Jeremy Dickinson and integrity in modern art

Artistic integrity implies sustained vision and a refusal to bow to a fashionable mania for installations and misplaced kitsch. The bright-blue cock of Katharina Fritsch, defiantly occupying the fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square, and the expression of transience found in the works of Jeremy Dickinson are worlds apart.

Nostalgia is a “nice little earner”. Witness the histrionic marketing of “collectibles” by the Franklin Mint, whose products often merge with the banal. In “Kitsch art: love it or loathe it?” (posted on The Guardian 28 January 2013), Jonathan Jones argued that kitsch “brands a kind of art that seems to care nothing for taste – and this has become a crucial prop to modern culture at a time when ‘serious’ art may have little to it beyond a declaration of superior judgment.”

How to distinguish the serious from the frivolous? Is a work of art insight or ego? The well-established British artist Jeremy Dickinson has a clear vision of what his paintings are all about. Dickinson focuses on social history in the form of public transport and the eventual decay of abandoned buses, trains, cars, and containers: anything vehicular that can rust and be transmuted. In doing so, he is recalling his own childhood and adolescence. Loss of childhood – or rediscovering childhood images and perceptions – is a theme that resonates widely in today’s fast paced technological world.

Performance-TransporterAs Dickinson has explained:

“The stack paintings are an ongoing series of works which document my collection of toy cars. And the arrangements usually relate back to childhood experiences of organising the vehicles. For example, in one called ‘Performance Transporter’, the stack of cars is arranged in a spectrum, starting with yellow at the bottom, then orange, red, purple, blue, green and finishes with a green truck on the top. It is transporting a wind-up clockwork toy whale. You are supposed to put a ping-pong ball on the top, which will float on air when the whale is wound up.”

Another form with which Dickinson has been experimenting is the depiction of maps by means of blocks of colour:

“These coloured blocks originated as children’s building blocks which kids use to build structures with. In the paintings, they support the vehicles in a kind of space that is different from the stack paintings. The ‘Double Omnibus Wall Map’ painting is, in fact, a map of the north of England, defined by the colours of the buses of each town or city, with another map of London (with contemporary red double-deckers) overlaid on the first map. The left side is the west coast of England, and on the right, the east coast.”

Vehicles and maps: ways of getting from here to there and back again – ways of travelling through time and revealing what is vanishing all around us.

Jeremy-DickinsonA critique of the impact of change on society is present in some of the poems of William Wordsworth and the landscape paintings of Claude Monet in which awareness of industrial encroachment on rivers and fields constitutes an early plea for environmental awareness. In his own paintings Dickinson articulates a different kind of nostalgia: the loss of simplicity and imagination in today’s ultra technological world.

Celebrating in paint the transience of the toys of yesterday is one way of commemorating them and of lamenting their inevitable loss. The toys endure even while they quietly decay. It was the English novelist and poet D. H. Lawrence who, in “Things Men Have Made”, suggested that it is not just the quality of materials that gives things their value and durability, but the attitude of their maker: “Things men have made with wakened hands, and put soft life into are awake through years with transferred touch, and go on glowing for long years.”

And that warmth felt by D. H. Lawrence, an afterglow from “the life of forgotten men who made them”, may be what distinguishes the enduring from the ephemeral.

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