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Natalie Dowse

March 6, 2013

Road7

Road 7 (going home) Oil on canvas, 2012. 150cm x 130cm

There has always been a perception that train travel is romantic.  The distant sound of soporific rhythms across a darkened landscape that accompany strangers as they journey through uncharted landscapes is something that has inspired poets and writers.  The hard cold road travelled by speeding cars has inspired a grittier type of writing.  A modern tarmac-smooth, fast track to somewhere possibly soulless, an urban landscape peopled by uninspiring vernacular architecture.  This imagery is the starting point for Natalie Dowse’s new body of work.  However the title of this sadly short-lived exhibition “Going Home” at GASP, Art Space Portsmouth attempts to pull a metaphoric comfort blanket around these unyielding landscapes, offering an alternative interpretation which is not evident from the image itself.  Dowse has never been afraid of narrative but even as the images step back from imposing her interpretation, the title here invites the viewers to take ownership of the story being told. The acute perspective leads the eye inwards to the back of the picture plane but stops abruptly, preventing the viewer from seeing what is over the horizon, what the future holds.  In this new work Dowse has changed direction. Gone are the anonymous faces and city dwellers that peopled paintings that she showed at the culmination of her year long Jonathan Vickers Award Residency.  These stark works rely on the absence of human presence, albeit their presence is strongly suggested by the rigid road furniture of crash barriers and straight white road markings.  Occasionally there is a car but no people.

Road11

Road 11 (going home) Oil on wood panel, 2012. 30cm x 40cm

Dowse has consistently experimented with alternative ways of making images. Her interest in the dichotomy between painting and photography has led her to focus on the pixelated image and the graininess that is apparent in newspaper photographs, security camera footage and on film. The large and very small paintings in Going Home are crystal clear in their execution; more photorealist than her earlier portraits and the blurring has disappeared.  Where blurring of the image appears in this work, although it owes something to the acknowledged influence of Gerhard Richter, it actually has its genesis in intentionally poor quality photographs snatched on the move often on a mobile phone. Her interest in the breaking up of images into pixels has led her to show two small experimental pieces using cross-stitch on tapestry canvas creating a further link from painting, this time to craft rather than photography.

Given the gender specific nature of the materials she is using, and the way they are displayed, unframed, pinned to the backing board with steel dressmaker’s pins they struggle to escape a feminist reading. The smaller, in fact tiny, cross stitched image is simple, just a road disappearing into the distance and much more abstracted than the larger one and consequently appearing to be the more successful of these two experiments. However she is clearly aware of the dangers of mis-interpretation and in the larger, more complex and ultimately more interesting, Petrol Station she counteracts this potential gender orientated reading by introducing archetypal male iconography. The density of the image and the separation of its components into cross-stitches make it tantalisingly difficult to read, a further nod to Richter.   Another dimension is added by the entirely process-based making. Once the image is set on the canvas the stitching becomes mechanical, very different from the constant decision-making in her painting.

A small quartet of monochrome paintings is the most abstract and most recent work in this exhibition.  They revisit earlier ideas by muting the tones in a way, which, if pursued, would eventually achieve a visually destabilising opacity similar to that seen in some of Richter’s work. The largest painting in the show Road 7 (going home), shares with the four small paintings on wood panel Road 1 3 4 and 5, Dowse’s signature visual language.  A smooth paint surface characteristic of the type of photorealism in which she indulges, but which magically manages to retain a painterliness, which seems a contradiction in terms but somehow is not.

Road10

Road 10 (going home) Oil on wood panel, 2012. 30 x 40 cm 

Road8

Road 8 (going home) Oil on wood panel, 2012. 30 x 40 cm 

This is in the nature of an interim exhibition, part of the process of exploring complex and challenging ideas and deciding which aspects to pursue. These works need to be seen in the flesh, since the beautifully painted surfaces are both sumptuous and seductive, qualities that are flattened and destroyed becoming too photographic when viewed on screen. They cry out deservedly for a wider audience.

road6

Road 6 Wood on panel, 2011.  60 x 80cm

GoingHome

Going Home  Oil on Canvas 2005. 80 x 142 cm

© Fiona Robinson 2013

Natalie Dowse

Going Home

Exhibition at GASP, Art Space Portsmouth

until 2 March 2013

install3sm

Exhibition Installation shot

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