Dead Ends & Domestic Talismans: Prints by Keith Dull
August 26 – December 13, 2013
Roger W. Rogers Gallery
The work in this exhibition is drawn from five consecutive series of prints (titled Cyphering between Fear and Reality, Robotomunculus, Boogie, Solitaire Boogie, and Barbarians at The Gate) that trace the arc of the artist’s relationships through the end of a marriage and subsequent divorce to the experience of being single, dating, re-marrying, and ultimately having a child. As such they explore primarily domestic themes, but they do so in a highly unusual way: through the use of a complex and arcane system of visual symbols taken from sources as varied as alchemy, history and genealogy.
The artist uses these symbols to present the viewer with visual puzzles or riddles that invite us to engage the work and untangle the strands of meaning. He leaves us a trail of symbolic images that, like metaphorical breadcrumbs, lead us to the meaning of his work.
Dull employs the visual language of graphic design in his prints. The bright colors, iconic images, and symbols he uses remind us of the images we normally see in manuals and pamphlets, which aim to communicate explicit meaning in a clear and literal way that is immediately accessible to the viewer. Paradoxically, Dull uses this kind of imagery to weave dense visual riddles that explore the power and value of ambiguity instead. He reminds us that the artist sometimes plays the role of a trickster whose goal it is to reveal by obscuring.
To this end he frequently uses imagery in a way that very intentionally removes it from its original context. In his “Resurrection Boogie” prints, for example, he uses the silhouettes of Girl Scouts employing life-saving techniques on drowning victims (gleaned from a 1920’s manual). By removing these images from their original context, Dull gives them a new kind of meaning, which might leave the viewer quite baffled at first. The images may even seem oddly intimate. It is only when we note that they are paired with diagrams of dance steps and puzzle pieces that can’t be assembled that we realize that the silhouettes represent the dynamic in some relationships where one partner is always “saving” the other. Dull describes the Boogie series as dealing with the search for companionship in the seemingly limitless field of partially productive relationships. In some cases, the interaction is adversarial (the Death Roll Boogie prints), or in others, a single person is doing all the work (the Resurrection Boogie prints).
Eventually we realize that each of Dull’s works is a mystery we can solve if we look at it long and carefully enough, and that they function as the visual equivalent of zen koans: the process of untangling their meaning becomes more important and rewarding than the meaning itself.
Dull’s work also refers to the historical use of prints as guides and magic talismans. It seems only natural that, at times when humans feel alone or vulnerable, they might feel the need for protection or good luck.
Dull writes the following about his work: “Art is about transforming the mundane, and embracing the ritual inherent in that process. It is more than a collection of aesthetic choices. It is a search for clarity in the complex and intangible”.
Dull’s prints incorporate a wide range of techniques that include color reduction relief, intaglio, lithography, mixed media, as well as the encaustic intaglio printing process, which he developed. He received his MFA in Printmaking from the University of South Dakota in 1995, and is currently Associate Professor of Art at Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio.
More of his work can be viewed at www.keithdull.blogspot.com
-Andries Fourie, Curator, Roger W. Rogers Gallery