The Purge Series

Environmental Sculpture, Painting, Drawing and Encaustic Wax/Plastic Installations and Wall Works

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These works are a collection of oil and acrylic on canvas and oil and acrylic on linen, works on paper, installations, sculptures and encaustic works and are the results of what happens when an artist steps back from the place where he's been and moves confidently, and with purpose, in another direction.

John Dahlsen explores the duality of meaning and perception, and the illusion that is created in between. He presents an image of a non-object in a painting of an informal formalist sculpture.

His paintings depict the profile of a solid sculpture, moulded and plied to present the essence of formalism. The subject of the paintings, exhibit abstract geometrical imagery and constructivist diagramming of space, that is playfully organic and blob-like.

Yet the works are paintings of these organic man-made blob sculptures. The work considers cycles and recycling in re-presenting paintings of sculptures that are inherently plastic fabricator machine end waste. The use of plastic materials and their place in the evolutionary motions of recycling are important to Dahlsen in constructing these images.

He explores the mechanics of how an object is put together, what place it occupies in a cycle of life; organic or man-made. Dahlsen's choice of materials has as much prominence as the end product.

The work concentrates on cycles, momentum and the multiple. He is painting nonrecyclable purged plastic objects. These objects are by products of everything plastic, they are the plastic run before or after a hairbrush, juice bottle or chair is made. They represent everything and nothing. The plastic in it's petroleum state has undergone millions of years of evolution to get to this stage and then, it is discarded as a by product of societal needs.

For many years Dahlsen constructed artworks from detritus found on the eastern shores of Australia. He took society's discarded objects of the everyday and transformed them into formal compositions. He would often take thousands of black objects and arrange a formalist composition that questioned our need for mass production of the everyday.

By presenting the discarded objects in a formalist composition he acknowledged the endless waste in producing ancillary items that support our everyday existence.

Artist Statement on the Purge Series:

During the latter part of 2005 and into 2006, I created a body of work,"The Purge Series". This work considered cycles and recycling. I began re-presenting paintings of sculptures that are inherently plastic fabricator machine end waste. The use of plastic materials and their place in the evolutionary motions of recycling became important to me in constructing these images.

I see the real need for the massive social transformations that are essential, to adequately deal with such crises as the depletion of fossil fuels and climate change. I hope this work can be a timely reminder to us all of the limited supply of these petroleum based materials, which is a direct result of our current collective global mass consumerism.

I made this new series of work, exploring the mechanics of how an object is put together, what place it occupies in a cycle of life; organic or man-made. My choice of materials having as much prominence as the end product.

That work concentrated on cycles, momentum and the multiple. In this series of work, I painted non-recyclable purged plastic objects. These objects are by products of everything plastic, they are the plastic run before or after a hairbrush, juice bottle or chair is made. They represent everything and nothing. The plastic in its petroleum state has undergone millions of years of evolution to get to this stage. And then, it is discarded as a by-product of societal needs.

Essentially I explored the duality of meaning and perception and the illusion that is created in between. I presented an image of a non-object, in a painting of an informal Formalist sculpture. My paintings created the profile of a solid sculpture, moulded and plied to present the essence of formalism. The subject of the paintings, exhibit abstract geometrical imagery and constructivist diagramming of space that is playfully organic and blob-like. Yet the works are also paintings of these organic man-made blob sculptures. The work considers cycles and recycling in re-presenting paintings of sculptures that are inherently plastic fabricator machine end waste. The use of plastic materials and their place in the evolutionary motions of recycling were important to me in constructing these images.

The then direction in my work which also incorporated sculpture and assemblage, was a natural evolution for me and further consolidated my return to painting, which was my main medium for many years, prior to my working for over 10 years with found objects; making sculptures and assemblages from beach found plastic litter, which were largely based upon environmental themes, taking society's discarded objects of the everyday and transforming them into formal compositions.

From the essay by Dr Jacqueline Millner, University of Western Sydney:
..."Dahlsen’s series is appropriately titled The Purge Paintings. To purge is to radically cleanse, to empty out or permanently delete; purging has connotations of violent persecution, as well as of healing and rebirth. On a personal level, Dahlsen could be said to be purging his previous practice in the new work, with all the ambivalence that entails. The term also refers directly to the amorphous extrusions created when a plastics moulding machine is cleaned at the end of a production run. Dahlsen began collecting these cast offs — destined either for landfill or recycling — while researching a public art project for a plastics manufacturer.

The brightly coloured and completely random forms are extremely suggestive, generative of all kind of interpretative possibility. Dahlsen treated them at first like readymades — sculptures in their own right. He then began experimenting with their potential as still lives: a quintessentially contemporary still life subject, given their synthetic quality, their disposability, and their integral role in the petroleum industry, a key perpetrator of environmental disaster.

Robert Smithson once claimed that ‘art can become a resource that mediates between the ecologist and the industrialist’ (Kastner: 32), in reference to his many (unheeded) proposals to mining companies to participate in projects of land reclamation. Dahlsen’s retrieval of the waste product of plastics manufacturing partakes of the same spirit, serving to remind us of the interconnectedness of environmental issues, but also attempting to reclaim waste and the destruction of nature in the beauty of art.

Dahlsen’s treatment valorises purged plastic as an object of acute visual interest and cultural importance: the blobs are rendered large, exalted on a plinth. The colours are flat and close in tone, the compositions crossing the genres of still life and abstraction: the materiality of the plastic flattens into pattern, then springs back into organic matter.

This play between abstraction and figuration, between synthetic/organic matter and immateriality in the purge paintings, has been applied in Dahlsen’s most recent works to landscapes — dark works whose subtle references to environmental degradation all but disappear before forcefully catching you unawares.

This tension between inorganic abstraction and emotionally charged organism lends these works particular resonance, given their inception in the politics of environmental art. They play out, in elegant and economical aesthetics, the unstable boundaries between the natural and the artificial, reminding us of Wendell Berry’s paradox that ‘the only thing we have to preserve nature with is culture; the only thing we have to preserve wildness with is domesticity’ (Kastner: 17).

 

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