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New York
Rodney Dickson
Tanja Grunert Gallery
524 West 19th Street, New York, NY 10011
June 5, 2012 - July 13, 2012

Slow Burn
by Bradley Rubenstein

To call Rodney Dickson a painter’s painter does him something of a disservice, implying that his work speaks only to the few and initiated. In fact, both Dickson and his paintings strive for a more communal, universal language—one that collectively might understand the search that he undertakes with each painting. In an age that has seen the deconstruction, reconstruction, and post-reconstruction of painting, Dickson reaches back to an era that saw the act of painterly engagement as, first and foremost, an attempt at expression. His recent works at Gasser & Grunert show him at the peak of his career.

Barnett Newman wrote of his own work, that he sought

an art of impact and enigma, an art of feeling, as van Gogh wrote of his own painting, “Heartbroken and therefore heartbreaking.…I use color to express myself forcibly...that’s it as far as theory goes now. Stroke can be interwoven with feeling…from the pain of impasto to the exhilaration of stippling; from the serenity of smooth paint (like porcelain) to the sublimity of radiating strokes.” He spoke of reducing imagery in favor of strengthening the feeling behind the work, of “leaving out some trees” or “some shrubs that are not in character" to get at that character in the painting, the fundamental truth of it.

Rodney Dickson, Untitled (R.D.14), 2012, Oil on Canvas, 96 x 60 in.;
Courtesy of the artist and Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert, Inc.

These recent paintings—abstract, though tempered with references both to art history as well as an engagement with nature—are large, enveloping the viewer, much like the work of Newman or Pollock. Color is used as a descriptive element, suggesting van Gogh’s wheat fields or sunflowers, in works such as Untitled (R.D.7) (2012), or as pure form, with a nod to Julian Schnabel or Bradley Walker Tomlin, in Untitled (R.D.14) (2012). With these recent works, Dickson paints on a black ground, and his muscular strokes and expressive handling do indeed evoke the same awkward, hard-earned struggle that the best of Schnabel’s black velvet paintings have. Dickson, though, is no Neo-Expressionist. His paintings evolve out of a genuine effort—one that he has spoken of as leaving him exhausted by the process. His paintings wear their hearts on their sleeves, his attempts to make the next work better than the last strike us as genuine—such a simple goal, so seldom seen in other painter’s efforts.

Rodney Dickson, Untitled (R.D.8), 2012, oil on canvas, 96 x 60 in.;
Courtesy of the artist and Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert, Inc.


It is tempting to list the art and artists whose work bears resemblance to Dickson’s, both in subject and spirit—painting heroes such as Milton Resnick, Leon Kossoff, or Frank Auerbach. These artists' works are valid touchstones to apprehend such pieces as Untitled (R.D.8) (2012) or Untitled (R.D.6) (2012). Both the sensual handling, as well as the umbers and acid yellows, bring to mind the School of London. But Dickson travels far and wide to collect the impressions that he processes through paint. Inspired by an artist residency last year in the Xu Cun Mountains of Shanxi Province, China, the surreal environment, and its diffused light from the misty clouds that obscured the lush landscape inspired Dickson and influenced his Western paint handling with an Eastern sense of lightness. It is also tempting to see the thick impasto of these paintings as concealing, or burying, his imagery, but that might be a mistake. In the 1950s, Bruno Alfieri argued for Jackson Pollock’s work in L’Arte Moderna in a statement that bears reading as an argument for the relevance of Dickson’s work today: “Each one of his pictures is a part of himself....They will show Pollock to me—pieces of Pollock. That is, I start from the picture, and discover the man.”

Bradley Rubenstein

(Image on top right: Rodney Dickson, Untitled (R.D.7), 2012, oil on canvas, 96 x 60 in.; Courtesy of the artist and Klemens Gasser & Tanja Grunert, Inc.)

Posted by Bradley Rubenstein on 6/24/12

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