Double spread A4 drawings with watercolour, completed over a 2 week stay at Borgo Pignano:
Exhibition text by Frances Woodley: Thoughts on Painting in the Pelican
“…wonderful things can be accomplished in the studio when it is shut off from the outside world. Working again and again with the same wretched pigments, the same frowzy brushes, the same paint stained walls, can be exactly what is needed to bring something worthwhile to life.” James Elkins, What Painting Is (1999)
The pelican is a hermetically sealed glass apparatus used by alchemists in which base material is circulated in the hope of transmutation. Its name, like its shape shape is derived from the bird to whom various myths are attached. The circulatory system is an apt metaphor for a painter’s studio, at least for a painter like Tim Dodds. Other than materials for painting, little of any value gets into Dodds’ metaphorical pelican, only mere scatterings, the detritus of packaging and building. The materials are abject: plaster, polystyrene foam, cardboard, a discarded feather. In Dodds’ studio, as in the pelican, the hope is that transformation can be effected; in this case, into shimmering succulent painting rather than the perfection of essence and element. The pelican is not a safe place, its circulations are a risky business. With nowhere to escape, the gases given off in its hermetically sealed apparatus make it prone to explosion. Yet, the energy that causes the pelican to auto-destruct is, in Dodds’ studio, channeled into works of art.
Dodds is a painter of still lifes, a tradition that requires the painter to paint objects set up expressly for the purpose of painting. But his are no ordinary objects, they are abject bits of stuff thrown together ‘as if’ they were objects. Others who indulge in this practice include the painters Ivan Seal and Jonny Green. The abjection of these models neither precludes their individuality nor potential for expression. Not for public consumption, such models escape the pelican only when in painted form. Then, with nothing else to go on, the viewer has no other option but to be drawn into the mysterious transmutational process of base paint with abject material that is recorded at its surface. It is now here that the painted model becomes subject to, what Nicholas Davey terms, “hermeneutic ambushes”, interpretations that the artist could neither have envisaged or foreseen. But back in the pelican, having had their moment, the models themselves are no longer of consequence; they await either extinction or reincarnation.
Gérard de Lairesse, famous for The Art of Painting in All its Branches (1707), writes at length on the regulation of still life painting in ways that have a curious relevance here. In his discussion of flower still life he expresses his approval of the making of models for painting “when the life is not to be had”. But such approval is qualified: “for no perfection is attainable without the life” he says. Evidently the making of rough models in the absence of the real thing was a common practice for the still life painter at that time, yet it was a practice whose truth was contested. But for Dodds the rough model is the real thing, and ready to become more so in painting.
With regard to the regulation of backgrounds, de Lairesse is so particular it makes you want to weep. No such regulation of backgrounds occurs in the acid yellow and scorching pink backgrounds of Dodds’ recent paintings, yet there is just as much attention to the background’s function of bringing the model to sight. For Dodds, unlike de Lairesse, the backgrounds are objects in their own right. The superimpositions of models on dripped, crinkled, dragged, and coagulated paint, are intended ambiguations of space and volume, colour and light, background and foreground: “I’ve added stand oil, marble dust and other things to play with the surface quality of the backgrounds in these paintings. I was also thinking about the models that Jonny Green makes. They’re garish, slightly vulgar, cheeky things. In my yellow painting, when I stuck the feather into one of the objects, it immediately became some sort of raffish, historical character to me.” This is interesting not just for what it says about how Dodds feels about his models and their backgrounds, but also for the doubt it casts on the sealed up nature of the pelican. Dodds’ pelican evidently opens itself up to the world as and when required to feed its babies.
Dodds’ painting is not without regulation however. For instance, he always uses a perspective frame, a regulatory device that while physically absent, remains visible through the dynamic sightlines it sets up for the model when painted. The use of this frame requires precision: “It is a measure of truth” and “just as important as the subject matter”, he declares. Alchemy too has its truth but it rather depends on what is believed in by the alchemist, and what is hoped for, as to whether transmutation of base elements is capable of the extraordinary transmutations to be seen in Dodds’ pelican.
MONOMATIC is pleased to present Still Believing an exhibition of new works by Tim Dodds and Thomas Whittle.
Still Believing brings together still life paintings and photographs made from studio set ups; set ups that the artists themselves create. These objects, collages and arrangements are all modeled and fabricated by the artists using debris from their studio and other works. The relationship of translating these table-top dioramas into two dimensional images posts questions of truth, authenticity, specificity and miscommunication. By presenting the viewer with a contradictory infinity loop, the work sincerely hopes to challenge perception of space, time and subjectivity.
To coincide with the opening Sian Robinson Davies has been invited to read her new text All the People I’ve Touched. This text is about the (in)frequency of physical contact that Robinson Davies has with those around her and how that contact produces different feelings depending on social context, quality of relationship, permission and intention.
MONOMATIC presents Still Believing as part of Annuale, an annual festival organised by Embassy Gallery.
Edinburgh Beer Factory will provide refreshments at the opening.
Exhibition text by Jonathan P Watts: Still Believing
Immobile in regimented seats, train passengers pass through remote
landscapes. As such, they’re only offered, the anthropologist Michel
de Certeau writes, ‘a speculative experience of the world’, remaining
‘outside of these things that stay there, detached and absolute, that
leave us without having anything to do with this departure’. Seeking
a visual symbol of the train’s relation to knowledge, de Certeau
claims that it ‘generalizes’ the German Renaissance artist Albrecht
Dürer’s engraving Melencolia I (1514). Slumped to the right of this
masterprint, fatigued like some latter-day passenger, the solitary
figure ‘Melancolia’ is absorbed in thought. The tools of her art – a
peculiar array of objects – surround her but she seems unable to use
them. Even the emaciated dog at her feet conveys a melancholy
atmosphere. Does her withdrawal make it impossible for her to act,
or what if she is, in fact, held in some inspired trance prior to action?
In front of immobile things, how does our view affect our knowledge?
A table anatomised begins to look familiar: there are feet, legs and
joints in the places you might expect. And of course tables do have
brains. Or at least it’s hard to shake the thought after Karl Marx’s
early writings on what he called the ‘metaphysical subtleties and
theological niceties’ of the commodity. In The Fetishism of
Commodities and the Secret Thereof (1867) Marx conjures a
beguiling image of a table to illustrate why values attach to
commodities independent of their use-value or the labour entailed
in making them. ‘It is as clear as day,’ he writes, ‘that man, by his
industry, changes the forms of the materials furnished by Nature, in
such a way as to make them useful to him.’ The form of wood, he
is altered, by making a table out of it. Yet, for all that, the table
continues to be that common, every-day thing, wood. But, so soon as it
steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent.
It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other
commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain
grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than ‘table-turning’ ever was.
Marx’s open secret is that commodity transformation is more
wonderful – yet, importantly, more real – than any ‘table-turning’,
that occult practice in which a group gather around a table, their
hands flat on its top, and wait for communiqués from the spiritual
beyond, expressed by the table’s rotation. Indeed, while the
table-turners are all preoccupied with the other side, he implies,
they’re being distracted from doing the real work of understanding
the mystifications that beset commonplace human relations. Marx’s
writing on the commodity turned the table into a paradigmatic item
of furniture caught between an older order of magical thinking and
the modern commodity in industrial capitalism – its top, then, a
highly charged space for display.
The window is a transparent framed view of the world; the mirror is
a rebounding mimetic opacity. With nihilistic élan, Marcel Duchamp
enfolded the two foundational devices for perspectival painting – the
window and the mirror – to produce Fresh Widow (1921), a miniature
French window with all of its eight glass panes blinded by swatches
of black leather. These swatches, Duchamp instructed, were to be
‘shined everyday like shoes’. If this hybrid object negated the
function or use of its constituent parts, it would also forever
complicate art’s relation to knowledge, of the external world and the
self, resolutely closing the French door on illusion. (I can hear
Duchamp’s wicked laughter at the metaphysical labour of polishing
dim lustrous skin to find one’s image.)