Travellers from a Distant Land
Dean Home
October 30, 2019
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November 23, 2019
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This will be Dean Home’s fifth major solo exhibition with Lennox St. Gallery and amounts to a summation of the key themes from his work over the last fifteen years. Dean was first introduced to Metro in 2006, when he was invited by Ken McGregor, a close associate of the gallery, to take part in a project called Unfinished Journey. The aim of the venture was to curate a collection of work made by thirteen artists about a place of particular significance to them. Home chose Rome, which he had visited four years earlier in 2002. This time spent in Italy, and specifically the work made for the Unfinished Journey project, provided the impetus for a radical transition in his artistic style and subject matter. As McGregor writes in his book, Dean Home: An Artist’s Journey, “This journey proved another vital turning point in Dean’s career. His subject matter had varied little over the past ten years in which he had achieved some recognition, but he now started experimenting with different subject matter and became more concerned with the positioning of objects. His earlier paintings provide glimpses, almost voyeuristic visions and pervasive feelings of emptiness. The new works represented in Unfinished Journey were vastly different from his earlier works.” Lennox St. Gallery’s introduction to Dean thus coincided with a pivotal moment in his artistic development. Several years later, in 2010, Lennox St Gallery hosted their first solo exhibition with Dean: Late Autumn – Stories of The Garden.

Dean has since had three major solo exhibitions with Lennox St. Gallery. This upcoming show, then, represents a decade long maturation of the ideas generated from that earlier trip to Rome. A key piece from the exhibit, The Journey’s Prize, shows just how far and skillfully Home has pushed these ideas. Unless the viewer scrutinizes the painting with the same concentration typically reserved for grand history paintings, then its conceptual depth may remain unexamined.

Underlying this masterfully rendered arrangement of flowers, brushes and porcelain bowls are profound questions of time, history, sensuality and the notion of representative painting itself. One must first be aware of the different realities presented to us. The first is the illustration on the porcelain bowl which, on the scale Home has painted it, gives the impression of a real landscape. The second is the realm that the “still life” itself belongs to. Here, the flowers are real organic objects and the bowl is simply that - a bowl. The final dimension is the one that we as the audience inhabit, where only we are real and the painting is merely a collection of pigments on a two dimensional surface. The realities are interchangeable in a way that makes the space much more dynamic than a traditional still life. Rather than simply viewing the bowl as a boundary that encloses the foreground, for example, we instead see it as a portal to a distant landscape.

Home has very deliberately painted a bowl from a representational tradition different to his own. By depicting a Kangxi period piece of porcelain (1661-1722) in the background of a still life painted within the Western tradition, Home conveys a sense of cultural integration and historical transition. In this context, 'The Journey’s Prize' can almost be seen as a timeline, with each object signifying a particular period or cultural movement. As Home’s audience, we are clearly in the present. As we step into the still life, however, we perhaps find ourselves in 17th century Rome, painting works alongside other artists from the Baroque period. One step deeper into this painting and we suddenly inhabit a fantastical landscape in 17th century China.

Cutting through the centre of the image is a wet brush, the object which unites everything else in the painting, if only because of its ambiguous origin. Is it the brush of the artist himself, used to render the painting, or is it the brush of the Kangxi period Chinese artist, laid down after completing the bowl? Perhaps it is simply another object in the still life, with no relation to either the bowl or Dean Home. It fits within the narrative of each dimension and is thus the link between them all.

One could almost view “The Journey’s Prize” as a metaphor for virility and, by implication, the act of creation generally. The brush, with its wet tip, functions as an overtly phallic visual cue. The three red flowers, whose petals ripple as though they were breathing, symbolize, as they often have in the Western tradition of art, female fertility and sexuality. The bowl, seemingly unveiled by the movement of the brush through the flower petals, is the offspring that emerges.

Another piece from the exhibit is Travellers from A Distant Stream (pictured below). In this painting, Home again creates a sense of interchangeable realities. As in The Journey’s Prize, the scale of the landscape depicted on the vase in the backdrop creates the sense that we are looking at a real landscape. The viewer can easily forget that the distant valley is merely an illustration on a bowl, especially when viewed peripherally. To emphasize this effect and the ease with which the mind flickers between either reality, Home has also darkened the background and the edge of the bowl, making it difficult to distinguish where one begins and the other ends. Consequently, the landscape painted onto the porcelain fits seamlessly into the background of the painting, almost as though we are emerging into a valley through a cavernous opening. One could almost view the painting as a detailed Rubin vase, wherein the negative and positive space are interchangeable.

Perhaps Home’s greatest strength as an artist is to always keep us guessing, allowing his work to breathe new life every time we look at it. By infusing his subject matter with so many implications and associations, we constantly find new possibilities in the work. He somehow squeezes the complexity of a grand genre painting into what is, to the naked eye, a direct still life.

Words by Julius Killerby

Dean Home

Dean Home’s works are a sensual delight to behold. The artist is a master colourist who brings together an array of influences to create sumptuous Still Lives. Entering in the worlds that Home creates feels like stumbling into Coleridge’s Xanadu, his paintings burst with rich jades and crimsons, exotic objects and enigmatic narratives. Home’s artistic practice has always been deeply influenced by mythology. His earlier work invoked Charon, the ferryman who herded souls along the river Styx to the underworld. It is in these early paintings we can see the beginning of his experiments with light, dark and shadow and his fascination with the cycles of life and death. In 2001 Home’s attention turned to the Still Life genre. The artist says “I picked up some Chinese porcelain bowls at auction, including one from the Kangxi period” (1662-1772). These objects opened up a new direction and a new vernacular for Home’s work. They became the cornerstone of his now recognisable style. He has relentlessly perfected his technique combining his gift for colour with carefully considered composition. Home plays with theStill Life genre; even though figures are no longer the explicit focus of his work he incorporates them through the characters that decorate the fabric and bowls. Employing the motifs and symbols in an ever-evolving set of fables and parables.

Home’s iterative vocabulary includes playful children, blooming lotus leaves and vertiginous mountains. He creates tension in his painting by imbuing his objects with competing sentiments. The focus of the foreground is dedicated to the realm of the senses; the sensual and the erotic:overripe fruits bursting with seeds and dripping with juices. The fecund images remind us that ripeness comes before rot. Like Dutch masters before him, Home employs fruit and flowers as a momento mori, a subtle reminder that all things are subject to inevitability of death. The backgrounds balance the compositions, reserved figures and static objects reference the strictures of culture and civilisation. Home has an obsessive attention to detail. Curating the objects, perfecting the angle of light and photographing each scene up to 200times as if sketches for his large painterly works. However, this process does not exclude the opportunity for improvisation. Home says he’ll often come across a flower or fruit and add it in to the composition on a whim. He refers to the joy derived from ‘extemporising’, composing and performing with the elements until they come together transcending their daily functions and combining to create a kind of theatrical beauty. Home’s work owes a debt to the masters from Velázquez to Caravaggio echoing their penchant for chiaroscuro and drama.

Travellers from a Distant Land
by
Dean Home
October 30, 2019
-
November 23, 2019
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