Friday, July 12, 2013

REVIEW: The Idiot Convention

Gordon Dalton's - Idiot Convention
Motorcade/Flashparade, Bristol
28 June - 7 July 2013

Reviewed by: Martyn Cross »
In John Kennedy Toole’s novel ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’, eccentric protagonist and flatulent anti-hero Ignatius J Reilly is on a mission against the world. Throughout the duration of the book he rails against authority and expounds views on the degeneracy of modern humanity, even taking his own mother to task for being, well, his poor, long-suffering mother. He is quite unlike any other character in the history of literature.

If one were to give the paintings in Gordon Dalton’s exhibition ‘Idiot Convention’ a voice, they would undoubtedly sound like the loquacious Ignatius and his every eructation. Eyeballing you from the wall they mock every thought about painting that runs through your poor, pretty head and stare down your pitiful views on art. Behind your back they laugh knowingly and puff on tabs; bilious smoke hangs thick in the air. Even Dalton himself wonders what the hell his paintings get up to when he’s not in the studio, hence the title of the show, so the question is are they laughing at us, or with us?

Crammed into the gallery are twenty-one works, each shouting for attention and demanding your eyes – it’s hard to know where to look. As you digest this visual clobbering the smog begins to clear: the chaos is obviously intentional and this is as much a lesson in the history of art as it is a simple exhibition of paintings. Everywhere you look are references to the work of some great artist or other: Philip Guston here, Martin Kippenberger there, a nod to Tal R… Victor Willing… René Daniëls… Giorgio Morandi… even Pierre Puvis de Chavannes - the list goes on and on. But this is not some pastiche or mimicry of the aforementioned artists. No, Dalton is creating his own language that openly begs, borrows and steals from the past and ultimately says ‘I’m just having fun’.  By being wilfully obtuse, repetitive and curmudgeonly, he is actively exposing the truth in his work; that these are honest paintings by an artist who wants you to know what he knows but doesn’t give a damn if you get it or not. It’s a refreshing approach that would normally be distilled in other artists work by the quest for originality or a bid to seem unique.  Such off-putting trivialities are of no concern to Dalton: this exhibition is unashamedly about painting and he wears his art on his sleeve.

The paintings themselves revel in what they are: coloured mud on canvas. It’s as if they’ve been dragged out of a swamp. ‘Juicy Lucy’ and ‘Serious Fun’ sweat gunge. Every so often occasional pops of colour break the primitive ooze and we are treated to sickly greens or limp yellows. ‘Last Night I Missed the Fireworks’ exemplifies this melding of colours and styles as we are treated to blood-red gallows against a brooding apocalyptic sky. Like the last man on earth, we’re tripping out. Everyday motifs such as trees, tennis-balls, pipes and smoke belch out of the paintings; you can imagine the back pages of Dalton’s school exercise books were once littered with similarly dumb iconography. They add a degree of humour to the work but at no stage do we laugh out loud, not unless we want to get a kicking.

At times you do crave some cohesion. It’s definitely there somewhere but Dalton wilfully disrupts the flow by placing stylistically opposing works together – he can’t help himself. In reality this could’ve been divided up into several smaller shows, but the artist has chosen to glue them together with a huge dollop of punk attitude and macho posturing. In this case more is more. It’s utter anarchy – but what a ride!

Writer detail:
Martyn Cross is an artist based in Bristol