Beyond The image
BEYOND THE IMAGE
words by Robert Emmery
Dijon Dajee is best known for his beautifully delicate paper and LED light art installations that depict natural patterns and astronomical imagery. His works often tackle many themes, such as belief, nature and death but tend to focus themselves closely around the idea of beauty and how it is interpreted by the viewer.
‘Beauty is a phenomenon that comes about as result of light reflecting off the artwork’s surface. If you place any artwork in red light, for example, our judgement about how beautiful it is, is very different to when you place it in blue light. Therefore, the status of it being beautiful is not something intrinsic to the artwork itself but is a condition that is entirely determined by the external environment in which the work exists. I really wanted to change the direction of that relationship. If an artwork is being imposed upon with this label of ‘beauty’ it can never be beautiful in its own right. Once you place the light source within the work, beauty comes from within the work too.’
Dajee’s artworks reflects his time as a student of philosophy at The University of York. There he studied under the important but largely unknown analytic philosophers Peter Lamarque and Gregory Currie. These light works (eventually to be called B2FH) came to him while he was working in a lighting factory in London in 2012. One day, whilst playing around with lighting gels something clicked into place.
‘In my spare time I had made these very fine pinprick on paper artworks however I didn’t know what to do with them. I liked the simplicity of them, white paper in white frames, but on their own they felt unfinished. I still have a note in one of my sketchbooks which reads “try combining pinpricks and light” and the moment I did so, I instantly knew I had hit on something.’
Almost immediately, the idea was a success. Within a few months he gave up his job at the lighting factory and became an artist with Kinetica Gallery. Within the next 6 months he had exhibited at the Royal College of Art, Battersea Art Fair, Kinetica Art Fair and the newly formed Lights of Soho. His works were exhibited at Central St. Martin’s during London Design Week and he picked up a number of commissions for galleries, hotels, offices and even a dentists surgery. At the end of 2015 he embarked on a series of installations with Silver Odyssey Productions which travelled to Ibiza and eventually finished its tour in L.A where he exhibited a collection inspired and attended by Grace Jones at the end of 2015.
By the end of 2014 he had began calling his planetary works B2FH taking the name from a 1957 astronomy research paper which explored the theory of stellar neucleosynthesis, the idea that the chemical components of life are created within stars like our sun. By introducing these themes into the work, Dijon was starting to use them to make profound statements about the world.
‘Because the idea was so immediately successful, I felt like they needed to be reflected on a little more. It is very easy for us to focus on all the accoutrements of life, the TV, the car, the washing machine etc. and to enjoy the richness of life, we should do that. However in the midst of this you really have to acknowledge the fact that the chances of life happening at all, never mind intelligent life, are so slim that we really have a responsibility not to squander it. I find it incredible that most scientific estimates predict that due to climate change the earth will become uninhabitable within the next 200 years and yet this is not something that is at the forefront of any mainstream political agenda. People would be much less inclined to be distracted by material possessions or political concerns if we treated them with the proper perspective they deserved.’
At the beginning of 2016 Dajee made the move away from light art and came back to painting.
‘Although I had a huge amount of success making them, I found that people were simply not marrying environmental concerns to the art.’
In order to address these concerns, Dajee started experimenting with painting and developing new ways of depicting nature. The method he finally landed on was to layer oil and acrylic paint thickly on to canvas and then scrape the paint off using a lino printing blocks into which he had carved into wood patterns.
‘I really liked the idea that I was using the printing block as an active paintbrush rather than how it is traditionally used, as a passive recipient of color... The materiality (of the work) was also very important to me. The paint dried thickly and created ravines and hillsides on the canvas. It reminded me that actually, the canvas is the skin of art, it is both a barrier as well as a point of connection to the outside world. ’
The works are often overlaid with quotes, forms or numbers interweaving with the wood patterned surface. In part they are ‘action’ paintings, working out many of the same ideas seen in the art of Oscar Murillo or Lucien Smith. As with many of these painters, Dajee’s work points to the idea that humans are merely processors of the planet with ‘art’ being the trace left behind.
In 2014 Walter Robinson disparagingly called these works “Zombie Formalism”, both because they revived the dead dreams of Clement Greenberg’s abstract expressionism and are, for the most part, reductive methods of painting focussed more on the process of how the work was made. The paintings are merely process, however they are often about humans as that process. We often think of Frankenstein’s monster as a zombie, bringing back dead flesh to life, however in the modern era he is more closely akin to an android. Born of the very latest wetware technology, the story highlights some of the most striking fears of the technological world, that we will one day be replaced. Dajee’s works, as with many other Zombie Formalist painters resonate with these modern day fears but also introduces a third element and asking the viewer, where does nature fit into this?