As Though in a Dream he saw a way to Survive and was full of Joy
A meditation on the artwork of David Romero
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
- The Tempest
David Romero’s artwork is a soft explosion of vitality in the face of the limitations of time that partially define mortality. This brevity of duration is not however what defines Romero’s artwork; instead, the focus falls on a conscious commemoration of the time that is allotted. The private realms and constructed events revealed in each photograph encompass not only encounters of exquisite ecstasy, but also the turbulence of unrequited desire and the torment of broken heartedness that inevitably accompanies life in all its guises.
The stunning portraits that characterize Romero’s photographic practice are frequently interlaced with artifacts and curiosities; these elegant still lives accent the various narratives that the artist conveys. In this manner, Romero seamlessly interweaves an autobiographical account of mythic proportions by means of constructed mise-en-scenes. These staged scenarios depict a travelogue of the heart, complete with coded imagery and poetically indicative titles that simultaneously reveal and conceal the author’s intent.
The cycle of work that renders this continuum of art and life most dramatically is the Tigerless but Hopeful series. This cycle of photographs mourns the loss of a lover, and simultaneously unveils a sequence of transformations that the central character undergoes – a sequence in which the lover, in the absence of his beloved, seeks to attend to the cultivation of his proper garden. The ordeal of this metamorphosis is enacted with a subtle aura of pleasure, as though in a dream he saw a way to survive this tribulation and was full of joy.
The Tigerless but Hopeful series is initiated with the work, Montréal (Morning After), which brings the skyline of the city into focus from the perspective of the iconic landmark of Habitat, the architectural anomaly and celebrated artifact of Expo 67. Initially, the artist had forecast a night at Habitat as a station for a romantic rendezvous, however at dawn the artist found himself not in the company of a lover, but rather surrounded by city lights and the silhouettes of bridges. This departure point marks the birth of a cycle of work in which the artist conducts a pilgrimage of recovery from the rupture of lost love. In this context, events of personal significance are staged and recorded like stills from a movie.
Following the realization of Montréal (Morning After) Romero initiated the next component of the Tigerless but Hopeful series: The Grieving. The still images that compose this sequence are not without an inflection of camp romance, including a hunt for the most handsome gondolier and enough Valpolicella to drown any remaining sorrow. More significantly, The Grieving was performed in the rhizomatic arteries of Venice’s canals, a complex network of interconnecting trajectories which is both the perfect place to loose oneself and the perfect place to reassemble the pieces. Here Romero performs an image of desire recovered, negotiated through the reflections of a city surrounded by water and persisting on the cusp of emergency for centuries.
This act of mourning is promptly followed by a work that declares a change of heart. Conceived of as a gift for the muse, Altar Piece variation No.1, inscribes a passage of reverence onto the arched flesh of youthful bodies that effectively echoes throughout the symmetry of the composition. These minimal yet populated scenes radiate around a central panel that is curiously void of human figures: an empty space that summons a felt absence. Yet it is clear that the air of veneration that the altarpiece exudes is not a mere anesthetic vice in response to the despair of an innermost vacancy, but rather the beginnings of new trajectory unfolding.
The subsequent images that complete the Tigerless but Hopeful series continue on this path of Romantic sensibility. Awash in sensual light, narratives unfold with the Victorian formalism of consecrated ceremony touched with sacrilege. The Wedding in Berlin for example suggests an incestuous union, interlaced with solemn stances and juxtaposed with caged creatures.
Altarpiece Variation No. 2 (Love Live) is the coronation of the Tigerless but Hopeful saga. The work is a photographic installation consisting of eleven photographic tableaus arranged in a symmetrical configuration. Here Romero depicts the historical and geographical significance of Montréal and the people and places that inhabit it as seen through the eyes of a small-city-boy: the Young Artist, who despite trials and tribulations still believes in magic and true love.
Despite being ciphered through a journey of exorcism, Altarpiece Variation No. 2 (LOVE LIVE) is a cheerful finale. In the end, the Tigerless but Hopeful series ultimately records a story of migration, and what remains in the face of the passage of time. As evidenced by the photographs, for Romero, learning to live without is not devoid of abundant decadence. Charged with the symbols of his personal repertoire, Romero bridges the gap between the real and imagined and offers a taste of the stuff that dreams are made of.
Text written by Fiona Annis and composed with insights gathered from an interview with the artist in August 2012. The title of this text is drawn from the work of American artist Jenny Holzer. The citation, IN A DREAM YOU SAW A WAY TO SURVIVE AND YOU WERE FULL OF JOY, is among 46 others that constitute the Survival Series, a work in which Holzer addresses the great pain, delight, and ridiculousness of living in contemporary society.