Hailing from the Philippines, Gromyko Semper is a modern Renaissance man. He quotes old masters, is autodidact, and has a creative spirit that spans many styles. Mostly self-taught, Gromyko has interests that take his art from extensively detailed lithography harking back to Gustave Dore’s gorgeous illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy to bold, graphic political statements that turn Donald Trump into a creature much like that of Alien. Take a turn in his veritable wonderland of work, a phantasmagoria of delight.
Our readers would love a look into your background as an artist. Do you remember the first time you were inspired to create something? What were you drawn to most as a child?
The first memory of creating something artistic, as far as I could recall, is when I used to look at things whenever my Aunt and I went to the market. I think I was four or five then, and my aunt said I would always ask for some pencil and paper and I would draw whatever I saw from our way to the market and back. Things like roosters tied to a post, or a caribou, or a fish vendor… I kind of developed the habit of always drawing from memory. It’s as if I’m storing images in my young mind… You see I’m always interested in imagined things so I would draw from memory about little stories or made up narratives, or variants of tales that my Aunt, who raised me when I was young, would tell me. She’s a really well read person… and I kinda got from her the love for stories, which I think, influenced the way I think now. As I grew, Japanese cartoons or manga inspired me. Dragon ball Z… I still remember that. I would improvise on characters from that Manga. I also credit it for my infantile anatomical references, which aren’t always that accurate, but hell, I was just seven or eight I think! From there on, I would create mini-drawings of warriors fighting in an alternate universe… the rest, as they would say is history.
Your style varies from extremely detailed, almost Victorian, illustrations, all the way to graphic and bold depictions of sensuality, and you even touch on impressionist portraits. What is your process like and how do you keep track of all your ideas?
Generally, the main identity of my work is my use of lines. My lines are mostly a fusion between the spontaneity of Japanese brushwork and the technical dexterity of my Germanic woodcut influences. I often switch between technical pens and good ole Japanese/Chinese brushes when rendering linear forms. With fine pointed script brushes, I can easily sweep huge areas of linear contours. Delicate linear details are then left for my tech pens or quill pens to finish. Like Paul Klee, I take my lines for a “walk”. I hope this quote by Lance Esplung can be of use in explaining as to why I am attracted to it: “Line is a rich metaphor for the artist. It denotes not only boundary, edge or contour, but is an agent for location, energy, and growth. It is literally movement and change – life itself.”
I would describe my process as a syncretism of various artistic styles and techniques, themes, thoughts, and processes that emphasized my love for the figure, my penchant for the image, and my dedication towards Imaginative vision, anathema to most of today’s contemporary conceptual explorations. As for “keeping track of ideas”… well ideas and inspiration for me begins with a theme but they don’t always stick to the central thought. I like to keep on negating myself by diverting from my original ideas, which of course I either record via written words on my journals, or tiny rough impressions in my sketchbooks. I would also like to add that whenever I create a painting or drawing, I don’t always follow my initial studies. I always incorporate chance forms and patterns, and would often change a figure if it doesn’t go well with the composition or the overall feel of the work. I’m a stickler for details, and stories would be ruined if elements don’t feel as if they belong to the whole. Some say that my works have a classical feel. Perhaps it’s because I value the formal qualities of a work, such as linear, compositional, coloristic, and of course in equal weight to that of its content, narrative and symbolic qualities. I always thought that Ingres is one of the best compositional painters ever.
Artist venues have gone from the regular storefront gallery to online social media. How do you traverse the art world, and how have platforms like Instagram or Facebook empowered your art making?
A Master’s student did a study about how I market my works online via social media platforms such as Facebook and others. She received an award for that and was invited to Portugal for the Cumulus Literature Festival. The thesis she made is called “The Art of Gromyko Semper: A Study of Digital Selves and Deterritorialized Displays”. The writing discusses how, to an extent, a contemporary artist can now bypass the established contours of the art market by directly creating a platform wherein one could sell works of art outside the constraints of the gallery system. There are many pros and cons to this, however. For the pros, well it’s obvious that one could directly engage with possible clienteles, because like artists, many collectors also moved to the social media environs in search of artists they could find worthy of their walls and money. Validation therefore comes from “likes”, comments, and criticisms from fellow painters, writers, and friends. If you get lucky, you get to get featured by art writers and online magazines too. This change of perspective, in spite of its edgier appeal, has its cons.
In my case, the cons are getting your works to a narrower yet wider audience that includes collectors and non-collectors alike exposes your works to media frauds and copyright violators. Your works then becomes pirated. Another thing is that the security of your prices is a bit discounted for. Unlike the normal gallery system where your pricing gets to level up and increase, plus the perks that you don’t have to “peddle” your works, but that is counterbalanced by the fact that you reach a wider audience, and like in my case again, you get to meet people who are passionate in promoting your works both locally and internationally. You might also get to be in good books, or you get to edit one, as I did. You might even get to be contacted by galleries and museums, and have shows with them. So in the end I would say, a balance of both digital and “real” validation and accommodations works well, that is if one is lucky enough. but again, if one of these means works for you, I say go for it, and let fate guide you.
Many of your works seem to elude to fairy tales or myths. Where and what do you turn to for inspiration? Who are your favorite artists and heroes?
Like my process, my work is a synthesis of both Western as well as Eastern influences, with various grey shades in the middle, married with my incessant quest to solve pictorial, symbolic, as well as visionary problems whilst maintaining a sense of the “now” without the usual postmodern irony that we often see in most contemporary artists of today. The stories, tales, myths and legends of my Childhood stuck on me. They are narrative symphonies of various concocted stories. I am indeed combining different elements to create something fresh. I refuse to say “new” because I believe everything we create today is a mixture of stories, a syncratic compound of things from the past and the present, as well as our hopes for the future.
I believe it is the duty of a contemporary artist to recreate imaginative solutions and invent interesting perspectives of both the natural and spiritual aspects of reality. The time to destroy has been done, by Duchamp, Malevich, Hirst, Koons, Emins, and more. It’s now time to create and recreate…a time to re-enchant. This is the same reason why I coined the term ‘Fernal’, as being the creative opposite of the word, infernal. The antithesis of the destructive, ironic, pastiche implorations of contemporary artists.
My personal heroes include artists and non-artists alike: Bosch, Brueghel, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Medieval Illumination Artists, Vermeer, Durer, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Bocklin, Durer, Van Leyden, The works and Writings of William Blake, the symbolist Painters, Ingres, Velasquez, Goya, Picasso,Dali, Klimt, Munch, Matta, De Chirico, Max Ernst, Miro, Rothko, Ernst Fuchs, Beksisnki, Giger, Le Compte De Lautremont, Umberto Eco, De Sade, De Lautremont, Andre Breton, Barthes, Poe, Whitman. Eisntein, Darwin, Jose Rizal….The list is too long to write…Contemporary Artists I admire includes Anselm Kiefer, Neo Rauch, Agostino Arrivabene, Nicola Verlato, Jean Pierre Roy, Christian rex Van minnen, James Jean, Takato Yamamoto, Maura Holden, Martina Hoffman, Paco Pomet, Roger Ballen, Iris Van Herpen, Kris Kuksi, Nicola Samori, Daniel Sprick, to name a few…
Your work has traveled extensively, but you are based out of the Philippines. How has your natural environment informed your work, and where do you hope to travel to next?
Being acquainted with some of the world’s best painters, such as the circle around the fantastic visionary painter Ernst Fuchs, and exhibiting with them in various Museums and Galleries around Europe and America and featured in Books with them and other contemporary masters is really a huge thing for me. It was only when people get to learn that I have to do so without even being recognized in my own country, did the galleries and collectors here start to show interest in my works, culminating in three solo shows and various group shows, plus other shows I curated. It was truly a huge blessing! Being “Isolated” in a semi-urban, traditional place really helped my curiosity for seeking things beyond where I am. But in reality, It just a matter of perspective. I would like to think of myself as a gatherer of imagery. A collector of images. One can collect without even leaving one’s “place”. I make use of technology in order to collect things.
This is also the same reason why in social media platforms you would notice that I often blog about works of art and everything related or not even relative to it. Whenever I search, or travel, or just plainly walk around, I always make it a point to seek things that may enrich my own visual vocabulary. These may either be visual, or not… I sieve through the sensory experience and pick up essences that may contribute to my own visual, creative dictionary. And so my interests run the gamut from esoteric to the erotic, even exploring darker themes that most purist seekers would deem taboo. I make it a fact that if we don’t try to seek and understand things we know nothing about and judge them negatively, we are all missing the point. Life is about discovering and rediscovering. Sure we get to fall helplessly, but we do learn. And learn we should from everything. We live in a world where everything is available to us by the click of a mouse. Now what to do with this gibberish information is up to us. For me, I forage from even the most demonic, dark, and utterly inhumane and vice versa, try to see if I can seek and learn something from it… I pick up the gold from the mud, in the muddied river.
I did travel outside of the country twice, in Singapore. It was life changing to experience another country and know their culture. Hopefully, I’d love to go to Paris and visit my friends there! Also Rome, Milan, Florence, Athens, Warsaw, Denmark, Holland, Spain, Moscow, San Francisco… Hawaii! Bali! Norway, Switzerland, England! Ah, the list is endless!
What can we expect from you in the future?
Expect my works to get funkier!! More humorous, and more grandiose. I’m prepping up for another coming solo show for Manilart 2017, and I’m planning a main piece as big as 12×8 feet. But, I hope the future brings forth more visions to ponder… more stories to tell.