My cousin and I are sitting on his porch talking about the family. Gomer comes up. Uncle Gomer, the legendary hard-nosed railroad worker. Some say he was 6foot 8inches tall. I’ve also heard 7ft 2inches tall. He had long black hair and a grizzly beard like Kentucky mountain men. But he wasn’t from Kentucky, he was from Scioto County. Dad says there’s no low-lifes like the ones in scioto county. He wore a size 18 rail roading boot, and when asked his name in bars he’d respond with, “My name’s Gomer. Do you have a problem with that?” If they would have known he was joking, there probably would have been a little relief from the sheer terror of a giant man before them, but Gomer play’d the part too well.
I never had the privilege to know the man, he is loved, and he is missed. I brought up to my cousin that I’d seen a piece of artwork Gomer did at his brother’s house. I went on to say how impressed I was. Cody responded with, “wait right here.” My excitement was hardly concealed. The door reopened to Cody holding a rectangular piece of debris. He lowered it down in front of me, and I gasped. A piece of drywall, of all things, beheld the magnificent rendering of a cabin in an Appalachian landscape. The medium was 10 different multi-color sharpies, all layered in a painterly fashion. Detail was no afterthought, being that this Appalachian tribute was rendered like that of a Van-Gogh, composed of innumerable (but intentional) lines to create the illusion of coherence. Gomer clearly poured his total ability into this mysterious scene. Who lives in the cabin? What’s the significance of the scene to begin with. Was it his aspiration to live in seclusion in this mountain landscape? Did he work from a reference? Upon closer review, you’ll find birds, and a shack, and what may be the moth man.
According to his brother, Craig, Gomer was a joker when someone would ask him about his art. “I’m telling you he wouldn’t tell the same story twice. We’d ask him how he made something but he was such a pathological lier we never did figure it out,” Craig relented. In my minds eye I can see Gomer laughing about this, there’s a certain amount of fun to be had in mystifying the process of the arts. He was sure to capitalize.
As far as I know Gomer wasn’t pursuing a fancy arts degree, or a career in the arts world. He made a hard living of manual labor on the railroad. He wrestled with addiction. Gomer made art to rehabilitate. It helped him. Here’s this man who lived incredibly hard, yet he also wished to focus his efforts on something as delicate and vulnerable as painting. It could just as well of been yet another very calculated form of rebellion.
Most significant, is Gomer’s base desire to create. Perhaps he’d had such a desire his whole life and finally took himself up on it in his later years. I question how it can be that people my age have every opportunity to be artists. We start when we’re young, we take classes in high school, we study the liberal arts in college and graduate with a degree, yet, the majority will fall short….short of the impact a sharpie on drywall canvas piece of work labored over by a rough-neck railroad dog. Is it more meritable for Gomer to have done arts for arts sake? Perhaps not. Is it a better story? By far. As proof, here we are, still hearing the stories of his life, and admiring the cool things he’s left behind for us to try and figure out.
I like to think that all of it is just another elaborate prank. And when I see his paintings signed with the “Kilroy” icon, I’m more convinced than ever. That Gomer must of been a very creative comedian to go to all that trouble of making art.