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The Greyhound

Chaos in the Julio Gallery

This past Wednesday, our beloved art gallery was turned into a shooting range. Marley Dawson, a jocular Australian artist, utilized a trap launching device perched on a light Douglas Fir stand. He aimed it at a brass pole in front of two canvas panels in a corner of the gallery and fired away. He spent over an hour—and a couple hundred clay pigeons—creating his latest exhibition, called “Explosion/Resolution,” a title pulled from a New Yorker review of the post-punk band, Warpaint. Dawson’s show opens this Wednesday.

He found inspiration through a former marine guru-of-sorts who helped guide Dawson through the unexplored world of weapons, guns, and things that go boom. Dawson moved to DC three years ago and obtained a research grant from the Australian government to delve deeply into the dangerous aspects of this environment; through Kenny’s mentorship, he was able to find beauty in destruction. He smiled as he related one particular conversation they had where Kenny summed up his and Dawson’s roles in life as something to the effect of: “you are here for creation. I’m here for destruction.” Dawson then described himself as a “lefty pinko” who fell in love with this dialectical creation/destruction relationship and clearly expresses it through his latest works.

There are only two focal points in the exhibit. But these focal points are possibly more jarring to the eye than any other exhibit the Julio Fine Arts Gallery has ever shown. The clay pigeons lay fallen around the brass pole and a mess of gray on the canvas in the far corner of the gallery, titled Birds (For CB). The pole seems almost triumphant, having endured Dawson’s battering, and the now empty casings of the metaphorical bullets hurled at it. Either its remnants or theirs are splattered across those panels in an uneven manner, with a space for the brass pole in between the blasts of paint.

Directly across from this work is a bust, titled Bust (Frank), made from plaster and chiseled over and over by a BB gun Dawson held two inches from each spot. He slowly worked away the corners of the block of plaster until it resembled a visage, of sorts. And a marled one at that. Around this head hangs four stop signs stripped of their labels, left only with their bare aluminum. These signs had been shot up by someone with too much booze and too many bullets, a volatile combination, and those bullet holes serve as a reminder of Dawson’s theme of destruction, as if you needed one by this point. They are their own piece, titled Signs (landscape/constellation), but their positioning with the bust draws an implied set of lines between the two.

This collection of straight lines going every which way is what Explosion/Resolution is really all about. To observe this pole and dummy head as victims of the chaos of Dawson’s creation is to miss half of the show. These are not pieces lost in their own making, but instead find their peace through the violence of Dawson’s creation. To make my point clearer, what appears to be a mess of lines is actually a very carefully planned out series of straight lines. These straight lines are numerous, overwhelming, and somewhat hard to see, but they are there. You can conceptualize them reaching from the bullet-riddled stop signs behind the bust to each individual BB hole in it. There are parallels between the base of the bust and that of the brass pole; both are made from the same type of wood. The mess of casings on the floor from the trap gun have created the starkly straight lines on the canvas behind them. The ties could go on and on and on, but you get the picture.

Dawson’s art, though dynamic in its own space, is otherwise quite sparse. These two pieces are held in check by the space between each. The absence of a multitude of works here creates an atmosphere of serenity in a post-destruction scene. Dawson has been there, done the dirty stuff, and left his beautiful wreckage behind for the rest of us to admire. And while the explosions and violence were necessary to create these pieces, we as viewers are enjoying their resolution.

If you attend the opening and brief talk given by Dawson on Thursday night, which you should, be sure to hang around and say hi to him afterward. His unbridled enthusiasm and humorous good nature add so much more to what is already a fascinating exhibit. Plus you could always ask him to clear up some misconceptions about Australia that float around the internet all the time; I wonder how many times he’s been eaten by a snake.

Explosion/Resolution opens at the Julio Fine Art Gallery this week and the artist talk and opening (with refreshments provided) is on Thursday evening, November 13.

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Chaos in the Julio Gallery