Studio visit with Mark Dutcher: The Search for a Symbolic Universe
By Gary Brewer
“…And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling
Undisciplined squads of emotion…”
TS Eliot, East Coker, Four Quartets
Mark Dutcher’s work creates a vector where many cross currents of influence and internal need express themselves in a dialogue of form and meaning. He has a compulsion to wrestle meaning from paint in a direct unmediated approach; the oblique conceptual strategies and the use of irony that many contemporary artists use to distance feeling and emotion from their work is foreign to Mark’s paintings. He is after a genuine expression, emotionally honest and direct, all the cards are on the table with his work.
From a soulful journey of discovery, in the messy process of painting he wants to convey to others what he has found directly. He speaks of his admiration of Abstract Expressionist painters and their desire to create an idea/emotion that can be conveyed directly through paint. Mark’s work is a search to create a symbolic language, part autobiographical and part the desire to kick the can forward in paintings development as a language. Even the notion of abstraction is a ‘symbol’ in his universe, representing the historical lineage, the romantic notion of a pure art from Kandinsky and Malevich to Pollock and Rothko.
We spoke about the seeming changes his work goes through; Mark works in a series in which he finds a set of symbols to express ideas he is concerned with at the moment. As he put it ”what remains consistent in my paintings, the thread that runs through all of my work, is my paint handling which has a deliberate clumsy and awkward manner, it is in my DNA.”
This approach can express innocence and joy in passages where the canvas remains fresh and present and the paint is applied lightly. In other works where an accumulation of paint is built up by painting over, revising or entirely burying other paintings beneath, it acquires a heavier presence, a ‘shadow’ of the struggle and the insecurity and doubt that can pervade the search. The spatial density of painting one thing on top of another creates a historical record, a certain kind of space where the history of the making is exposed and it becomes a form of subjective archaeology. In these works that awkwardness conveys pathos – the struggle to retain hope in a world that collapses, where meaning structures implode, indeed it is this very element, the desire to continually rebuild meaning and hope against the constant tide of erasure, that is central to Marks work.
I spoke with Mark about the current paintings for his upcoming solo show at Jason Vass, about the symbol-laden universe of a series of four large paintings titled “Kick the Can”. Mark mentioned that he was struggling to regain his focus after the current elections and the mind numbing reality we are faced with. After some weeks of despondency he got back to work and the simple child’s game of kicking the can seemed like an expression of something pure and innocent that he could start to build a new series of paintings on. The term also has some darker tones suggesting death, as in ‘kick the bucket’, or in politics when one administration kicks the can down the road so that the next one can deal with a difficult issue. Adding another layer of biography to these works is the boots pictured in the paintings, they are from photographs that Mark shot of Tom of Finland’s boots from a recent trip to Tom of Finland’s home in Echo Park. He spoke of being blown away when he first saw an exhibit of his work at the LACE bookstore in the early 1980’s, that it was a revelation.
It is deeply satisfying to see a painter like Mark who is willing to take risks, to speak directly from the heart, to make paintings which express an urgent need to create, and in this process he is reciprocated as a way to give meaning and hope to ones life. “Painting makes me want to live” as he passionately said. We live in a world where structures of meaning evaporate like a mirage.
“…Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosened upon the world,
The blood dimmed-tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity…”
WB Yeats, The Second Coming
Mark Dutcher’ paintings strive to challenge Yeat’s lament, to recreate a ceremony of innocence and to loose upon the world his conviction and vision of optimism and hope, a vision filled with passionate intensity.
opening reception sat April 22 6pm -9pm
APRIL 22 – JUNE 4, 2017
1452 E. Sixth Street
Los Angeles, CA 90021