Wed Jun 10 2009
Photograph: Courtesy the Artist and Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5
Unlike the rest of us, painter Verne Dawson was never completely expelled from Eden, or at least some eccentric, alternate-universe version of the same. So you might think, based on his landscapes-cum-parables in which the sophisticated and the primitive, the prelapsarian and the futuristic, often collide.
The gallery’s main space contains the exhibition centerpieces, a trio of large canvases based on the story of Jonah and the Whale. In the first, Jonah has fallen overboard into a storm-tossed sea, while his boat, its pronounced American flag ripping in the wind, heaves away on the crest of a wave. In the second, he’s inside the whale, and though we don’t see him, we do see his point of view, registering the belly of the beast as a combination of a cathedral nave, Carlsbad Cavern and a gynecologist’s peek inside a vagina. In the third painting, Jonah has been spit out of his cetacean captor; both are seen beached, curled up near one another like lovers in postcoital bliss.
What to make of all this? Is it an allegory of Yankee hubris (what with Old Glory and all), or of Mother Nature’s revenge for our ecological abuse? Dawson is too canny an artist to let you make up your mind, preferring to distract you instead with his considerable painterly legerdemain. Yet he drops enough hints of big themes—a post-Katrina idyll, in one composition, of a naked boy crossing a flooded field on the back of an alligator; a warning of our decline, perhaps, in another, showing a Chinese spaceship departing for Mars—to make you wonder.—Howard Halle