Review by Gail Victoria Braddock Quagliata
The complex textures and nuanced colors wrought in large scale throughout EastOne gallery represent what first year Pratt MFA candidate DeShawn Dumas calls a shift away from the flat fields of pure color that marked his earlier work upon entering the school’s painting program. In his own words, “I now realize pure color disallows the meditative quality I seek. The sense of the infinitely boundless and the freedom of choice that prompts a search for inner knowledge; can only be imparted through the use of modulated, nuanced and indeterminate color.”
In these physically imposing works, Dumas seeks to depict what appear to be dense, subtle worlds through vague and mysterious textures laid heavily across the (usually bland and oft-predictably flat) surface of the canvas. While the application of non-traditional art materials to yank the work from two dimensions into three is perhaps not a concept unfamiliar to painting in the year 2011, the specific set of media and intentions Dumas brings to this pursuit certainly represent a new twist on the concept of questioning and redefining the boundaries of the flat canvas and its relationship to inert pigments.
“…I began an inquiry with a set of specific and historical materials: flour, sugar, coffee grinds and pages torn from the King James Bible,” says Dumas. “Coffee grinds, sugar and flour not only signify the world beyond the white cube of the gallery but have an intimate historical connection with Capitalism's commodity/consumer culture.” Through the deconstruction and apparently intuitive reconfiguration of these rather unexpected collage elements, Dumas layers and juxtaposes until he achieves a surface both hostile and hypnotic, beckoning the viewer to further examine the true constitution of his manmade terrain. Though, at this point, he concedes that the socio-politically loaded nature of his quite carefully selected media may be, in fact, immaterial in the face of his larger goal of creating what he dubs, “a beautiful introverted art object.” Dumas states, “I am not interested in a propagandist sort that demands the viewer know the personal and specific motivations for employing such material,” provocatively suggesting these well-researched, thoroughly-explained materials are not important at all - or perhaps suggesting the artist enjoys toying with his viewer.
Most interesting (at least to this fellow student) is Dumas’s quick assessment of how his own work has so rapidly transformed in just one semester - from technical, stark abstractions into quiet, introspective explorations in textural possibilities under measured swaths of gentle hues and tempered pigments he calls “indeterminate color.” The artist’s statement refers repeatedly to his pursuit of an obscure, intangible meditative quality, and his palpable shift from frank, intense color fields into more elusive, emotionally variable works, each infused with insinuating gestures rife with visual entry points for the curious viewer, clearly speak to a vast maturation from each canvas.