Thursday, October 22, 2015

Michael Dickter’s ‘Fear of Flying’ at Salon Refu

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 22, 2015

“History of Flight,” pastel by Michael Dickter. Photo courtesy Salon Refu.

Michael Dickter comes soaring into Olympia’s Salon Refu with a show of paintings of birds and flowers, subject matter that is often snubbed with various “nesses” such as sweetness and preciousness. But there is little of the saccharine in Dickter’s birds and flowers. The subject matter of his paintings is almost totally irrelevant. They could be paintings of rocks or weeds or frogs, or of nothing recognizable at all, and they would still carry the same impact. Because his paintings are all about the marks, the drips, the texture, and the arrangement of images on a flat surface. These are abstract paintings that happen to picture birds, flowers, a couple of boats and some very odd flying chairs. The subject matter is subservient to the painting but adds an extra layer of meaning.
Imagine Cy Twombly if he painted recognizable subjects or even Eva Hesse if she was a painter rather than a sculptor. I admit that comparisons with Hesse may be going too far, but there is that feeling to much of Dicker’s work, or could be if his birds were not so Audubon-like.
One thing I find fascinating about this show is the comparisons between the older paintings (around 2005) and the latest (done this year).
The newest works are represented with a group of 14 small, square paintings of birds strategically placed on backgrounds that are all texture with no imagery, created by an application of some plaster-like material and paint in a combination of gray that is so light as to be seen as white and a dull olive green. This surface looks like old weathered stone or the sides of whitewashed barns. The birds are drawn and painted with delicate and expressive lines, drips of paint and fine color accents. The contrast between sharp marks and dull surface and the often out-of-balance and oddly placed images of birds is fascinating.
Also among these newer works are two works on paper with birds arranged in a grid that are quite attractive. My favorite of these is an oil and pastel drawing called “9 Black Birds” with intense, deep black smudging into soft grays, and small accents of intense color that drip downward in watery blue, orange, red and gray.
The older works include “History of Flight,” a large pastel of a man with black wings, intense and smudged like the black pastel in “9 Black Birds,” two boats seemingly floating in air and a boxy chair with seats facing in two directions that also seems to be flying. And there is a ghostlike reflection of the winged man, who is probably intended as Icarus. This painting has a dreamy quality and amazing mark-making and contrasts of dull and intense color.
“Fear of Flying” is a similar work with the same images plus a set of blue footprints that march from the bottom to the top of the 80-inch- tall drawing, fading as they ascend. I’m reasonably sure this was done by stepping in paint and walking across the paper. These two are by far my favorite works in the show, precisely because they are not as highly finished as the later works. His earlier works are more concerned with drawing than painting, and there is more complexity to the images. They’re risky, with a gutsy flavor that is lost in more recent works like the group of 14 bird paintings.
I get the impression that Dickter is a wonderfully talented painter whose sensitivity to space, texture and color is second to none, but who has become a bit too concerned with pleasing the public.
Salon Refu, Michael Dickter Fear of Flying, Friday-Sundays 2-6 p.m., and by appointment. through Oct. 24,114 N. Capitol Way, Olympia,

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