Contributed by Heather Drayzen / “Passing Through,” the title of Jan Dickey’s solo exhibition at D.D.D.D., can be read literally and symbolically. Several jewel-like paintings are mounted on the wall with a golden hinge in an oil-slick finish allowing the viewer to pass through to the other side and glimpse into the inner guts, the vein-like physicality, of the abstract earth-like paintings. In a self-penned exhibition statement, Dickey refers to their surfaces as “swirling colors of mountain mud,” and they soulfully conjure the juicy texture of our own existence, where everything is in flux and the physical and incorporeal blend together.
Dickey works with the five-pointed star as a primary subject. The star is repeated in different sizes and shifting angles built up with layers of earth-based binders and dry pigments mixed with casein, animal glues, and egg tempera. He alternates between laying on more paint and sanding or peeling it away. The additions and subtractions yield a craggy mountain-like surface where color fields of plate tectonics appear to crack and move before our eyes, revealing what’s left of the stars hidden beneath. The star’s destruction and repair mimic the activity of delicate neural networks held together by an ephemeral order. Their delineations look like the earth from an airplane but also suggest the underground environment of roots and fungi.
In Lemon Crimson, the star is all but obliterated in a sea of alizarin, orange, and lemon that gives way to layers of purple bronchioles made of cochineal lake pigment. The painting is as bright as a hot summer day in the American South and recalls the industrial rust of tractor metal, while summoning Bonnard’s luminously painted interior walls.
Of all the paintings in this exhibition, Blood Lapis most solidly holds the shape of the star. Constructed on a long rectangular canvas, the painting at the top showcases a lively vibration of industrial brick reds, maroons, and fuchsias that crack open to reveal a cold, steel gray interior below the surface. These colors shift all the way down, intertwined with warping and twisting stars and finally exposing an ultramarine blue with hints of alien neon green and reds in transparent layers beneath. The shapes allude to historical boundaries and systemic regulation.
Dickey’s process embodies a love of color and physical material itself and gives us reason to believe that the pursuit of paint is a worthy endeavor that can lead to dazzling discoveries and transformations. In deconstructing the familiar ideogram of the star, he forges a deep connection with viewers, suggesting humanity and life below the artificial constructs that we immediately see.
“Jan Dickey: Passing Through,” D.D.D.D. Pictures, 179 Canal Street, New York, NY. Through May 19, 2023.
About the author: Heather Drayzen is an artist and educator based in Brooklyn. Her paintings have been included in various exhibitions in the United States including a recent two-person exhibition with Julia Blume at My Pet Ram in NYC.