Review by Melanie Booth
Tuesday evening saw the return of the artist Joel Dickens with the emotive ‘Pressure Sensitive’ exhibition at V∆ND∆L Gallery in Redfern. He presents a collection of fascinating works in his exhibition ‘Pressure Sensitive’ at VANDAL Gallery which evoke a sense of tension between various sets of dichotomies.
In a speech to attendees on the night, Joel Dickens explained that the approach to his works was tempered after several brain surgeries, but also the birth of his twin children.
Through his process, Joel consciously challenges himself and his usual practice in an effort to acknowledge the complexities of adulthood, while referencing the sense of spontaneity and lack of inhibition that is habitual to youth. In his bright, raw works he reconciles a personal truth that is both personal and broadly relatable in that nothing is really black and white.
The works exists in the realm of thought where one can simultaneously acknowledge multiple possibilities while never fully submitting to one.
Melanie Booth: Can you tell me a little bit about the process of creating these works? Is the colour of the ‘squiggle’ we see on the surface actually the base layer of paint?
Joel Dickens: Yes that’s a base layer - there will be a number of those layers that will be put down to get it to the right opacity. Then the oil layer is put over the top. It’s about trying to get the right balance in the oil so that it’s not too oily and drips. There’s definitely a time factor.
M: It sounds like quite a painstaking process. At first I thought the squiggle was done over the top of a block colour background.
J: That’s sort of what I wanted. People seeing it from a distance and thinking it’s a solid line then realising it's quite raw.
The process has been developed: what seems like a very emotional, spontaneous gesture actually takes quite a long time to produce.
M: Do you find that process quite meditative?
J: In a strange way it’s kind of nerve racking. You take a while to plan it but you never really know how it’s going to pan out. It is kind of meditative, more so than expressionistic but it’s essentially a race against time. You’re sort of volunteering yourself for a stressful six hours. The preparation of the canvas takes a few days but the actual gesture is done in one sitting.
M: You mentioned in your artist statement that these are paintings you feel you need to paint, not ones that you necessarily want to.
J: I have a certain set of criteria in my work: I wanted to take the indulgence of the mark making out of this series. It’s something I feel quite strongly about.
M: Is this because if you were to just do a scribble of paint, that would be too easy?
J: I love children’s art and scribbles, but I’m not a child. It’s paying homage to that spontaneity, but recognising the struggles and tensions of becoming an adult.
I wanted to take that inhibition to an extreme point. It’s also the conceit in the work: it looks like they’re produced quickly, but they’re not. That’s the tension I’m trying to create for the viewer.
M: Do you plan the form of the scribble?
J: No, not really. The actual scribble shape is quite spontaneous. There could be something on the TV or something political that inspires it. It’s about choosing that kind of specific event and then trying to be as spontaneous with that initial gesture as possible.
M: Do you often work with this kind of style?
J: I used to do a lot more of throwing paint around. My last exhibition was close to four years ago and a lot has changed since then. I think where it has come from in terms of responding to these immediate events is the same, but the response has been different.
M: Do you feel these works come from a personal place or speak more generally about the human condition?
J: I feel they’re both micro and macro. Some of them are deeply personal. I like to think that there’s something philosophical about them as well and that they can be appreciated on that level.
M: You mentioned that you have undergone a few medical procedures recently. Has your concerns with your physical health and the effect on your family influenced these works?
J: Yes, definitely. I believe that everything in your environment affects you and hence your work. With the health thing, it really did make me consider my own mortality and I think the work sort of mirrors two things – an appreciation of life but also a fear of death. It bridges both things. It’s me wanting to get stuff done quickly in case something happens tomorrow, but there’s also a defiance in the work in taking my time and engaging in a laborious process.
M: You’ve mentioned the act of ‘bridging’ contrasting concepts several times. Is this a predominant theme in this exhibition?
J: I see things in the grey quite a lot. I don’t know whether it’s an age thing. Actually I’m not too sure. I’m very conscious and scared about people sitting on the fence, but I find myself sitting on the fence on so many different things. In a way this is me sitting on the fence between a meditative, philosophical approach and an expressionistic one. I think someone said that truth lies between two extremes. If there is a truth, then it exists between those areas – which I’ve consciously tried to reconcile.