Robert Montgomery’s neon and fiery words crop up in the most unexpected of places, reviving the forgotten magic of the disconcerting truthfulness of poetry and the purifying act of setting it on fire.

Outside the meaning words convey, they have a strong visual impact through their font, size and the space they occupy, to such an extent that for many artists they are an ideal material, giving birth to true verbal sculptures – we are thinking of the Americans Robert Barry, Lawrence Weiner, Jack Pierson and Gary Hill, among many others. Each time, these artists emphasize a specific feature of the words. For example, with Lawrence Weiner his words have a performance value: through them, something is achieved – a “sculpture” is created, even if it is only mentally. In other cases, a direct intervention transforms the word into plastic art stretching and expanding it with Tania Mouraud, proliferation and buzzing agitation with Charles
Sandison, etc.

The British Robert Montgomery specifically aims his work at public spaces, in the street, rather than in a museum or gallery. However, the unity of his work is not in the letter itself, nor even in the work, but in the occasionally enigmatic expression created, or sometimes, in contrast, its assertive strength. Each of his works certainly has great visual impact, yet they are read like a real poem, the syntax of which can be complex – words written with the intention of revealing the hidden dimension of experience or consciousness. His sentences convey a hidden truth; a treasure ignored or concealed by the flow of everyday things, and offer the chance of a revelation – and perhaps redemption – to the person who reads them. Robert Montgomery’s works are spread throughout the city, where he hijacks urban advertising spaces, hoardings, commemorative plates, the sides of trucks driving through the streets, in what is sometimes referred to as a “situationist” tradition. Yet, as with Guy Debord, his assertions have a form of gravity and authority that awakens our consciousness from a somnolence induced by pure utilitarianism and the monotony of an alienated life. His texts are often for a “you” that is as much the poet himself as it is us when we encounter his work: “The people you love / Become ghosts inside / Of you and like this / You keep them alive.” There is no slogan or command, but an anonymous yet friendly voice trying to make sense of life, to claim freedom and to revolt.

The texts are often written in large white neon letters, set on a facade or scaffolding. Occasionally, they are made of wood or paper and are set on fire – a highly powerful plastic and symbolic sign. However, they can also take the shape of small bas-reliefs, or watercolours on paper. This mobility in space and materials is an essential feature of Robert Montgomery’s works: literally first, insofar as they appear in unexpected places, but also metaphorically, through the nature of the texts and subjects that create a magical night vision of everyday life. “And the trees are sentinels / Of something, standing / There between the buildings / Breathing like horses / All night.”

Reviving this “forgotten magic” of the disconcerting truthfulness of poetry and the purifying act of setting it on fire, while freeing oneself of “all the things I don’t want”, is what this “considerable passer-by” leaves in his wake. At the cost of an inner revolution, the voice promises a new life. However, it is not purely idyllic. It also opens to the shadows within, to a world of ghosts. The duality of his fleeting
works creates a lasting echo in our minds.

By Régis Durand