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  • Writer's pictureHaydn Dickenson


The British artist Tracey Emin has always been a polarising figure. It is not my intention to offer any kind of general critique on Emin's work here; in my opinion though, she is currently producing her very best work. Of late, huge paintings and drawings, loosely and dramatically figurative, with bags of negative space (you all know I love that!) and expressive drips, the whole being discreetly and minimally framed, are the powerful order of the day.

Tracey, a cancer survivor, seems to have acquired a new wisdom and depth which is infusing her work in a most exciting way.

I begin by writing about Tracey Emin because of a post which I saw recently on her Instagram page, in which she wrote:

I enjoyed painting...(last night )...I could have carried on all night but I probably would have ended up painting over everything I'd done. Everything looks so different in the morning. That's why, even in my darkest moments, I knew if I could just wait, life would change”.

It is the word 'Change' that set me thinking; change in life and change in art.

I have always loved and embraced change – though this statement might baffle some people who see me as someone who has singularly failed to free himself from certain limiting facets of life. OK – they have a point, to a degree. I have hinted at certain habitual and learned patterns of behaviour - with which I am engaged in active combat - in paintings such as CONFINEMENT (2023). I stand my ground however and maintain that, in multiple complex ways, I revel in things being in a state of flux. Come on – in 2015 I even staged an exhibition at the Queen's Park Arts Centre, Aylesbury, UK, which I entitled STILLNESS IN FLUX!

I love paradoxes, incidentally.

STILLNESS IN FLUX - Haydn Dickenson at QPC, Aylesbury, September-October 2015

Stasis is anathema to me. My paintings usually embody a flowing element, as does the evolution of my style in its various meanderings.

LA JOUISSANCE - Haydn Dickenson (2019)

I have always feared arriving at a state in my painting life at which I might sit still, and seem to onlookers to be making the same picture over and over again. Mentioning no names, I believe there exist both ancient precedents and current incidences of many such creative stalemates in the art world at large.

Some individuals have sought to label my work with tags such as 'phases' (I dislike the dismissive, transitory implication of the word) or as 'periods', as if such and such a modus operandi were never to be revisited – 'just a passing phase'.

The reality is, however, that many common elements, symbols, and allusions permeate my canvases, persisting, surfacing and resurfacing across time. Portals are evident, windows, layers, levels of composition and of tone, shapes whether craggy or suggestively rounded, colour masses both vibrant and neutral, marks whether linear (please, not 'geometric'!) and gesturally sensual, the natural world, an urban cacophony. One might understand the references that come and go in my pictures as being akin to the myriad differing ripples in a lake made by, say, a pebble, a rock, or a leaf breaching its surface; or the effect of a gentle breeze on its glassy mirror as against that of violent rain or a thunderstorm.

Yes, my painting style changes superficially, shifts, flows in time. Is that what perplexes those who suggest that my voice is restless, that it doesn't park itself in a safe space?

Surely that is a good thing!

FACE UP TO THE FACTS - Haydn Dickenson (2019)

SHE THAT COMES LATE TO THE DANCE - Haydn Dickenson (2021)

UNTITLED - Haydn Dickenson (2017)

Collectors of my work frequently remark on how a painting in their possession looks different on a different day. This is one of the marvellous gifts that abstract art brings to the viewer – a suggestion, an allusion, a ghost of an image, a feeling evoked by colour juxtaposition and composition which is fleeting, evanescent, and which transmogrifies capriciously according to ambient light. What we see one day, we might be impervious to the next. If we conform too much to a single path, the gamut of expression becomes restricted. Pure abstraction, in its infinite flux, casts boundaries and limits asunder.

From the Buddhist concept of Annica, we learn that nothing is permanent anyway, that all is subject to change. The idea that an artist's output might best languish in some commercial 'sweet-spot' seems awfully complacent to me. Isn't it highly desirable that a painter should surprise you, not necessarily by going completely 'off-piste' in a way that could suggest a lack of substance or an over-eclectic mind, but by presenting recurrent themes in a way that make us think, and question?

LILA SAYS - Haydn Dickenson (2023)

Helen Frankenthaler stated that “Every canvas is a journey all its own”. To that I would add that the journey never ends.

Copyright Haydn Dickenson 2023


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