We arrived for our holiday in St Ives this summer a few weeks too late for the Dexter Dalwood exhibition. I was therefore glad when he was nominated for this year's Turner Prize because some of the paintings are now on show again at Tate Britain, including The Death of David Kelly (2009) which he describes in the video above. Dalwood's paintings of culturally significant places include landscapes like Gorbachev's Winter Retreat (2000), Bay of Pigs (2004) and Grosvenor Square (2002). This is how the Saatchi Gallery describes the 'comic Armageddon' of Grosvenor Square, home of the American embassy: 'The sculpture of a dead president stands in ominous glory, a lone caped panto-villain master-minding the elements of world power. Dexter Dalwood pictures this landmark circa 1969: the upside-down trees are taken from a Georg Baselitz painting from this period. Painted during the Iraq war, Dalwood envisions the park as a place of protest, citing the anti-Vietnam demonstrations that took place there. In this epic work Dexter Dalwood captures the enormity of historical resonance: the leaf-strewn grass is weighted with pastoral calmness, giving a grounded continuity of order to the lingering aura of violence.'
Giovanni Bellini, The Assassination of Saint Peter Martyr, c. 1507
Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Courtauld's Art and Architecture site has an interesting interview with Dalwood in which he describes the genesis of another landscape, The Trial of Milosevic (2004). "I think it was seeing the Bellini in the National Gallery, and thinking that I had never done a painting with a European wood in it... I started thinking about woods and landscapes, and it made me a think of a Robert Gober installation I saw years ago where the walls are all wall papered to look like a kind of Arcadia. I also started thinking about Anselm Kiefer and those paintings of Germanic woods, and then of course from Kiefer back to Caspar David Friedrich. And then I started thinking about what kind of subject I could place in these words, and that brought me back to Milosevic... By using the Bellini I’m saying that the European arcadia, the forest becomes a symbol not of beauty and continuing regrowth and life but as a dystopian location, a witness to human cruelty."
Finally, if it's not too outrageous a leap from Giovanni Bellini and the Courtauld, here is a reminder that long before painting pictures about Slobodan Milosevic, Dexter Dalwood was teenage bassist in Bristol's first punk band, The Cortinas, whose debut single in June 1977 was 'Fascist Dictator'.