Ramsey Dau’s paintings call into question the cultural status and value system of visual art. While they may at first resemble ad hoc paper constructions or collages, on closer inspection they reveal themselves to be fastidiously painted, hyperrealist illusions.
Often, they recall the precise, formalist abstraction of Modernist painters from Henri Matisse to Ellsworth Kelly, Ben Nicholson or Patrick Heron, before undermining the transcendence of such painting by contaminating it with contemporary, popular cultural references. Dau’s background as a graphic designer informs his selection of source material: clippings from newspapers and magazines, from which he excerpts headlines, photojournalism and commercial advertising. He also frequently incorporates into his work reproductions of other art works, both contemporary and historical, from ancient carvings and tribal art to photographs from auction catalogs of recognizable modern and contemporary masterworks.
While Dau’s painting is replete with ironic observations and questions relating to the issues raised by the snippets of print media he appropriates, on another level it is about the transformation of material itself. Printed matter is transubstantiated into brushed paint on canvas. Color and form – traditionally dematerialized in movements such as Color Field or Hard Edge painting, both referenced in Dau’s work – appear here as fragments of other pictures or texts, other bodies of information, like books and magazines. Dau’s skilful trompe l’oeil technique wittily captures the raised edges and drop shadows of scissor-cut paper. Sometimes rough lines – at the edge of a rectangle of blue, for instance – betray the form as nothing more than a strip of tape, enlarged to majestic proportions. His work is simultaneously more ephemeral and more substantial than the abstract painting that it superficially resembles.
If a collagist construction can be seen as a somewhat democratic, low-brow, quick and provisional medium, then Dau’s rendering of his collages as paint on canvas might be understood as transforming them into the opposite of that: something permanent, painstakingly and skillfully crafted, and elevated in their intentionality and significance.
Video interview via sp[a]ce at Ayzenberg.
Video interview Peter Frank.
Video interview Carlos Rivera.