom that an artist has in their studio.
T. Michael Martin, the curator of this retrospective says that your compositions suggest “a glimpse into an apocalyptic break down of society, where we are allowed to emerge charged, reconfigured, and prepared to push forward.” What is your take on that?
I see his thoughtful comment as representing my way of pointing things out that trouble me deeply – how I soften the blow, often with humor or comic book or cartoon related imagery, and how it is my way of suggesting that we cannot despair or lose hope, no matter how bad things get. There is still opportunity for change, even if time is rapidly running out.
D. Dominick Lombardi is an artist, art writer and curator. Feature articles and reviews of his art have appeared in many publications including Sculpture, ARTnews, artscope, The New York Times, Time Out New York, NY ART BEAT, The New York Gaho (Japan), artnet.com, Art New England, San Antonio Express, New York Arts Journal, Skin & Ink, WHITEHOT and Zing. His writing has been published in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, ARTslant, Art in Asia (S. Korea), Public Art and Ecology (China), Sculpture, d’ART, ARTES, New Art Examiner, ARTnews, Art Papers, Art Lies, Juxtapoz, and culturecatch.com among others. As a curator, Lombardi has presented exhibitions in museums and galleries in New York City and along the eastern United States, such exhibitions as LandX, A Horse Walks Into a Bar, I Am…, Raid Envy, Shaky Ground, Water Over the Bridge, Exquisite Porch, HEAD, Eye on the Storm and Monkey Spoon.
All photos courtesy of the artist unless otherwise indicated
“High + Low: D. Dominick Lombardi Retrospective” is on view from August 19 to December 12, 2021 at the Marie Walsh Sharpe Gallery of Contemporary Art, located in the Ent Center for the Arts, 5225 N. Nevada Avenue, Colorado Springs, 80918.