The Written Image: Robert Montgomery

The people you love / become ghosts inside / of you and like this / you keep them alive.” So reads the poem pictured below, a 2010 installation in Sussex, England, by Scottish text artist Robert Montgomery (robertmontgomery.org), who over the past decade has created similar installations in places such as Seattle, Berlin, and Kochi, India. Constructed in courtyards and fields, on hillsides and buildings, most of Montgomery’s installations consist of short poems either printed on a billboard or built of wood letters (that are later lit on fire) or of solar-powered letters (that light up at night) mounted on a scaffold.

Fusing traditions of street art, conceptual art, and surrealism—as well as inspiration from a childhood spent reading poets such as Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes, and Sylvia Plath—Montgomery works, as he said in a 2013 interview, to “find the magical in the everyday, uncover the sacred in the mundane.” Montgomery’s pieces certainly have a magical aura—the poems are often short, dreamy fragments that seem to comment on their surroundings. A light poem installed in an empty swimming pool reads, “All palaces are temporary palaces,” while another poem, installed on the baseball fields of a former U.S. Air Force base in Berlin—a series of letters strung on a wire and then set on fire—reads, “The way the pagan gods are half remembered here.” Many of his pieces are in urban centers. “I don’t think I plan on my work making epiphanies or saying profundities," Montgomery says, "but I’d certainly like my work to be a commentary on how magical the city is. And I think that’s a really important job of art: [to make you] wake up and see the magic.”