Andy Dixon has Ruined my Life
For Hello Friend, July 27, 2016
By Michelle Nguyen
Andy Dixon has ruined my life. Granted, those who know me will say that I am prone to hyperbole and will often use that phrase to describe a number of things (the Kimye-Taylor debacle, the Top Chef television series, etc.), but this time, it is a statement that rings as utterly and irrevocably true. I bring up his work in every one of five conversations I engage in on a daily basis, often at times, completely unwarranted.
Looking at his work stirs something inside me and I can feel it in my gut. It makes me giddy. It makes my hands restless. It reminds me how much I love painting. The temptation of a non-traditional career path as a painter has lead to constant uphill battles with my own self-doubt. I have spent the last couple of years looking around for safer alternative career paths but have failed to find similar gratification. Being around such provocative work like Dixon’s completely eliminates all existing hesitation. My desire to paint almost seems animal and instinctive. For a moment, I find clarity within myself.
I was introduced to his work during an impromptu visit to Rath Art Supplies. It was at the very back of the store propped up against several other recently stretched canvases. Despite being one of many paintings crowding the space, its luscious swelter of colour stood out. The bright red painting comprised of elegantly dressed guests at a dinner party. The women gloved and drenched in furs while the men wore pinstriped suits and patterned ties. The glassware and china drawn in childlike scrawls in pastel. I stared at it for quite some time, attempting to burn its image into my retinas. At the checkout, I added several sticks of oil pastel to my purchase. I felt strangely reenergized, and when I arrived home, I immediately started a new painting.
I saw his work recently again at the Winsor Gallery, his show entitled Expensive Things. The subjects of his paintings are accurately described through the title itself: intricate porcelain vases, gold-trimmed fabrics, sailing ships, exotic fruits, candelabras, voluptuous statuettes, and laurel-wreathed hedonists.
I went with a friend, and neither of us were afraid to gawk. His works’ appeal goes far beyond his rich and palatable aesthetic; his work brings up many worthwhile discourses concerning the intersection of capitalism and the art world. This collection of luxurious imagery brings about an awareness of how arbitrary traditional displays of wealth are. There are certain undertones that the presence of these collective luxuries is rooted in colonial exoticism of travel and foreign cultures (tropical fruits, ships, etc.). Dixon is fully aware of the capriciousness that is bourgeois culture but also has a great love for it. He is hyper aware of art’s relationship with capitalism and explores the idea of art as a commodity through his paintings.
Yet, there is a tenderness to his work. Despite his subject choices, his work never comes off as supplementary. Upon seeing Expensive Painting (Nude 2), my friend’s face softened, “Look how lovingly she looks at herself,” and we both stood there for a long while, admiring a woman admiring herself.
In this particular show, a number of Dixon’s subjects are encased in ornate frames that are painted onto the canvas itself, an object that is used to display treasured items, things of sentimental or cultural value. Dixon’s utilization of language in his titles also conveys worth. By adding the adjective ‘expensive’ in all of his titles, he shows how easily it is to assign value to the otherwise subjective. Through these acts, he assigns aesthetic and commercial value to his work separate from the market and the public eye.
All the pieces in Expensive Things are knitted together in the final piece in the show entitled ‘Pink Dinner.’ Reductive versions of all of the other paintings in the show cover the bright walls of a monstrous dining room.
Dixon can clearly foresee the future lives of his paintings, soon to be sold off and hung proudly in lavish homes. It is all so very strange to engage in this particular act of voyeurism, being exposed to the fluidity of art’s role both in the private and public realm. I am reminded of how this will probably be the only time I will be able to receive these particular works. It reminds me of how privileged I am to be able to engage with them in person. Once established, great works of art cannot be destroyed. These are deathless objects, yet our experiences of them remain fleeting. The reality of it has never stopped me from trying to contain it. I don’t know what it is. For me, it isn’t necessarily pleasure or yearning. I can only accurately describe these moments as ‘feeling some kind of way,’ for any other description would diminish its significance.
I recently reread Mark Sagoff’s “On the Aesthetic and Economic Value of Art” during my time writing this. At the very beginning of the essay, he immediately acknowledges that there is no correlation between the aesthetic and economic values of art and that he has no idea what constitutes aesthetic value (I know I’m making this essay sound lousy, but it’s worth the read, I can assure you). He talks about how exceptional art is in the economic realm. A few of his keys points are that in the art world, there is never a decrease in value and that there is absolutely no relation between supply and demand. Our value of art is truly a phenomenon that operates on a set of rules distinct from the ones that govern the rest of our world. It is truly something beyond our own comprehension and I believe Dixon’s work brings that into light.
Despite my conscious efforts, Dixon’s influence has been slowly bleeding its way into my own work. One of the most rewarding things for me about painting as a medium is the clarity in which I can gauge the evolution of myself as a painter. Aside from Dixon, the two other painters that have greatly influenced my work have been Cy Twombly and Cecily Brown. I can distinctly recall the paintings I produced after first discovering their work, each one serving as a crucial marker for me of my progress. I can see Dixon’s influence through my new found fascination with oil pastel, and the amount of care I have been putting into composition. As a young painter, I have been watching myself slowly come into my own.
Self-growth is fluid and often unnoticeably snail-like in pace. And part of the joy I acquire from painting is being able to see these great paradigm shifts within myself manifested into a physical reality. I can see my growth as both a human being and a painter through each finished piece I produce and it’s absolutely exhilarating to me. Mary Ruefle, one of my all-time favourite poets, writes, “Some languages are so constructed — English among them — that we each only really speak one sentence in our lifetime.” I have never found a more truthful form of expression as I have in painting. It has become the language in which I would like to speak for the rest of my lifetime, and these wet markings on canvas will be words that will compose my long winding sentence.