Tomory Dodge: Flowers and Eyes

16 - 29 September 2020

Philip Martin Gallery is pleased to present, "Flowers and Eyes," an exhibition of new oil-on-panel works by Tomory Dodge. The exhibition follows on "Out the Window," which featured Dodge's watercolors. 

Tomory Dodge's oil-on-panel works are painted from direct observation. Observed light - and therefore observed color - shape these works. In Dodge’s new paintings, the Los Angeles sun lights up a hillside, filters through a window, strikes the petals of a flower with an intensity reminiscent perhaps of Corot's famous 1820s paintings of Rome and the Campagna. At the same time, as in all of Dodge’s work, we feel the play between the flatness of the picture plane against the alluring depth of depicted painterly space. Color, brushwork, shape and line inform these paintings. Describing them, and his current studio practice, Dodge comments,

"The question of representation has always held a central place in my work. More specifically, how much information or likeness is necessary to be able to say that an image depicts something else? In my early work, which was overtly representational, and often depicted scenes of degradation inspired by the California desert, I played with this notion by painting objects that were in a state of slipping into namelessness— objects that where broken down and no longer clearly identifiable. Following this this logic, the work became increasingly abstract in appearance, but maintained many of the spatial aspects of representational painting. The element of “figure/ ground” remained present for example, even though the “figure” would often just be a brush stroke/ piece of nameless detritus. At times the paintings would adhere less to these representational principals than others, but I don’t see the work as ever engaging in what could be called “pure abstraction”. There was always the notion of them depicting something. 

Or, perhaps, some state of “pure abstraction” was reached in my work and as soon as this happened the search for the “subject”, for an object to represent or depict instantaneously began. This is really how I see the work functioning presently. I have remarked a lot before about the dynamic of failure in the current work— about how the paintings begin with an idea and that idea fails and is replaced with another idea, which also fails and so on… Eventually the painting is done, but I often think that between the point where I start the painting and the point where I stop working on it, I am just trying to figure out WHAT I’m painting. It sounds kind of ridiculous and I think that at some level it probably is, but in the end the purpose for this elaborate process is just to get to a place where I can fully engage with the physical/mental act of painting. 

I think that a sense of frustration with this process led to a growing desire to flip this dynamic on its head. Instead of struggling to find the WHAT and have that be a way to engage with the painting, why not start with the WHAT and get on with it? Of course, in order for this to work, I would have to have as little to do with the subject matter as possible. Working from my imagination, which has been my way of working my entire career, wouldn’t do.  

It sounds absurd, but the prospect of working from observation was a daunting one and I first had to wrestle with why this was the case. The practice of painting from direct observation is often seen as quaint at best by the contemporary art world. It’s not what “serious artists” do. The process of painting from observation is the process of studying and reacting to ones own perception. There is very little room in this process for the Idea to take center stage and contemporary art is largely the province of the Idea. I think this is what is largely behind the dismissal of this way of working and I had no doubt internalized this perspective to some degree. Still, I couldn’t get past the fact that if I where to make a list of my favorite paintings from art history the majority of them would probably have been painted from observation. I have also felt for some time that painting is an uncomfortable fit in this province of the Idea. The fact is, Gerhardt Richter is a real painter and the grandma in the park with her French easel is also a real painter. There is much less separating them than our current thinking about art would have us believe.

So, this was my thinking when the pandemic hit and I started making these little easel paintings in my house. Sometimes I paint outside, but mostly I paint inside. I’ve been painting a lot of flowers. I would like to paint more trees, but I just paint what’s around. This way of working has become the other side of the coin for me. I see this practice as ultimately doing the same thing as my larger studio work, but approaches it from the opposite direction. Engaging with the act of painting is the point of both.”

Tomory Dodge - "Statement for the Little Easel Paintings, Aug., 2020"

Tomory Dodge (b. 1974, Denver, CO) received his BFA from Rhode Island School of Design (Providence, RI) in 1998 and his MFA from California Institute of the Arts (Valencia, CA) in 2004. Dodge's work is currently included in "The Spaces in Between," at Ceysson & Bénétière (New York, NY) through October 24, 2020. Recent solo and group exhibitions include Philip Martin Gallery (Los Angeles, CA); LUX Art Institute (Encinitas, CA); "Stranger Than Paradise," Rhode Island School of Design Museum (Providence, RI); "Grafforists," Torrance Art Museum (Torrance, CA); "Nowism," Pizzuti Collection (Columbus, OH); "An Appetite For Painting," National Museum (Oslo, Norway); "Pouring It On," Herter Art Gallery, University of Massachusetts (Amherst, MA); "Tomory Dodge and Denise Thomasos: Directions to a Dirty Place," Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (Winston-Salem, NC); "Future Tense: Reshaping the Landscape," Neuberger Museum of Art (Purchase, NY); "American Soil," Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art (Overland Park, KS); "Sheldon Survey," Sheldon Memorial Gallery, University of Nebraska (Lincoln, NE). His work is in the collections of such museums as Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles, CA); Orange County Museum of Art (Newport Beach, CA); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, (San Francisco, CA); Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (Berkeley, CA); Henry Art Gallery (Seattle, WA); Dallas Museum of Art (Dallas, TX); Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art (Overland Park, KS); Orlando Museum of Art (Orlando, FL); Knoxville Museum of Art (Knoxville, TN); Weatherspoon Art Museum (Greensboro, NC); Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington, DC); RISD Museum, Rhode Island School of Design (Providence, RI); Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, CT); and Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY). Dodge's work is the subject of several monographic catalogs and has been discussed in such publications as “Artforum,” “Flash Art,” “Modern Painters,” “Art Review,” “Los Angeles Times,” and “The New York Times.” Dodge lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.