Altered States of Paint
In a new exhibition of painting, Scottish and international artists create work that recalls the 1960s spirit of rebellion and playfulness, as Neil Cooper discovers
According to clichéd legend, if you can remember the 1960s, you weren’t really there. The artists taking part in Altered States of Paint at DCA who were around during that heady decade were still in their wide-eyed infancy. The ones who weren’t are still barely out of theirs. For a show that posits the gallery space as a portal to leap through en route to self-knowledge, this is how it should be. The very fact that this exhibition aims to capture the spirit of Aldous Huxley’s maxim from mind-expanding handbook The Doors of Perception that ‘The man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out’ through painting alone, is itself something of a jolt.
‘These are paintings that do something more,’ says curator Graham Domke. ‘I’ve always been fascinated by this idea of the mad scientist who looks for life’s meaning and takes it very seriously, but takes it too far. Like in The Man with X-Ray Eyes, where initially everything seems great and he can see girls’ pants, but ends up seeing too much. That’s why the exhibition starts off psychedelic and gradually gets darker.’
While Jutta Koether, Till Gerhard, Andreas Dobler, Angela de la Cruz, Neil Clements and Rabiya Choudry aren’t involving themselves in some Stuckist reaction to Conceptualism, as with the poets, mystics and psychedelicists who inspired them (by way of William Blake leaping into Lewis Carroll’s Looking Glass), these artists are desperately seeking something. Something other, at that.
Which is why the work in Altered States of Paint, named after Ken Russell’s crazed 1980 sensory overload flick, will appear on walls and doorways, painted as murals, and, in the case of de la Cruz, deliberately twisted, smashed and mangled.
‘The show started with Angela’s paintings,’ says Domke. ‘The way she transgresses the canvas and literally breaks on through the paintings and physically pushes herself with it.’
Accompanying the show is a season of films by Kenneth Anger, which sit alongside a set of reference points that include Zachary Lazar’s ambitious 60s novel Sway. Also invoked are a bunch of very Scottish counter-cultural icons, from Aleister Crowley and The Wicker Man to Performance director Donald Cammell. Domke maintains, however, that this is more contemporary than hippy revivalism, something which the presence of Neil Clements, the youngest of the group, testifies to.
Clements has previously shown black-painted shapes based on flamboyantly sculpted guitars. Here, as Clements points out, ‘They are all from the 1980s as opposed to my previous interest in those originally patented by Gibson in 1959. Whereas the original guitars were adopted further down the line by rock musicians, the later generation was made for a market of metal fans.’
‘We’re trying to do something less tight-assed with this exhibition,’ says Domke. ‘You can be intelligent and playful about how you do a show. Hopefully it’s going to burn.’
Altered States of Paint, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Sat 5 Jul–Sun 7 Sep.