David Tomb's New Work
by Richard Whittaker, Nov 21, 2010
falcon, David Tomb
I first became aware of artist David Tomb thanks to his portraits some years ago. It was impossible not to recognize something special in them, even beyond the artist's formidable draftsmanship. In particular, the portraits of his favorite subject capture subtle states one recognizes immediately, most often subtle varieties of preoccupation with some unseen riddle—the state of having one's thoughts quietly elsewhere. Conveyed, too, is the strong sense that we, as viewers, look in on the subject caught unobserved in his pondering. These drawings have a quality hard to pin down, perhaps of a gentle and compassionate impartiality.
Tomb's portraits got a fair amount of attention, especially here in the Bay Area, and so when I learned that he'd turned his attention to a new subject, birds, I was curious. What was behind his new direction?
A phone call led to a studio visit. It was the second or third time we'd talked, and I was reminded once again just how enjoyable a visit with an artist in his or her studio can be.
What I remember is how Tomb explained that bird watching was one of his longstanding interests, something I can easily understand. Whenever a bird lands in the branches outside the window, aren't one's eyes attracted there immediately? Doesn't one fasten a keen focus with a kind of delight? It's one of those pleasures that never gets old. And often there's a special treat like the yellow flash of a goldfinch or the charm of a tiny chickadee.
Tomb talked about the rekindling of his passion, and how it had carried him to the El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Chiapas, Mexico. There, he saw, first-hand, an amazing variety of birds he'd never seen before. All in all, it's clear the artist has given himself over to an entirely new direction.
Listening to Tomb's enthusiastic descriptions raised my own spirits, too. But what about the art world? I wondered. Tomb's bird drawings have the look of accomplished illustrations. What happened to the offbeat stance, the conceptual conceit, or some other indication that the work was art?
We both had a rueful laugh over this--a taste of freedom! It seems Tomb isn't worrying about these questions. His drawings are born of enthusiasm in the old sense of the word, en theos.
Listening to him talking elatedly of his experiences, I suddenly wondered if any of it arose from a concern for issues of the environment. Of course, the answer was emphatically, yes!
Sixty percent of the cloud forests of Mexico have disappeared, he explained. With the protection of Triunfo Biosphere Reserve in Chiapas, at least some of Mexico's cloud forest is being preserved. Even the mythic quetzal can still be seen there, the bird venerated by the ancient Mayas and Aztecs as the God of the Air and associated, too, with the snake god Quetzalcoatl. They're not easy to find, even there, but Tomb had seen one himself.
I don't remember his exact words about his new work, but "I feel completely refreshed" is pretty close.