Remembering Mesa Artist Steve Gompf

Lynn Trimble
Steve Gompf sits at his computer desk inside his home office in 2016.
Mesa artist Steve Gompf died on Sunday, March 4. He was 54 years old.

According to a Sunday, April 8, Facebook post by Alexandra Walker, Gompf died after he had a heart attack. Walker was one of Gompf’s many friends who shared their reflections online.

Gompf was best-known for transforming found objects into sculptures he called televisors, which incorporated screens showing moving images inspired by 19th century English photographer Eadweard Muybridge.

He created a mythology around these pieces, calling them early precursors to televisions. In doing so, he explored the tenuous boundary between fact and fiction.

“I found his work very timely, even before all the talk of fake news,” says Tiffany Fairall, curator of exhibitions for Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum. “It was like he made you want to question more.”

Mesa Contemporary Art Museum presented a solo exhibition of Gompf’s work called “Distant Visions: Apparatus and Ephemera from the Televisor Era 1884-1928” in 2016. A sculpture from that show is part of the museum’s permanent collection.

The exhibition comprised a fictitious museum filled with televisors presented as historical artifacts. Gompf also created an online televisor museum, and a catalog featuring text by former New Times art critic Kathleen Vanesian.

“Steve was brilliant in the way he melded the conceptual with the visual and made it accessible to people,” Vanesian says, adding that the artist's forays into fake history were profound.

Gompf had been making such sculptures for more than two decades. Often, they included unusual objects such as bread molds and stethoscope parts.

“Steve was a treasure hunter,” Richard Bledsoe told New Times by email on Monday, April 9. “He turned other people’s junk into elegant, intriguing devices.”

Gompf’s work has been exhibited at several staples of the Phoenix arts scene – including Alwun House, Bragg's Pie Factory, and Lisa Sette Gallery. Most recently, it was featured in the 2017 “Chaos Theory” exhibition at Legend City Studios.

“Steve was an instrumental person in the downtown arts scene for many years,” says Phoenix artist Beatrice Moore.

“He also helped elevate film as a locally produced art form,” says Steve Weiss, executive director for No Festival Required. Weiss praises Gompf for both the quality of his work and that of Gompf's students at schools including Arizona State University and Scottsdale Community College.

Even so, Gompf is being remembered for more than his many creative endeavors.

“Steve was one of those rare individuals who is so secure in his own personality that he remained fun, graceful, and endearing, no matter how he was behaving,” Bledsoe writes. “He was intense, brusque, generous, and playful, all at the same time.”

Gompf''s memorial will take place at Alwun House from 7 to 9 p.m. on Sunday, May 20. Find details on the Facebook event page. Gompf’s obituary is available on the Dignity Memorial website.