Saturday 20 February 2010

On Dale Frank @ Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery

Dale Frank's show 'Ice Age' at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery pushes my buttons and tries my patience. There's no doubt that his luminously varnished canvasses are often beautiful, their sumptuous whirls and maws of paint preserved in suspended animation, are beautiful. However he also manages to invoke my innate suspicion about works with titles that read like protracted statements or bad situationist slogans. Try this for starters, "He pushed himself into his car. Breakneck speed was chocolate and coconut covered as he gradually urged the car from the garage in R watching not to scrape the sides. Apart from the first few minutes after the end of the driveway were he had to reach 120 to clean out the air filters the rest of the trip was sedate", that's not a title it's undergraduate poetry. If it weren't for the beauty of the canvass it would make this project risible.

Frank works in a kind of material abstraction. The paintings tease with meaning and echo but are always about the paint itself. The varnish appears to preserve not the marks that paint leaves but the movement of the paint itself, in a sense that's a literal truth as the varnish is saturated with pigment, its drying and mixing creates the work. That reliance on an unmediated physical process does make you wonder where intention and serendipity collide. In a piece called 'The Chinese Military Machine' there are hints of calligraphy and scared patterns. Whether these effects are desired or not these works are powerful because of their reminder of paint's ability to capture that which is fleeting and the mind's necessity to seek pattern and meaning.

The tendency to project onto these painting helps explain the appeal of the more affecting works. In one work the seeping flesh tones remind us of painters from Rubens to Lucian Freud. Its accreted layers and still remain messy under the shining varnish, without a hint of the object it's a terribly human mirror. It is naive to pretend that the works here are pristine abstractions. The aesthetic is fairly consistent and like John Olsen or James Gleason reminds us of the fluid world between the spirit and the organic. At times that can descend into the lava lamp picturesque but more often than not the compositions overcome kitsch, presenting colour and form in a kind of restless search for equilibrium. This art is never static.

These are big often beautiful paintings undone by the taint of smugness. The catalogue states "Twenty nine paintings were supposed to say something through their titles if not through their reason for being; twenty nine went onto the truck. Out of how many, seventy, well, forty six. Others could not be counted. But one was an actor, so there were really only twenty eight". Together with the titles it makes one feel the subject in an elaborate piss take. They're too redolent of dumb conceptualism for my liking. It's a shame, I like these paintings (varnishings?) very much, but Dale, do give the titles a rest.