“Merde! I'm so moody today. I feel like an existential wolf that went to sleep in the Arctic Circle and woke up on the rooftop of a Manhattan skyscraper. Ahh-wooooooo!”
The words above come from heavyweight performance artist Guillermo Gómez Peña during one of his philosophical tantrums. But following my brief but in-depth interview with GAMA, I could hear the same howl echo through his paintings. It was not the howl of a helpless or melancholy wolf, however. Instead, it was the sound of a story being sung: at the top of the lungs, at the height of a mountain, in the bright spotlight of a round full moon, next to the window of a large empty room.
Think Outside the Cube
If I don’t need to specify the type of large empty room, it is because you're already thinking of a cube (the one we’re used to inhabiting here in the West). You, as I, have most likely never called a yurt a home. We can only imagine what it must be like to live inside a “room” without corners and without straight lines, not to mention having to move these living headquarters four times a year during spring, summer, fall and winter.
Such is the story of GAMA. He was born and raised in Mongolia and at the age of seven, after having lived surrounded by animals and nature, was sent to boarding school and experienced Western architecture for the very first time. This might not seem of much importance to the naked eye, but to the eye that knows how impressionable a seven-year-old mind can be (especially the germinating mind of an artist-yet-to-be), an experience like this is paramount and nothing less than life changing.
GAMA (L) in the midst of chatter about his paintings. Photo: Chris Phillips
Artparasites: Where does the singular name of “GAMA” come from?
Undoubtedly one of those names that carry a crown and the responsibility to live up to it.
APs: Could you tell us a bit about your Mongolian heritage and how it manifests itself in your art?
GAMA: Life was very hard in Mongolia, but this hardship is coupled with wonderful scenery and a genuine closeness to nature – this somehow makes the difficulties bearable. All of these forms are a very important part of my art. In a direct way, my Mongolian heritage reflects itself in my art through the colors, a feeling of infinity and an expansive skyline. Aspects of shamanism also appear in my work – the dancing shaman for example!
Mongolian artist Gamma surrounded by the rooms of his imagination in Berlin. Photo: Chris Phillips
The answer above is where I discovered the not well-dimmed parts of GAMA's paintings. Despite the bright and seductive colors that he sprinkles on his surfaces, one cannot escape the grim, lonesome spaces that inhabit the canvases. The warm, candy-colored portions of his surfaces constitute the sweet, yet one senses that this sweet would not be as sweet if it wasn't for the sour undertones that surround them.
APs: What more can you say about this relationship between shamanism and your paintings?
GAMA: A shaman functions between two worlds (the physical world and the spirit world) – my paintings also incorporate two worlds (the interior and the exterior). What a shaman does with his body, I attempt to do with paint and canvas.
APs: If your paintings were not paintings, what would they be? –Mirrors, windows, hammers, love letters, (etc.)?
He answered like a true shaman.
GAMA's keychain. Photo: Chris Phillips
APs: Why Berlin?
GAMA: For me it is the right place at the right time.
APs: What about Berlin’s art scene do you enjoy the most, and what about it do you like the least?
GAMA: The amount and variety of art in Berlin is amazing: every week there are openings and events. But sometimes the social aspect can get a bit tiresome – there is a little too much insincerity.
APs: My most broad question, but perhaps the most important: why do you paint?
GAMA: I really can’t imagine doing anything else.
Recommendations from GAMA:
Book: "Wolf Totem" by Jiang Rong
Art movie or documentary: “Love is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon"
Favorite Berlin art venue: Gemäldegalerie
Place to be inspired by: The Internet
Berlin cafe/restaurant: The Pauly Saal Bar & Restaurant
Word of advice to young artists: "I am still a young artist myself. Maybe I might have some advice in 20 years time!"
- GAMA [Price range of his works: up to €24,000]
Article by Jovanny Varela-Ferreyra