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Pigment High: James Dodd's Intense New Exhibition


Pigment High: James Dodd's Intense New Exhibition

Nathan Seppelt

The last thing James Dodd probably wants to see in the first sentence of anything written about his Pigment High, showing now till August 22 at the Hugo Michell Gallery, is any kind of comment about the colours in his paintings, but – oh boy – how can I not?

On my first visit to the Hugo Michell more than a year ago the walls were painting black against works that were very large, very uniformly white, and very delicate. The hyper-bright and fluorescent colours that beam at you from all angles when you enter Pigment High (to be totally fair, the exhibition’s name does invite us to fixate on the colours and draw some certain comparisons) seem like they couldn’t be any more different.

Seem like.

I say this because once you’ve adjusted your eyes to the colours – to seeing on Dodd’s level – the art’s subtleties become more apparent.

Dodd started out as an Adelaide street artist in 1998 – probably making him something of a pioneer. The street art scene, particularly for political artists, is likely not one famous for its subtlety; but Dodd has also found popularity and acclaim in gallery and fine art spaces too.

This diversity has allowed for plenty of experimentation and envelope-pushing in all directions – from the colours (yes, I mentioned them again) and textures we impose on our urban landscapes to pretty abstract art-theoretical questions you’re equally likely to find in dense, polysyllabic theses. The result for lucky Adelaidians is this visceral, intellectual Pigment High.

It’s not easy to capture or convey most of Dodd’s subtleties in writing. The textures and discreet three-dimensionality, the tonal contrasts, the carefully haphazard patterns and forms and text overlaid onto the works. You really, genuinely just have to see it for yourself.

Dodd titles some of the paintings in the exhibition with crisp, philosophical zeal – the result is a bit like throwing Kundera, Eggers and David Foster Wallace all together and putting them on acid. Here’s a couple: The metaphysical potential of painting is difficult to realise, Overcoming cynicism, or my fave: The humiliating limitations of corporeality.

Image via the  Hugo Michell Gallery

Image via the Hugo Michell Gallery

One particular stand-out work in a room chocked full of stand out paintings is Moon eyes This is Dodd at his cleverest and most subtle: the painting, which shows either two speech bubbles in conversation (one is saying “Oh!! I just love the colours!!”) or two eyes plays interesting perspective games with the viewer. If the painting is of two eyes, are we looking in or out? If it’s two speech bubbles (we don’t have to assume it’s not because the title says so!), which side of the conversation is ours? Which is Dodd’s?

More so than the colours, which I keep mentioning again and again, these kinds of questions are where the real fun of Dodd’s Pigment High is.

The exhibition is part of the 2015 SALA Festival – you can even check out Dodd in SALA’s ad, below. Dodd’s own special blend of raw immediacy and sophisticated expression attracted a smart, young crowd of serious art fans and collectors to the exhibition’s opening drinks last Thursday night.

The Hugo Michell certainly know how to throw an opening, with the free drinks and conversations both flowing freely; but what they really seem to nail is picking artists. With the number of red dots – gallery shorthand for “sorry, this work is already sold” – being placed out on Thursday night alone, this is an exhibition you’ll want to catch sooner rather than later.

Be sure to check out the SALA Festival for more events.

Header image via