R. MICHAEL WOMMACK
(American, born 1956)
I received my BFA from the Tyler School of Art after attending the first session of the Pennsylvania Governor’s School of the Arts. Since that time I have worked on my own and with other organizations in various artistic endeavors. In my early years, I worked as a muralist for many private and governmental clients, many of the murals measuring 15 x 60 feet. The murals covered a wide range of subject material; some of them whimsical, a few silly, others were serious. In 1985 I was the colorist at the Fabric Workshop and Museum, working with well-known artists, such as Red Grooms, on specially designed fabrics.
In 1984 I began assisting internationally known architect Robert Venturi, airbrushing special furniture prototypes for Knoll International. This lead to painting wall graphics in many Venturi designed buildings, including The Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery of Art in London, the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, the Nikko Kifuri Resort Hotel in Japan, the Houston Children’s Museum, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. For the past 15 years, I have also worked on drawings for upcoming projects, such as the design of the unbuilt Philadelphia Orchestra Hall, the new State House in Toulouse, France, and several projects for Disney. The most recent projects include large murals for the New Jersey State Aquarium, a muralized send-up of an “A” Frame house on Mount Desert Island in Maine, and a 30’ tall Victorian “Chinese Temple” adorning a residential addition in New York.
My most recent exhibits include one-person shows at Rowan University and The George School, and the most recent “Bucks County Artists – a Cross Section at BCCC” as well as the juried “Victory for Tyler/ Works on Paper at the Tyler School of Art, Philadelphia. My work is included in private collections in Philadelphia, Washington DC, Atlanta, Denver, Milwaukee, New York, Kansas City, St Louis, Fort Worth, Houston, San Francisco and Seattle. Recent prizes include “Excellence in Contemporary Art “ award from the Greater Reston Center for the Arts, 2nd place overall at the Bayou City Arts Festival in Houston, one of five Fine Art Awards at the Lakefront Festival for the Arts at the Milwaukee Museum of Art, and “Best in Drawing” at the Bethesda Row Fine Art show and the Brookside Art Annual in Kansas City. Awards in 2011 were first place in drawing at the Sausalito Arts Festival in the Bay Area of California, 3rd place in drawing at the Bruce museum show in Greenwich, CT, and an invitation award at the Plaza Art Fair in Kansas City, MO.
This series of drawings, now in its tenth year, was inspired by a dream I had a while back. In my dream, I was swimming in pools that were connected to each other, at night. I was in my childhood neighborhood, Levittown in Pennsylvania, an early example of the archetypal American suburban development. The houses were all dark, and the illuminated pools were casting an ethereal glow over the entire neighborhood. I was drifting from back yard to back yard without another soul in sight. I found this dream a little odd, since I am not a particularly good swimmer, but the vivid colors really stayed with me.
We moved to Juniper Hill in the early ’60s when I was six years old. The houses were newly built. As far as the eye could see there was the same house, in one of three alternating colors, in a gently curving and undulating artificial landscape. The trees were mere sticks, and no one had put up fences. Surrounded by plowed fields, on which Levittown was built, the visual impact was compounded when approaching this community of 17,000 homes in a car. As a first grader having previously lived in a country house, this experience was profound. I remember much from this time. It may be that our early impressions are made more vivid by the simple fact we have had fewer of them. Our brains are uncrowded with decades of memories. I can remember the smell of mint as I was trying to catch a Praying Mantis in the garden next door when I was 7 years old, but I can’t remember what I was doing at a specific time last week.
Because of this, I became interested in the idea of the subconscious and working from memory. I pulled my soft pastels out of storage, not having used them for years, and started drawing from memory. The pastels turned out to be the perfect medium, the powdered pigment being so pure of color, and the softness of the pastel captured perfectly the feeling of the dream. I am also interested in the fact that most Americans have lived in a place like this at one time or another, and of the social ramifications of living in such a manner.
I don’t care to deconstruct any of the dreams, but I am interested in tapping the imagery. I am not concerned with historical accuracy, but in the emotions caused by living in such a place at an early age. I am not interested in making a specific social statement. I like to keep aspects of the drawings ambiguous, to allow the viewer their own interpretation of what it means to live in American Suburbia.