Over the last decade, Michael Gromm has been refining his painterly vision, creating images featuring expressive swirls of colour anchored by figurative elements executed with illustrational accuracy. In Idle-Wild, these small circular vignettes are reflective of the Indonesian island of Lombok which has been the artist’s home for most of this year. Having trained regionally in Ballarat, away from the hot-house competitiveness of any capital city, the notion of continuing his work far removed from the pulse of the Australian art world hardly fazes him. If anything, the remoteness enhances the possibility of his art taking unpredictable and therefore more exciting jumps in its trajectory.
In the artist statement accompanying an earlier exhibition, Gromm acknowledged that he enjoys ‘those moments when my eyes perceive things incorrectly … when a few shapes or movements blend together to trigger a response from my consciousness.’ It is useful to remember that when encountering unexpected associations between different objects or images, the human eye seeks association whilst the brain seeks comprehension. Just because one reacts to the other and comes up with an interpretation doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all now a closed loop. The Surrealist Comte de Lautréamont described it best, writing that nothing is ‘as beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table.’ The contradiction of their association is enough to generate each viewer’s own unique explanation, one filtered through gut reaction, a person’s previous experience of art, which magazine has been recently read, which overseas journey completed…. a myriad of possible association, none more correct than the other. Through this prism of (mis)understanding, Gromm’s become works which oscillate with meaning when given half a chance.
These are nothing like the abstract surrealism of Miro, or Klee. Nor are they the hyper-real surreal, as per Dali and James Gleeson. What they reveal instead is a new-world celebration of colour, particularly synthetic, toxic in its acidity – pinks, lime, orange – pigments that swoop and whorl against otherwise blank grounds. Gromm also employs multiple tools from fine sable brushes to squeegees, pouring multiple colours onto the canvas and ‘pushing it around.’ Not surprisingly, the response by locals to his work differs as ‘artistry and crafts here remain hugely traditional, made out of natural materials; and art is rarely used to decorate a home or office. So, when neighbours come to visit the studio, I get a lot of “why” and “what for” questions, which is starkly inconsistent with cities like Yogyakarta and Bali that both have established contemporary art scenes. Lombok’s appreciation for abstraction is only just beginning."
The titles of Gromm’s paintings further reflect his delight in random association and are sourced from snatched phrases heard out and about. Whilst examples like Ferraris on Ice like Mice and We Will Rock You Mall Robot Ride trigger amusement, Vibrations deep in the earth will make you get out of bed at 6am reflects a very Lombok moment experienced by the artist: ‘It was just before dawn and I was confused at why I had woken up so early – then I realised I was being rocked back and forth by my first earthquake experience. I was up and out the door pretty quick!’ In this manner, Gromm’s titles are akin to mini short stories, ones which add to the paintings rather than restrict them to a singular interpretation. They successfully augment their painted equivalents, which are likewise full of incident, whirl, colour and contradiction, vivid in their own physical intensity.
Essay by Andrew Gaynor, 2019