In his sculpture Broken English, Gregory Gómez ’80 uses strong hard materials – steel and bronze – to construct a surprisingly delicate piece that celebrates the power of art to reach back to the past and ring true in the present. The bronze letters that repeat the first three lines of W. B. Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” form a net of text around a thick tube sitting on a low plinth. The patina on the letters lends them age and weight. The letters do not cohere immediately into lines, but the order is there in the sculpture’s inner structure. Gómez then breaks the flow of text and pulls his loop up abruptly, interrupting the continuity of thought and form.
Yeats’ poem, written exactly 100 years ago in 1919, feared the anarchy that accompanied the end of World War I, the war to end all wars. Yeats’ most famous line from the poem may be “things fall apart; the center cannot hold.” While Gómez selected the text for his sculpture before the 2016 election, it has proven to be a powerful commentary on our own era’s flirtation with chaos. No doubt, his art will resonate with the future in ways we cannot anticipate.
Broken English rests on the plaza in front of the Humanities and Social Studies Center where light catches the steel spokes that hold the letters. Sitting at the height of a bench, the sculpture has a quiet presence, but it does not rest easy. Only with some effort do Yeats’ words come into focus and fall into place. Gómez works masterfully with the sense of Yeats’ poem in the sculpture’s form: it is a circle disrupted, threatening to let go of its center. But Gómez does not illustrate Yeats – he engages him through his title, Broken English. His compelling sculpture suggests that though communication in difficult times can falter, the breaks may allow in new and perhaps regenerative ideas.
Director, Grinnell College Museum of Art