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Dexter Dalwood’s practice presents an ongoing investigation into the role of images and painting in the construction of history. Reconstructing recent events of political and social relevance in juxtaposition with art historical, musical and literary sources, the artist explores the enduring relevance of painting as a means of communicating history and our interpretations of the subject. His cut-and-paste collage technique reminds us that if alternate realities can coexist within one image, then so too can they within both our everyday experiences and comprehension of past happenings. Dalwood constructs his paintings akin to how we construct memory, drawing together distinct concepts to provoke wider associations, encouraging his viewers to consider how actions, events and figurative images are understood. He invites us to reflect upon how we subjectively and collectively sample, frame, edit, crop and consume images in order to make sense of the world.
In a new series inspired by Mexico, Dalwood unites observations from his time spent in the country (whilst on a residency at Casa Wabi, Oaxaca, in late 2017) with his personal brand of ‘contemporary history painting’, which weaves together visual quotations to express a space or a place that is more an abstracted mental image than a representation of the real. The first painting in the series, Wall, 2017, pre-dates the artist’s trip to Mexico. The work makes light reference to Donald Trump’s proposed border-wall between the United States and neighbouring Mexico.
Several of the paintings in this series are inspired by a scene from Alonso Ruizpalacios’s black-and-white film, Güeros from 2014. Set in Mexico City amid the student unrest of 1999, it features a protest scene on the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) campus against a background of a mural by David Alfaro Siqueiros, an artist associated with the Mexican Muralism movement. The mural depicts an imposing three-dimensional arm emerging from the wall. Several hands, one with a pencil, charge towards a book which lists critical dates in Mexico’s history: 1520 (the Conquest by Spain); 1810 (Independence from Spain); 1857 (the Liberal Constitution which established individual rights); and 1910 (the start of the Revolution against the regime of Porfirio Díaz). The final date is blank, inspiring viewers to create Mexico’s next great historic moment.
Dalwood’s fascination with history painting and his contemporary rendering of the genre announces itself in works that refer to the historical landmarks pinpointed in the mural, as well as to pre-Columbian depictions of Mesoamerican Mexico before its Spanish conquest. At the same time, Edouard Manet’s fragmented The Execution of Maximilian, c. 1867-1868, looms large in the artist’s mind, something that is reflected in the cut-and-paste collage effect of paintings in the series. During the residency Dalwood collaborated with local schoolchildren on a large-scale mural that dealt with their interpretation of their own social and political history. This illustrated history of Mexico tackles issues of nationality in relation to artistic responsibility. Dalwood is interested in what right he has, as a British painter, to confront Mexican subject matter, while acknowledging the importance of an impartial viewpoint in constructing narrative.