Dexter Dalwood’s paintings celebrate and interrogate the history of the medium. They demonstrate an awareness of the continued significance of painting as a means of communicating the ways in which we experience our everyday existence. Dalwood is first and foremost interested in painting as a conceptual practice: a meta-awareness of painting as language. He crafts narratives of memory that bring together the past, present and future in a single image.
He brings to the art world the essence of that eccentric rigour. His talk and his paintings are full of ruthless, self-effacing resolve to hone it down, fit it together, find the groove and move things right along.
-Dave Hickey, ‘Dexter Dalwood Covers the Classics’, 2002
In recent years there has been a pronounced shift in Dalwood’s approach to making paintings as he moves away from the logic of representation, and what had become his signature visual quotes from art history, to something more distilled, intuitive and pared down. He has begun to explore the limits of painting language and to consider where the medium itself sits at this moment in time.
A considerable shift happened in 2016/2017; Dalwood began a series of works using a very limited palette that explored the idea of the very last thing, the last performance. Isle of the Dead is arguably the work that sits most comfortably within this framework. A response to David Bowie’s death, the composition of the painting is based on the Swiss Symbolist artist Arnold Bocklin’s painting of the same name. The artwork from Bowie’s last album, Black Star, flashes across a bank of television screens, in an homage to a scene from cult 1976 film The Man who Fell to Earth, which starred the singer in his first leading role.
The role of quotation in Dalwood’s painting has fallen away to exist instead within his work as shadow. This shadow is psychological, formalist and pictorial. Subject, too, has been transformed from cinematic or operatic grandeur to a form more resembling a primal codex: an index of incidents or magical sites, a common denominator of which is a profound sense of isolation, alienation, departure or transit.
The technical and artistic achievement of this codex and these shadows is in the material and psychological depth of the painted surface – in the application of paint, its gesture, touch, smear, ridged outline, speed, density and colour; in the truth of its transmission of feeling. Night, darkness, edge and silhouette convey the stilled ambience of isolation in a modern, cold world of transport and service industry. Internationalism creates homogenised environments, as does affordable glamour. We fade to grey.
- Michael Bracewell, ‘What is Really Happening’ 2019
In a recent body of work Dalwood reckons with ‘non places’: communal spaces we inhabit without affinity. It is often from the back of a car, or from an aeroplane window, in a moment of quiet solitude, that one moves into a different dimension of contemplation and a sense of really being in the moment. It is this heightened sense of perspective and aloneness that Dalwood achieves through paint.
Hard 2 is a painting that attempts to embody the idea of a middle-distance stare: what is in your field of vision isn’t necessarily what absorbs your thoughts. ‘The shift for me', he observes, 'with these recent paintings is that I am trying to build an experience of thinking about looking at a painting while looking at the painting’.
For ‘Lux’ I went back to look at the origin of Post-Impressionist painting and how someone like Vincent Van Gogh looked at Japanese prints as a new way to simplify things. In Utagawa Hiroshige’s prints the idea of weather as an element is a ‘real thing’ but also a signifier of ‘snow’ or ‘rain’. It’s not an experience of being in nature but an experience of looking at what’s enough to say ‘snow’. Also, where do you find this place of contemplation and solitude, given the fact that I don’t get it in nature? I’m slightly nervous in nature but when I travel and am not connected to Wi-Fi, I can spend a lot of time thinking. That’s a peculiar experience that hasn’t really been translated into painting. It’s a peculiar thing because interiors of transport in the 20th century are so central to film.
- ‘Paintings About Paintings’, Dexter Dalwood interviewed for Art Monthly by Cherry Smith, 2019
In a new series inspired by Mexico, Dalwood makes paintings derived from an index of cultural references and observations from his time spent in the country whilst on a residency at Casa Wabi, Oaxaca, in late 2017. In this series he continues to employ a very reduced language to explore the idea of what right he has, as a British painter, to confront Mexican subject matter, while acknowledging the importance of an impartial viewpoint in constructing narrative. The first painting in the series, Wall, 2017, makes light reference to Donald Trump’s proposed border-wall between the United States and neighbouring Mexico.
The date that hovers in the middle of An Inadequate Painted History of Mexico IV, 2018, points us to an important moment in the history of Mexico, the beginning of the Mexican Revolution. A late 19th Century/early 20th Century interior is partially silhouetted - a hint at the fading of a regime. During the residency Dalwood collaborated with teenagers from a local school on a large-scale mural that dealt with their interpretation of their own social and political history. They brought images that they thought best represented both the past and present in Mexican history. He asked them to lay out on the floor images that they had chosen. This became the inspiration for An Inadequate Painted History of Mexico IV, 2018 in which he paints on top of a grid of pages from a now out-dated Illustrated History of Mexico.
These two paintings are part of a larger series called An Inadequate Painted History of Mexico which will be exhibited in Mexico later this year at the Museo Nacional de Arte (MUNAL), Mexico City.
Dexter Dalwood: What Is Really Happening?
Dexter Dalwood (b.1960) lives and works in London, UK. He received his BFA from Central Saint Martins, London and his MFA from the Royal College of Art, London. Recent solo exhibitions include What is Really Happening, Simon Lee Gallery, London, UK (2019); Propaganda Painting, Simon Lee Gallery, Hong Kong (2016); London Paintings, Simon Lee Gallery, London, UK (2014); Kunsthaus, Centre PasquArt, Biel, Switzerland (2013); Orientalism, David Risley Gallery, Copenhagen, Denmark (2012); Dichter und Drogen, Nolan Judin, Berlin, Germany (2011) and a major solo exhibition at Tate St Ives, UK (2010), which travelled to FRAC Champagne-Ardenne, Reims, France and CAC, Malaga, Spain. Recent group exhibitions have included Marx Collection, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany (2018); Painters' Painters at Saatchi Gallery, London, UK (2016); Mon art à moi, Centre PasquArt, Biel, Switzerland (2016); The Painting Show, a touring exhibition by The British Council, London, UK which travelled to Limerick City Gallery of Art, Limerick, Ireland (2017) and CAC, Vilnius, Lithuania (2016); Fighting History, Tate Britain, London, UK (2015); The Venice Syndrome – The Grandeur and Fall in the Art of Venice, Gammel Holtegaard, Denmark (2014), Not Being Attentive I Notice Everything: Robert Walser and the Visual Arts, Aargauer Kunsthaus, Aarau, Switzerland (2014); Le Corps de l'Absence, FRAC Champagne Ardennes, Reims, France; Setting the Scene, Tate Modern, London, UK (2012); and Dublin Contemporary, Dublin, Ireland (2011). His work is in major private and public collections including Tate, London, UK; The British Council Collection, London, UK; The Saatchi Gallery, London, UK; FRAC Champagne-Ardennes, Reims, France and Centre PasquArt, Biel, Switzerland.