On May 13, 2016, Robert Tombs gave an illustrated artist’s talk to the Alcuin Society at The Post@750, Vancouver, British Columbia, introduced by artist/writer Marina Roy. This talk coincided with his retrospective catalogue, Robert Tombs: Index. Graphic Works 1985–2015, winning an award for pictorial books at this year’s Alcuin Society Awards for Excellence in Book Design. As a result of this visibility, Index was acquired by Deutsche Nationalbibliothek in Leipzig, Germany.
Robert Tombs: Index. Graphic Works 1985–2015, a travelling retrospective organized by Gemey Kelly, Director/Curator of the Owens Art Gallery, Mount Allison University, opened October 2, 2015. This exhibition comprised one-hundred scholarly and artist’s books, catalogues, posters, ephemera. Index, the accompanying catalogue includes commentary by Gemey Kelly and Ingrid Jenkner, Director/Curator of Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery, and two essays. Marina Roy, in “Tombs Gothic,” writes about Tombs’s form language while Michael Davidge, in “The Telling Detail,” locates Tombs’s graphic production within the context of art publishing in Canada. Tombs also offers individual project descriptions for each artifact.
In the fall of 2014, Robert Tombs inaugurated his imprint L’Arène with his first publication, Robert Tombs/L’Occupation. This 48-page bilingual book, available in both softcover and a hardcover, slipcased edition, documents his 2013 installation at ParisCONCRET, 5 rue des Immeubles-Industriels, Paris. It includes colour reproductions, the essay “Painting ‘After Painting’: The Critical Occupations of Robert Tombs” by Michael Davidge, and an Afterword by Richard van der Aa, gallery director. ParisCONCRET’s exhibition space, in a 19th-century industrial building with a cast iron facade, was originally designed to house artisan ateliers.
Robert Tombs/L’Occupation a three-week solo ‘occupation’ of ParisCONCRET (January 5–26, 2013) borrowed the technique of marouflage – used extensively at Château de Versailles – to affix a full-height band of untreated canvas covering all the gallery’s plaster walls. This canvas, sub-divided into cells with a carpenter’s sepia chalk line, functioned as a support for repeating brushstrokes in gold paint. While alluding to historic occupations of Paris, this work made explicit through title and gesture, the power expressed in the occupation of any, including gallery, space.
Gordon Monahan: Seeing Sound. Sound Art, Performance and Music 1978–2011, published by the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, has been selected in the 2012 international juried design competition 50 Books/50 Covers, co-organized by the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) and designobserver.com. Selections were made by a group of Design Observer editors and added to the on-line AIGA Design Archives. Gordon Monahan was a 2013 recipient of a Governor’s General Award in Visual and Media Arts.
Empire, an installation created at Modern Fuel Artist-run Centre, Kingston, Ontario (November 12, 2011–January 3, 2012), juxtaposed nine unique 1’ x 8’ striped colour-field paintings on stretched canvas with one 1.25’ x 9’ stripe of gold leaf and roofing tar applied directly on the gallery wall. As a site-specific painted installation that expressed colours from the artist’s colour memory, Empire acknowledged ‘acts of presentation’ as wholly within the over-arching contexts of power and death.
Die Moral der Farbe: Erfurter Fenster (The Morality of Paint: Erfurt Window), glassbox, Erfurt, Germany (April-May 21, 2008) employed grisaille action painting applied alla prima on the inside glazing of glassbox, a repurposed prefab modernist bookstore built during Erfurt’s years as part of Communist East Germany. As a painted work on glass created in the spirit of the magic lantern slide, Erfurt Window conflated static and memorializing brush strokes with ‘actual’ views of the adjoining landscape, which includes a modern city, a university founded in 1392, an array of medieval buildings, and the nearby Buchenwald concentration camp.
Tombs travelled to Brigus, Newfoundland in the summer of 2007 for an artist’s residency at Landfall, also known as Kent Cottage, named after the house’s best-known resident, the American painter and printmaker Rockwell Kent, who lived there with his family during the years 1914–15. Although Kent was expelled from Newfoundland by the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary in 1915, due to various acts of ‘mischief’ including singing high praise to German culture and painting “PRIVATE; CHART ROOM; WIRELESS STATION; BOMB SHOP,” on the door of his Brigus coal shed, Tombs completed his three-week stay, creating Brigus Mark, the first work of an emerging practice in installation. His artist’s statement:
“The sum total of an artist’s residency, Brigus Mark was comprised of four litres of Matchless Mariner® black enamel paint willfully applied on July 12, 2007 to an exposed slab of grey siltstone on the barrenlands overlooking Brigus Bay, Newfoundland. As a performative gesture in which the artist sought to ‘undermine the picturesque’, this work paid homage to The Dictionary of Newfoundland English which includes an ominous definition of ‘mark’ as a ‘sign, portent.’”