From the Artist
“I conceived the idea for Broken English sometime in 2015 with some renderings and an animation to illustrate the sculpture. During a studio visit in 2016 with Lesley Wright, Director of Grinnell College Museum of Art, along with other works of art, I shared my concept for a sculpture that used lines from Sir William Butler Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming.” As with other of my sculptural works and public art pieces, my concept was to define the surface of the sculpture with an open network of graphic shapes, in this case the text from Yeats’ poem. My idea was for the lines of the poem to be readable vertically around the sculpture and that the form would be a broken loop, with one end resting on top of the other. I knew from previous builds that the structure to deliver the letters to define the surface of the loop would have to be a complex and rigid welded stainless steel. It was part of my concept that this array of diagonals would be highly visible, beneath the surface. For the letters of Broken English I always intended to use sand-cast bronze, but here I saw the chance to use a blue-green patina, to lend the sculpture a sense of history.
I came to choose Yeats’ “The Second Coming” as it was a favorite of mine from a Humanities course I took while at Grinnell, in the ARH building, now part of the new Humanities and Social Science Complex. Following our studio visit, Lesley Wright saw the connection and possibility for the sculpture on the Grinnell College campus, as part of the HSSC. As Lesley was looking for a funding source for the sculpture, I had a conversation with John Chambers ‘77, who had been captain of the Grinnell Swim Team when I was a freshman. Given John’s professional success and standing at Grinnell, I wanted to see if he had any inside perspective as to the status of the sculpture. A few months later, John called me to say that he would fund the sculpture in the name of his wife Jean, who had passed away in 2014. I knew Jean a bit from visiting with them in Manhattan and when they lived for a time in Paris, France. She was a wonderful person, and I was honored to create the sculpture in her name.
The fabrication of Broken English took about two years. Once I worked out the geometry, scale and spacing of letters, I began the welded stainless steel structure at a fabrication shop owned by Matt Koestner in Central Falls, Rhode Island. I have worked with Matt on several projects, going back 15 years. I designed arrays of diagonal crossing rods that would each hold two rows of 12 letters. These 41 arrays were then compiled and welded onto longitudinal rods to create the 20-foot diameter loop. All told, approximately 2300 welds were required to create the sculpture.
The bronze letters were at the same time being cast in a foundry in East Cambridge, Massachusetts. From aluminum letters that I created directly in sand molds, I made six unique pattern boards to create the letters required to repeat the lines of the poem along the 50 linear feet of the sculpture. From the foundry the rough castings then went to the Rhode Island shop where the 1000 letters needed to be cut out, ground down, and edged, with a slot machined into their backs. They were then sandblasted, patinated and lacquered before mounting and epoxying them in the proper order on the sculpture.
The dark meaning of Yeats’ poem is not something I take lightly, and Lesley Wright and I have discussed how it has become shockingly relevant since I chose it in 2015. My experience in the Humanities course, in my art courses, and all my classes at Grinnell were more positive and expansive than Yeats’ poem, though what I took as a cautionary message from the poem was and continues to be part of the vigilance that is required to be an active participant in society. In building the sculpture I had to solve the challenge of fitting and anchoring what are the completely random proportions and spacing of our text (I took it directly from my Norton Anthology of English Literature and the poem’s version of a Garamond font). It is in resolving the difference between the arbitrary nature of the text that had to fit within the ordered and rigid structure that I see another meaning for Broken English. Though the loop is severed – “things fall apart” – there is a foundation of support in the underlying logical and strong structure. This structural foundation continues in our system of higher education in places like Grinnell College.”
-Gregory Gómez ’80, 2019
“The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”