The Opening – Andrew Dadson


THE OPENING is all about introducing the fascinating, quirky and wonderful people working in and around the visual arts in Vancouver. Each week, we’ll feature an artist, collective, curator or administrator to delve deep into who and what makes art happen!

Black Field

Andrew Dadson (b. 1980) uses paint to explore the limits of physical and emotional boundaries, and just how far we’ll go to hide them. Using a wide array of materials, from lawns to Iraqi voter ink, his work finds these boundaries and stretches their definitions.

Clockwise l-r: Black Lawn, Black Bush, Black Yard, White Corner

In his lawn paintings, Dadson is visualizing the neighbourly border by filling in the space delineated by the border itself. Using water-based paint and a roller, he attempts to cover a square space in either black or white. Often this is in a residential context – from the lawns of places he has rented to the home of his parents. This has upset roommates and parents alike, even resulting in one roommate tearing a painted lawn up in a fit of annoyance. But more recently he was asked to paint the lawn at the Seattle Art Museum sculpture park. For him, the meaning wasn’t altered by the change in context. The work still had a boundary, but more importantly, you could still see that he was unable to really cover up the grass. In fact, because it could stay and didn’t have to be mowed or rinsed out right away, flowers and grass were able to grow through, further accentuating the idea that it is impossible to cover something up. The SAM iteration also offered a rare opportunity to view the work in person, as the lawn paintings are typically seen in birds-eye view photographs of an action already occurred. Rather than a straight photograph, “all of a sudden it looks more like what happened here, someone was documenting this thing, like Ed Ruscha’s parking lot photos,” he explains. The photograph serves as evidence of the work, but really becomes the work itself.

Voter’s Ink, 2008

For his ‘Voter’s Ink’ paintings from 2008, Dadson used Iraqi voting ink to create haunting monochromatic images. It is more like the chemicals used to print photos in darkroom than ink, starting out as a nice shade of light purple and becoming a dark maroon or brown under UV light over time. He experimented with the ink, blocking light on certain sections using garbage bags and other items, making some areas darker or lighter than others. When he began, the war in Iraq was ongoing and their first election was in the process of being organized, ultimately occurring in January 2009. The ink is also used in Afghanistan and most of India for voting, and the company that produces it is based in Canada, making it less difficult to obtain. In the early stages of the painting while it is still purple, they recall the famous Rothko Chapel purple monochromes by American abstract expressionist Mark Rothko. Dadson was interested in inspiring a similar emotional response. “I was thinking about all the symbolism of the ink, but also this monochrome painting, this really deep purple and this religious experience of viewing it. When you’re painting monochromes, people have an emotional response to looking at it, and the ink I think helped people get sucked into the colour. Once they found out what the ink was it changed the way they felt about the whole painting.” The monochrome is used frequently in his work to express any number of things. It takes on a social context in the lawn paintings/photographs – what spilled? Is it oil? Is it paint? Is it dangerous? In ‘Voter’s Ink’ it becomes an expression of colour as an entry-point into the sublime, but also the fickleness of freedom – it continues to be altered over time.

Dadson’s old studio

Dadson’s new studio and motorcycle shed. Photo: Anne Cottingham

Dadson’s new studio. Photo: Anne Cottingham

Lately he is spending most of his time in his studio, working with the more traditional oil paint on canvas. The return to the studio has to do with his interest in making, and the idea of going to the studio everyday and just working, without having to have a specific project in mind. “It developed out of wanting to have a studio practice that was more hands-on and less out there all the time, intervening in public space,” he relates. Dadson has been working on two different bodies of painting – lean paintings and re-stretched paintings. For the lean paintings, he applies paint to the bottom of the canvas and then scrapes it up towards the top. As he goes over the edge, the paint at first falls to the floor, but eventually starts to stick as the layers dry. The lean is a reference to the unfinished painting stacked against the wall in the studio, waiting to be completed. Applying paint over the top “cements it in that position,” he explains. “So by painting it, it becomes concrete in the fact that all the paint between the wall and the canvas fills in.” Each day he adds more and more layers of paint until he has filled in the gap or feels it is done. The unfinished painting is completed, but instead of simply being a vessel for an image, the object itself is the image.

Lean paintings

The same holds true for the re-stretched paintings, though the method and end result are a bit different. For these, Dadson stretches linen over bars, leaving more extra linen at the back than normal. He then adds paint and builds up layers, this time scraping back across all four sides rather than just the top. Once he feels he has enough paint and it is dry, he takes the canvas off the stretcher, and re-stretches it on a larger stretcher. The history of the ‘old’ painting remains on the new, almost like an indent. In the case of both of these variations, all the coloured paint is ultimately covered in black or white paint – again, working with a monochrome. By “applying the monochrome at the end it’s kind of like going back to how the canvas started.” The history of all the other colours remain through the monochrome, kind of like the way the grass grows up through the painted lawn. As in those works, “the monochrome is a way to try and erase all those previous layers, but it’s kind of futile.” Its history – the layer upon layer of colour – is actually what is holding it off the wall or shaping the way it hangs. History cannot be whitewashed or covered up.

left: an unfinished re-stretch painting; right: a completed re-stretch painting

Andrew Dadson lives and works in Vancouver. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in integrated media from Emily Carr Institute in 2003. He has exhibited at Charles H Scott Gallery, Vancouver; 304 Days, Vancouver; Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver; The Power Plant, Toronto; Lawrimore Project, Seattle; Kunstverein Freiburg, Germany; Galleria Franco Noero, Torino; FIAC, Paris; and Miami Basel, Miami. Currently his work can be seen at Xavier Hufkens, Brussels; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; and the Surrey Art Gallery. Dadson is represented by Galleria Franco Noero in Torino, Italy.

All images courtesy Andrew Dadson unless otherwise noted.