THE LAW OF SURPRISE, HOWARD'S NEW PAINTINGS
2011, by Matthew Collings, Charlie Dutton Gallery
I'm an image hunter. The ones I choose, daily news images from the Internet, remind me of paintings I want to make. They have abstract qualities, space, gesture. The photos for the series of burqua paintings I have been working on were chosen for their painterly qualities. It's usually a domestic setting. I felt the veiled women were enigmatic, crying out to be taken seriously, attention seeking even. I liked the spatial flow of the cloth, the weight of the image and also its lightness, which I wanted to convey, the expression of freedom through repression. The veil has a painterly quality. The painted surface reveals and conceals, a skin and also a painted skin.
HOW I INTERPRET HOWARD'S MEANINGS
Coherent, achieved paintings that reward looking and re-looking, how often does this happen? The more frequent contemporary formula is a semblance of energy or well-known sign for it, in support of pat, neat, clichĂ©d social meaning, often involving a crassly imposed graphic lay out. With these new paintings by Howard Dyke, which could easily be applauded by the new bosses of art for affirming current orthodox ideas of meaning, that doesnât seem to be the deal exactly: his lay-outs and his rich painterly space zing off each other and are mutually dependent, genuinely mutually energising. A two-hundred year build-up of ideas about aesthetics results in a sort of divided up space in Cubism or Abstract Expressionism, say, where we donât tell ourselves that hideous deformed monsters are being pictured, or cosmic explosions anticipating cheesy special effects in Star Trek. Instead, life or existence is expressed, with certain visual ideas serving as metaphors for how reality was experienced in those times. This mindset, in which art is given maximum dignity, instead of being thought of as something repulsively derisory and empty, and serving only money or fashion (it might serve both but they aren't assumed to be its only priorities, and in fact its real priority is completely arbitrary to them) is the context for Howard's witty paintings.
WHAT ARE THE BURQUAS TELLING US?
Conventionally we expect art to say something. If it's representation our first thought is likely to be that the statement is about the represented object, or maybe "life," which is approached via this object, which will be some kind of metaphor. If it's abstract we might expect life, or whatever, to be expressed by structures that donât build into an image of a thing in the world with which we're familiar, as such, but feel are right in any case. (Maybe they relate to something profoundly important in human life like light, and from that metaphorical accuracy they are able to express wider or deeper meaning.) Like opponents facing each other across a ping pong table, we see that there are abstract structures on the one hand, in Howard's paintings, and on the other imagery or fragments of imagery that are more or less recognisable (requiring greater or lesser hints from his titles). But if this play-off of this vs that is happening at all it isn't the reason the paintings are good. His burqua imagery (which might change to the President of China getting some exercise, a heroic portrait of Ghaddafi or a playful representation of Tripoli, looking something like a map or aerial photo) is joined with abstract structures without one element necessarily "saying" anything about the other. Something happens nevertheless, which is that you can't settle into a routine response to either, because each is defined by the other visually, if not philosophically or linguistically. The lively energy of the space in which a symbolic burqua silhouette appears to be buzzing and pulsing cannot be mentally abstracted from the headline meaning or meanings of a burqua.
HOWARD DYKE - DANCE OF THE TECHNO POLAR BEAR
2009, by Stephanie Moran, Acme Project Space
'Dance of the Techno Polar Bear' combines process painting and Expressionism via a Pop sensibility, re-evaluating 80s Neo-Expressionism.
Dyke begins with the image of the Burka or hijab-clad figure and expands the symbology; relating to the Madonna of Western art, dressed in a veil of our times, she presents a conflicted image, ubiquitous in the press and cosmopolitan cities. She is a celebrity and also, paradoxically, anonymous.
Dyke sees the paintingsâ real subject as constructions hidden by or revealed beneath drapery. In luscious colour, the physicality of the paint drips over an image-structure which acts as a âscaffoldâ or rationale for the paint. The paint, like the veil, conceals and reveals; it becomes the fetishistic veil. Dyke moves towards transcending the subject, allowing spontaneity and chance to work through the process and the framework
How to negotiate expression in an era of mediated emotion and alienation?
âNever be afraid to cough up a bit of diseased lung for the spectators... How are people ever going to help themselves if they canât grab onto a fragment of your own horror?...â1
Gesture takes the place of a literal narrative. Dyke meditates on the Burka - an idea of repression, of subjection - the figure, the facial expression; perhaps expression enabled through restriction. Gestural marks are contained by a rigorous framework and disciplined approach, however there is a move away from the restraint of the clothing, a desire to escape.
The imagery transforms. Veiled women become mountains or airplanes or even 50s sci-fi figures in spacesuits. Textures change from soft fabric to hard reflective surfaces, then become dripping paint again. There is a discernible cartoonishness. The titles knowingly blend cultural references: Gustonâs Klansmen, religious painting, as well as celebrity stardom are present in âIkkkonâ; Nigella Lawson meets Rauschenberg, de Kooning and 70s feminism in âDomestic Goddess Combine Paintingâ.
The most recent work, which emerges out of the veiled women paintings, achieves disruption of the support having reached a point of collapse, dissolving or transcending of the image/structure. The actual support, the fabric ground, takes the place of the image and diversifies as Dyke uses various patterned fabrics. The marks become more diffuse, responding to the ground. It seems as though the point of view has become so close up the figure cannot be seen. The figure is the paint, the gesture; the veil is absorbed and internalised. Panels are montaged together to create new relationships and junctures, thresholds and joinings, opening up the paintings and forming dialectics between them.
This overview of the past year hangs across two rooms which mark a transition, diversifying or zooming in, as the focus of Dykeâs painting moves from clothing to fabric, image-structure to a fascination with the seams.