Grant Dale Inflight Gallery, Hobart December 1-22 2007
Hobart-based Grant Dale's enigmatically titled Of is a smallish solo exhibition of oil paintings and mixed media pieces that contains much more than first meets the eye. The exhibition contains a gratifying variety of technique and subject matter, with the works unified by an interest in experimentation and by all being, in some way, representational, that is, they are all images 'of' something.
Inflight Gallery deliberately programs work, in virtually any media, that is experimental and innovative. Grant Dale's bijou show slots well into Inflight's modus operandi, not only because he is primarily interested in exploration and experimentation, but also because he is resolutely unconcerned by any need to pursue commercial fame and fortune.
Amongst several very different paired and individual pieces were a kind of diptychs-with-a-difference, two exactly identical images of two stylized and simplified lawnmowers, against a neutral grey background with a plain grey horizon. Here the artist seems to be playing with the idea of representation and reality, in that the lawnmowers are toys and he has chosen to portray them in such a pared-down way. I cannot recall ever before seeing 'twin' paintings presented side by side, in this way. As a sort of visual pun, it was most engaging. A raft of questions surrounding the artist's intent are raised by this curious dyptych and, such is the strength of its presence, its effect pervades the inclusion and placement of each of the other works on display and captures the peculiar and elusive logic which teases the apparently disparate exhibition.
Two seemingly abstract works, Archetype and Memorial, are actually paintings 'of' modernist-style sculptures which Dale constructed from sundry items, swimming pool noodles included, purchased from '$2 shops'. These works in particular explore colour and form. On first viewing, one would 'read' them as pure abstracts, so it is amusing to learn that their subjects have been carefully created by the artist, prior to painting. In line with Dale's determination to do things a bit differently, the artist was still, spasmodically, as the fancy took him, working on and modifying the colours and tones in these two works for the duration of the show. Memorial was originally painted in a disquieting mix of somewhat unattractive colours, flesh, mud, dark green and fluorescent blue, but Dale had plans to overpaint all but one of the initial colours.
Image Technie, another suite of three images, this time mixed media collages, worked very well, and was much in contrast with the rest of the show. Wanting a large format, Dale appropriated photographs from 1980s hairdressing magazines, those big, glossy publications full of unattainable hairstyles that graced the reception areas of salons of the era. He cut the images into very small pieces, retained them in their original place in the image and stuck them back together with the 'twist' (literally) that he rotates each piece 90 degrees from its original position.
This creates strikingly unusual portraits, there is enough visual information to identify the subjects to some extent; on the other hand, they are slightly disturbing in their appearance. As a possible nod to more high-tech art practice (Grant Dale's work here is relentlessly low-tech), these collages look very much like computer-generated, pixellated images.
In keeping with the simple, elemental nature of the show and Dale's philosophy, the titles of the works were casually pencilled on the gallery wall, with the lawnmower work's original name crossed out and the piece re-christened Cars at the time I saw it.
As Dale explains, Of is indeed about representation and re-presenting painting techniques, working from reality but with enough 'little ploys' to make you question what is happening. I found that it worked for me and I enjoyed de-coding the paintings and collages on display. Of is an unpretentious, but very knowing and witty exhibition.