I first became aware of Dickson Bou when he took part in a group show called Interim at Xchanges. The other members of the show included Laura Dutton, Megan Press and Dan Bernyk, all MFA students at UVic. The combined work radiated a lightness of being that made me feel like a kid in a candy shop, to use an old phrase, and interestingly, the artists’ commentary tended to steer clear of academic or intellectual justifications and showed, instead, a preference for process and material. The work was playful, colourful and it looked like it had been fun to make. Not only that, but it was all very well constructed. It looked like child’s play but it had an underlying seriousness that held attention.
This was especially true of Dickson, who’s work at the show was a pair of complicated box-like structures covered, in what I later learned, was floor underlay, which in this case, is a red material covered in small white balls. That quirky material is what first caught my eye (is it paint or is it static cling? it looks like snow!), but the aggressively competent architecture of the boxes and the delicate installation of a tiny forest in an alcove of one box revealed an unusual, even enigmatic, imagination and a sophisticated mind. Also, there was a video interview of Dickson taken by Efren Quiroz for Exhibit V, during the opening for Interim, in which Dickson states, “…it’s just one of those things, this is what I do. If you can appreciate it, great. If you can’t….whatever.” A sophisticate, but one rebellious and independent, as well.
It’s this complex personality, in the art, and probably in Dickson, that makes his work such an interesting experience. The studio spaces up at UVic are not enormous and do not allow for stockpiles of past art, so when I went up there to visit Dickson, we spent a lot of time looking at his online portfolio and talking. At the end of our conversation I found myself considering three main themes, as I perceived them in the work and in the discourse: masculinity, childhood and Abstract Expressionism.
To begin with Abstract Expressionism is, most definitely, a too obvious foray into art history, and it does seem a little silly to draw parallels between a young Canadian artist in 2010 to the New York School of the 1940’s and ‘50’s. It’s always struck me as mildly bizarre that artists are required to place themselves on the continuum of art history in any very specific way. It forces artists, especially young ones, into a position of knowing exactly who and what they are doing before the time is really right to know. After all, art is not an a priori sort of event. It is a exploration, an unveiling of patterns, and it requires time to discover. For an artist to force him or herself into an art history box is verging on the inauthentic and is dangerous to the purity of creating. Besides, Dickson was not particularly impressed with my comparison or my explanation.
He admitted, instead, to thinking that his work falls more readily into the Arts and Crafts tradition with it’s emphasis on material and the unity of the designer/worker, and the freedom from the mass produced. Dickson’s work is very well put together, material diversity is a prominent feature and the objects themselves are unique. However, in terms of Arts and Crafts, the work is entirely subversive, not least of all because it is not at all functional or traditionally decorative or domestic. It is not wallpaper, or pottery or wingchairs. Instead, it asks us to re-interpret the decorative and the domestic, and perhaps even to imagine a new form of function.
To further this suggestion of the subversive, one must also realize that contrary to traditional modes of construction, Dickson actively resists the use of drawing as a tool for planning. Instead he works moment to moment, material to material, decision to decision. It was this description of his working style that first reminded me of the Abstract Expressionists and specifically something I read, years ago, about Robert Motherwell who described his process of painting as a series of intuitive/accidental/irrational actions. Of course, in Abstract Expressionism there is no single definitive style, there is instead a firm individualism and a willingness to follow the art, rather than art history, or the market, or the critics. There is a such an attractive air of bravado, of the rebel even, in the stories of those painters: Pollock, Rothko, Newman, Motherwell, and it reminds me of Dickson. It’s just one of those things; it’s intuitive. It’s also the fact that Dickson, in spite of his academic career, refuses to discuss his intentions or his motives; he does not appear interested in defining his style or his place in the continuum. He says making art is fun.
And his art is fun. Of course I look forward to seeing a lot more in the future. Looking at art on a website is definitely not a satisfying experience. It left me knowing that I need to know more, that I need to experience the work in person. I mentioned earlier that there were three themes. I haven’t discussed masculinity or childhood, and although I’ve struggled with the opening salvo for these two subjects I find that I just can’t formulate enough evidence to feel justified in my opinion.
My experience was, essentially, with Dickson and not the art. What I mean by masculine is probably the ambitious quality to the installation work he showed me, and also the assurance with tools which is evident in the finished art, and the last reason, but probably the most important to me personally, is the materials. Initially I felt very focused on the construction-type materials he is using, including the floor underlay and other products like silicone sealant and the more ubiquitous items like lumber and hardware. But strangely even these are treated to such subversive tactics that to discuss them in terms of masculinity seems paltry. The lumber is covered in a gingham style fabric, while the silicone is used like icing piped onto cake and the underlay is used for its own particular beauty, instead of any functional purpose.
Aside from the use of scale models, normally found on miniature train sets, it is a profound sense of liberation that is so relevant to my idea that childhood, or the child, is a pertinent theme. The work is liberated. The act of work is liberated. The approach to materials is remarkably creative and light spirited. The work is not born from any detail of planning but the details in the work are as seductive to the viewer as sweet colourful treats are to kids. There is mastery at work, I do believe. If the child is a theme, it includes not just the child, but the child within the man, as well as the relation of the man to the child. Another complication, and not easily resolved for this review.
Fortunately Dickson Bou is young, not exactly in the prime of childhood, but certainly with many years ahead, which means, of course, many more opportunities to observe and to experience his contributions to Art.
photograph taken by Christine