“This is one of those paintings that I would see in an exhibition that would make me stop and look. Not because it hit me between the eyes, but rather because it would whisper in my ear and then I would need to spend some time sussing out what is really so damn intriguing about it.”
So wrote my colleague, the artist Royce Deans, in 2017 about one of my recent paintings, illustrated below.
UNTITLED - Haydn Dickenson (2017)
I was, and still am, delighted and flattered to read Royce's words, for this is one of the most satisfying kinds of reaction that an abstract artist can receive.
The nature of abstraction is that the art is elusive. It is suggestive and evocative, one would hope, but at the same time releasing its information sparingly, secretively, in a tantalising and none-too-constant trickle. Of course, there is often an initial visceral hit, that impact that a painting has upon the viewer that draws them in; in my case, this is frequently an ambiguous quasi-tactile sensation experienced, naturally, without me touching the piece. It is a kind of physical-visual encounter with the painting's core that I can feel under my fingertips as well as inside my body and with my eyes. The real story, however, begins to unfold afterwards, gently, seductively, persuasively.
I always hope for my own paintings be liveable-with in a way that enriches the soul, that they will continue to deliver over a lifetime, that they may continue to fascinate and to challenge, rather than that they relax into a state of innocuous visual muzak after an initial blousy fanfare.
What I hope to present to the viewer is an unfolding tableau, a kind of 'slow reveal'.
A similarly 'slow-revealing' artist about whom I have recently been reading is the remarkable Portuguese-British Paula Rego who passed away only last June at the age of 87. https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/art-artists/name/paula-rego-ra
Rego's exceptionally powerful figurative works tend to illustrate a disturbing and fractured world. She is often referred to as 'a painter of stories', these narratives drawing on traumatic childhood happenings; in Rego's own words, “dark secrets, compromise and betrayal”. As a frequent sufferer from nightmares myself, I strongly identify with Paula's adoption of bad dreams as an influence in her deeply stirring work. “You can do things in pictures that you can't do in life, ever”, she has said, suggesting, in their “slow disclosure” as the critic Robert Hughes has identified it, a back-story of notable violence and trauma.
I have been told that my own work also contains disturbing elements. I do not particularly see this, perhaps because, for me, creating art brings about a degree of catharsis in relation to my own troubled past.
A client has written of the painting that she commissioned from me earlier this year: “Every time I look at it, I see something new, like the reflected shapes on the right. Maybe a far-off mountain, caught in the fading sunlight? That said, I love its ambiguity.”
And some lovely words from another collector: “Like so many of Haydn's pieces it always feels new - as if he's only just finished painting and left the room.”
I will finish by quoting Robert Hughes once more, “Art does not need to make an immediate impact to have value”. I would go further and suggest that the impact of good art, whether instantaneous or delayed, may produce reverberations which are as prolonged as they are profound.
APOTHEOSIS - Haydn Dickenson (2019)
Copyright Haydn Dickenson 2022