ArtAttack Preview: The traditional become the unsettling at Dadiani Fine Art’s ‘Off Kilter: An Age of Oil’

No form of Fine Art, these days, sounds more traditional to us than painting. Visiting a painting show seems to be one of the safe ways to experience art, at least in the popular imagination; if you’re not one of those convinced by the shock factor of a shark in a tank or someone taking their clothes off in front of you, then the conventions of a beautiful oil-on-canvas may seem far more appealing. A beautifully rendered portrait or landscape – even an abstract form – falls within a certain comfort zone for us. Yet, when subverted or altered even slightly, the medium can be one of the most effective ways of unsettling and surprising. It’s within this subtle relationship between tradition and something more unbalanced that the group show Off Kilter: An Age of Oil, previewing at Dadiani Fine Art on Friday, situates itself. Works by William S. Burroughs, Jennifer Binnie, David Courts, Kelly-Anne Davitt, Robert Hawkins and more all use familiar oil techniques, but at the same time have something off about them. In some cases it’s hard to really pin down;  Burroughs’ work, for example, is dark not just in colour, but you can’t explain just why the forms he’s used make the hairs on the back of your neck prickle. It’s the place where Abstract Art becomes surreal, not just about that pure form.

William Burroughs, Untitled, 1998. Oil paint andmixed media, (dimensions notavailable).
William Burroughs, Untitled, 1998. Oil paint and mixed media, (dimensions not available).

Courts’ Pinkietessa, meanwhile, may be dressed the part of a queen, but Kelly-Anne Davitt’s lurid Melons brings out a certain coquettishness in this apparently regal figure when they are compared – especially if you are aware that the former’s title refers to London performance artist Pinkietessa™, known for her particularly kitsch brand of glamour. Melons might seem far more obviously shocking, meanwhile, but despite its playfulness there still remains that subtle sinister feeling that creeps up on you once you stop laughing at the placement of the titular fruit.

David Courts, 'Pinkitessa', 2012. Oil on canvas, 127x76cm.
David Courts, ‘Pinkitessa’, 2012. Oil on canvas, 127x76cm.
Kelly-Anne Davitt, 'Melons', 2015. Oil on Canvas,80 x 75cm
Kelly-Anne Davitt, ‘Melons’, 2015. Oil on Canvas, 80 x 75cm

Even the curation is off-kilter – gallery director Eleesa Dadiani explains, “we just wrote down the artists’ names and drew them out of a hat, placing the works around the walls in the order that they came out.” There aren’t even any real things in common between the artists other than the fact they work in oil, she says, leaving the viewer to tease out their own understanding of how works relate to each other. Personally, I cannot wait to see the exhibition and find out whether my own interpretations play out as clearly in the flesh as the connections I’ve drawn out from previewing it. I am sure they will take me by surprise –  or at least I hope so, for that is what the concept of ‘Off-Kilter’ promises to me.

– Olivia Bladen

Off Kilter: An Age of Oil is on view at Dadiani Fine Art from 18 July –17 September, 2015; 30 Cork Street, London, W1S 3NG; Admission: FREE

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