Paint a Happy Tree: Dan Attoe, "You Get What You Deserve," at Vilma Gold, London
In his first solo show in Britain, West Coast native Dan Attoe presented a suite of painterly landscapes that are suggestive both of the grand canvases of the Hudson River School and the amateurish paintings of the American wilderness sold at malls and by mail-order. Quite neatly, this collision of the awesome and the everyday is echoed in the subject matter of Attoe's paintings: highway strip joints set at the edge of a dark pine forest; split-level houses cowering beneath big skies; dust-covered trucks barrelling through mountain ranges.
In reaching after the sublime -- or compromised versions of it -- Attoe achieves a curiously personal effect. The uneasy relation of binaries (between nature and culture, the sincere and the ironic) that recurs in his work reflects the contradictions of the place where he grew up (born in Portland, Ore., Attoe currently makes his home in Washington State) -- the Pacific Northwest, both a bastion of environmentalism and a technological heartland.
The canvases are small and precisely rendered, and Attoe often scribbles short, cynical aphorisms across them. These further the sense of conflict, suggesting both contempt for and solidarity with his cast of characters. The butt of these jokes is more often than not Don Attoe himself -- his hometown and background, and his artistic talent and aspirations.
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