Abstract Critical

Tomory Dodge: Without A Doubt?

Written by John Bunker

Tomory Dodge installation view, Alison Jacques Gallery. Copyright the artist. Courtesy Alison Jacques Gallery, London. Photograph: Michael Brzezinski

Tomory Dodge installation at Alison Jacques. Copyright the artist. Courtesy Alison Jacques Gallery, London. Photograph: Michael Brzezinski

The rather dense press-release that accompanies Tomory Dodge’s new show at Alison Jacques Gallery alludes to an obsessive mark-making process generated by an intense doubt about any system he uses to make his work. It tell us Dodge deliberately ‘derails’ them by an alternation of over-painting and excavation, so it seems he would like to take a place amongst the history of modernist painting’s doubters and dissidents – Manet, Duchamp, Picabia, de Kooning, Guston et al. But it is Gerhard Richter in his ‘abstract’ mode that immediately and unavoidably comes to mind here. His soft-focus abstractions – Squeegee Paintings and the Cage Paintings – relentlessly remind us of the contingency of effects created by constant and ‘dumb’ physical pressures exerted by the artist upon the painted surface. As we leave the 20th century further and further behind us Richter is widely promoted – backed with a great deal of critical certainty – as the master of doubt in painting. How have successive generations of artists working with abstraction dealt with Richter’s various ‘end games’? Is Dodge’s painterly detournement agile and flexible enough to add to this?

I’d like to consider Dodge’s smaller works before we move on to the large pieces. They introduce us in a microcosmic fashion to techniques and approaches that are extended and extrapolated in the larger works. We get close up and personal with Dodge’s ‘handwriting’ and ‘grammar’, as it were, in Stacks, Pool and Tuesday Morning in particular.

 The paintings ease us into a cool choreography of layered, squeezed, stretched, slathered on and scraped up painterly turns and phrases. The creamy colour sequences, scratchy patches and thick rectangles are more relaxed and economical in these small works. Exquisite streaks of oily pigment collide and coalesce in what seem ideal chance encounters. Except they are not…. Tuesday Morning is composed of two abutted canvases that are in fact mirror images of each other. I don’t know if you are familiar with Rauschenberg’s Factum 1 and Factum 2, both from 1957? Factum 1 looks like the classic combination of gestural painting and found imagery that was beginning to define Rauschenberg’s work, another improvised one-off from the realm of urban hinterlands. But Factum 2 meticulously repeats Factum 1. The spontaneous poetry of the rubbish heap can be copied, codified or cloned, even! The slightly off-kilter symmetry of gorgeous blues, creamy whites and pinks of Dodge’s Tuesday Morning are very different to Rauschenberg’s distressed surfaces but in the same way they throw our notions of the authentic and lyrical ‘in the moment’ gestural painting into a hall of mirrors. And I guess this is where Dodge is determined to keep us in the new large scale works.

Tomory Dodge, Sick Boy, 2013, oil on canvas. Diptych: 177.8 x 304.8 cm / 70 x 120 ins. Each panel: 177.8 x 152.4 cm / 70 x 60 ins. Copyright the artist. Courtesy of Alison Jacques Gallery, London. Photo: Michael Brzezinski

Tomory Dodge, Sick Boy, 2013, oil on canvas. Diptych: 177.8 x 304.8 cm / 70 x 120 ins. Each panel: 177.8 x 152.4 cm / 70 x 60 ins. Copyright the artist. Courtesy of Alison Jacques Gallery, London. Photo: Michael Brzezinski

In the darker tonal range of Sick Boy in the main gallery layering and scraping hides and reveals partially buried colour; highly seductive passages of oil paint glow with deep reds and melt away in dark blues and greens to great effect. The darker works have something of Fiona Rae’s more mysterious paintings about them, I’m thinking about her Night Vision in particular. In Dodge’s Miss November spatial tensions are created when painterly contours are dynamically punctuated with odd off-kilter square or oblongs of thick intense hue – interruptions which work best when placed at the painting’s edges. The paintings of lighter tonal range such as Stutter feel strangely constrained for all their painterly incident, almost meek where the artist’s intentions are decidedly disruptive. They err on the verge of the tasteful… Some pieces suffer from a feeling that we are just seeing snap-shots from a much more vast canvas. But I guess this is the price you pay for staying constantly ‘on the move’ and accentuating process over finish or completeness?

Tomory Dodge,Stutter, 2014, oil on canvas. Diptych: 213.2 x 365.8 cm / 84 x 144 ins Each panel: 213.2 x 182.9 cm / 84 x 72 ins. Copyright the artist. Courtesy of Alison Jacques Gallery, London. Photo: Michael Brzezinski

Tomory Dodge,Stutter, 2014, oil on canvas. Diptych: 213.2 x 365.8 cm / 84 x 144 ins
Each panel: 213.2 x 182.9 cm / 84 x 72 ins. Copyright the artist. Courtesy of Alison Jacques Gallery, London. Photo: Michael Brzezinski

In the large paintings I found myself scanning Dodge’s dense patch works of possibility, bouncing from gestural echo to echo, left dangling from a multitude of painterly loose ends. Like it or not doubt haunts the history of abstract art. Some have tried to slather it in the vagaries of a spiritual quest or use the logic of systems and geometries as their comforting certainties. But maybe doubt – that inner flaw or fissure – is what keeps abstraction as a way of making and thinking about art intensely alive and intensely human. There’s a lot to admire in Dodge’s visual energy and dexterity in painterly attack. Prolonged engagement is rewarded by what I could only describe as painterly Drama by Detour. Yet as with Richter, Dodge shows us doubt with confidence. Perhaps we could ask if his flaw is a little too external?

Tomory Dodge is on at Alison Jacques Gallery until the 17th of April

  1. CAP said…

    The layers didn’t bring to mind doubt for me – just process. Keep digging a hole until you look deep. Nor can I see why horizontal and vertical strokes necessarily signalled doubt or revision. That just looked like a formulaic way of maintaining a balanced composition. ZZZZZZZZ.

    He started off doing landscapes and there’s probably some sort of similar depth implied in all these layers, but the whole thing has just got too tasteful and tepid for me. The symmetry thing from the last show was a bit more interesting – playing off a disorder within more or less symmetrical panels – that could have been Rauschenbergian, vaguely – but even then the horizontal/vertical structure to strokes seemed a bit easy.

    Definitely Dodgy.

  2. Terry Ryall said…

    Oh dear John Bunker, now look what you’ve done. Still, a nice example from Robin of the old maxim of attack being the best form of defence.

    • Robin Greenwood said…

      Thank you Terry, very amusing I’m sure. John B. might like to tot up just how many debates my curmudgeonly tirades of “unanswerable condescension” have so far shut down on abcrit. I’m not counting, but I have a hunch that it is a few less than his own brand of up-speak specious hyperbole.


  3. Patrick Jones said…

    As a long term supporter of Abstract Critical I would endorse Johns call for a broader church.I have always thought Robin Greenwoods idea of a new Abstract Art for our times to be very important,and indeed have tried to act on it.However I have in the process become more acutely aware of cultural,economic and dare I say political constraints upon individual action.Tony Benns death wasnt irrelevent for artists to mourn as he represented an ethical beacon of hope and aspiration,the same feeling which motivates my studio activety.

  4. John Bunker said…

    I’d like to think that AbCrit might be a site where one could compare and contrast abstract art made in many different contexts, geographies and coming from very different historical perspectives. I very much like the idea that I can watch a video on Fred Pollock, read an art historical critique of a blockbuster Tate show and disapprove of an ambiguous review of a contemporary painting show in Fitzrovia…

    Oh btw Robin, seeing as you are a sculptor what’s your take on Tim Scott’s latest offering? Pick on someone your own size for a change- who works in your own preferred medium.

    • Robin Greenwood said…

      John, I’m in the same position I put Ben in recently – of not knowing how to take the tone of your comment. Are you suggesting Dodge is an easy target? He’s obviously a bigger fish than me, so I’m not picking on minnows, and I’ve reviewed big painters and sculptors in the past (Caro etc). The Scott essay I don’t have much to say about, one way or the other; it’s a little academic for me, and there is no work to comment on.

      As for your first paragraph, abcrit IS a site where you can do those things. So…?

      • John Bunker said…

        So….? So don’t get me wrong Robin, I enjoy your writing immensely , it is a breath of fresh air, especially when you are writing about the art that you passionately admire. You have a right to air your opinion and it is an incredibly well informed one! But it just never ceases to irk me when you use phrases like “pathetically narrow” (on Sturgis) or “distinctly average going on poor” (on Dodge). The ‘tone’ of these phrases is obviously negative- but more importantly this ‘tone’ seems to court some notion of finality and have the air of a distinctly unanswerable condescension about it. Are you making comments like this to inspire debate or to close it down?

        Again, I’m only bringing this up because you and others who leave comments on this site have made me think about issues concerning tone, style and emphasis in how we talk about abstraction. These different approaches to dialogue do and will impact on how different artists working in this idiom have and will be ignored or given a chance in galleries and public spaces (that you allude to) in the future. Indeed “…. it was ever thus” that really good artists might not get the breaks they deserve. Sometimes it’s good to lament on what never got the ‘airplay’ it warranted- there’s a lot to be learned from that- but it doesn’t necessarily mean one has to turn round and spit bile ( or feign total indifference) to what is ‘on the up’ right now.

      • Robin Greenwood said…

        Perhaps I’m compelled to negativity, bile and indifference, in the case of your reviews especially John, by the relentlessness of your upbeat and uncorroborated assertions. I am, in turn, quite strongly irked when you write as if you are concocting gallery-speak for promotion purposes, stressing inconsequential context over content. That, in my opinion, is most definitely not what this site is for, and I’m unapologetic about critically going after such copy and the work it promotes. What’s more, I sometimes feel I can read all through a review by you and still not know what you REALLY think, behind the language. However, I will admit that your review here is more balanced, and so perhaps I should have left it alone, even though “distinctly average-going-on-poor” is hardly heavy duty. You may take offence at this on his behalf, but I would say that Dodge’s work might well benefit from some stronger criticism than you provide, and in that regard, maybe I offer him more in respect of potential than even you do (think about that one). As to the impact of any of this on people’s career etc., well, I think that’s nonsense from any point of view.

        By the way, Patrick, why don’t you have a go at defending those ever-so-dreary Frankenthalers at Jaconsons (big enough, John?) instead of blathering vaguely about politics and ethics.

  5. Robin Greenwood said…

    These paintings look (in reproduction) distinctly average-going-on-poor to me, like the work of somebody starting out rather gauchely and derivatively, finding out what paint can do, but not really knowing what to do with it. It would seem the artist is not young and has something of a C.V., but nevertheless that’s what they look like. The horizontal/vertical dragging/layering thing is pretty hackneyed now, surely; the colour doesn’t look too good, and all–in-all they appear mostly process, little content, and rather formulaic. That’s all fine, really, but why are they being shown here? The art-world is a place of bizarre inconsistencies. There is any number of much better abstract painters around whom, were they to walk into such a gallery and ask for a show, would be given short shrift. I suppose it was ever thus.

  6. Andy Parkinson said…

    Doubting the doubt?

    • Peter Stott said…

      Not sure…’deliberately derails’…What, into great pictures? I don’t buy into any destruction stuff, not until I see the constructed first. The Fiona Rae painting quoted is much more sophisticated than the ‘Miss November’ picture, which is way below Marcus Harvey’s ‘Reader’s Wives’. I know from looking at those paintings he definitely knows what De Kooning’s ‘post ‘ugly women’ expressionist abstract works are about. I don’t think Dodge knows, there’s not the ‘tits-ass-fanny aesthetic perception’ conundrum there that I can discern

  7. Peter Stott said…

    Very talented artist, I love the mania,never heard of this artist before, just had a look on Google images, absolutely mad and intense, I crave that, but in the end it just seems like empty junk, reminds me a bit of the ice palace city in China (Harbin?), where there’s actually nothing there, even though there’s an ice city. I presume that’s the point of the ice city, a fantasy empty world that melts leaving nothing,

  8. Rachel Hiser said…

    I agree with Bunker’s claim. The beauty of abstract art is that it reveals a search, which is something that is inside all of us but not necessarily something we all have the courage to express because expressing it adds an element of uncertainty to our art. Great point about how doubt keeps art alive, exposing what is “intensely human.”