Painter Damian Gomes collects impressions, be they from natural surroundings, the patina on the side of a building or even the worn-out paint on an old jalopy. Over the years, the Phoenix-based artist has filled a multitude of notebooks with thoughts, sample color palettes and sketches. It’s these ideas that Gomes references when confronted with a blank canvas. “You just have to look around,” he says. “Once you do, you start seeing paintings everywhere.”
But Gomes’ work is hardly a direct translation from his notebooks. While he occasionally has a vision in mind from the outset, it often morphs into something else as he works. In a very real sense, Gomes explains, he’s allowing the canvas to tell him what it needs. “You get lost in the moment,” he says. “Life gets hectic and things happen, but when you’re in that space, things kind of go away.”
His figures in oil and acrylic include animals and people, often with a supernatural bent, like a haunting series of angels and demons. But while his works have been described by some as dark or even macabre, he rejects that characterization, pointing to the playful spirit they embody and the vivid color palettes he uses.
Although he finds peace working on a canvas, Gomes thrives on a measure of chaos in his studio, where pictures and notes are strewn about the floor and numerous pieces remain in various stages of completion. Accompanied by music—usually classical music or 1920s ragtime jazz—Gomes works frantically, using brushes or even his fingers to convey the emotions he’s feeling. “I try to put the energy I’m feeling into the painting, so hopefully people will feel that way when they see it,” he says.
For someone who emotes such deep passion for his art, it’s almost shocking that the self-trained painter hasn’t pursued it all his life. In fact, Gomes didn’t consider a career in fine art until he was in his 30s. After stints as a carpenter, a welder at a foundry and, most recently, a hairdresser, the notion of painting struck him virtually out of the blue. It seems like an odd career turn, but Gomes found near-immediate success. After building his own wood-framed canvases, he started painting and soon secured a spot in a group show in the lobby of a luxury downtown apartment building. The turnout exceeded expectations, and Gomes sold nearly every piece. Only a few years later, he turned in his comb and scissors for good. “I decided to go all in, and I’ve never looked back,” he says. It seems he made the right choice. “There’s no better place for me than in front of the canvas,” Gomes says. “This is my calling in life.”