DAN DEMPSTER, CA|
"The drawings, paintings and sculptures that result may make you look at this neglected miracle of light, color and movement as if you had never seen it before..."Waterline" reproduces a shallow rivulet of tidal water with a startling degree of realism. It's almost as if you were standing barefoot near the shoreline, watching the water and light undulate in patterns across the sand under your toes... Dempster is the artist as seer, in fact... finding the mystery in the commonplace - then stepping out of the way as his audience looks on in wonder. In his drawings he accomplishes that aim through the persuasive argument of spectacularly keen-eyed detail."
"In a region choked by seaside art of little talent or ambition, it's easy to find examples of leaden waves crashing across wasted canvas. Bermudian artist Dan Dempster - who spends much of each year living in Newport News - provides the rare exception to this unfortunate nautical dilema.
Instead of seeking distraction in such commonplace scenes as lumpy dunes, listless seagulls and rotting wooden boats, he focuses his eyes and his imagination intently on the water. The drawings, paintings and sculptures that result may make you look at this neglected miracle of light, color and movement as if you had never seen it before.
Just check out "Waterline," one of nearly two dozen fresh, visually provocative pieces on view in Waterworks - a solo exhibit that runs through July 6 at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center.
The small, 5-by-7-inch drawing - rendered in colored pencil - reproduces a shallow rivulet of tidal water with a startling degree of realism. It's almost as if you were standing barefoot near the shoreline, watching the water and light undulate in patterns across the sand under your toes.
But for all its breathtaking immediacy, the impact of "Waterline" - and many of its companion works - doesn't stop with the formidable power of the here and now. Look at it long enough and it's like scanning a satellite photograph of the earth - something real and absolutely concrete yet inextricably mixed with the infinite.
Dempster is the artist as seer, in fact, and he aims to pack much more than water, sand and sun into each of his works of art. His trick is finding mystery in the commonplace - then stepping out of the way as his audience looks on in wonder. In his drawings, he accomplished that aim through the persuasive argument of spectacularly keen-eyed detail.
Whenever he follows a line of breaking water with his pencil, he records subtle differences in the shapes of the tiny waves, the effect of their speed and changes in their breadth, cycle and duration. Then he factors in the refraction of light and the position of the sun.
In other words, Dempster mimics this busy interaction of physical processes through a variety of ingenious recreations.
His series of 20 "Ithuriel" paintings - several of which are on exhibit here - emulates the movement of shallow water and light through the use of industrial-grade graphite tinted with chalk.
The chaotic patterns that flutter across each canvas recall the arrangement of ice crystals on a window-pane or the dappling of light across wave-tossed water. Yet within all that apparent randomness lies the presence of some irresistible governing order.
The same kind of paradox emerges from a series of blue-steel plates that Dempster exposes to the corrosive effects of sunlight and water.
Every drip, evaporative trail and film residue left behind may seem to be the product of something aimless and haphazard. But each yellow, orange and red image that appears can be traced back to some unbreakable combination of natural laws. Give these pieces a moment more and - like Dempster's drawings - they seem to become bigger and far more important than they first appear.
Imagine yourself looking into outer space for a second - then compare those gaseous galaxies and faraway stars to the nebulous patterns of red, purple and blue that twist and turn across the surfaces of Dempster's plates.
Don't miss the mysterious "Urbanos," a mahogany, steel and concrete sculpture that seems to rise up in the air at the far end of the gallery. Part symbol, part conceptual document and part abstract form, at distills all the things that Dempster's trying to do into a single, visually arresting icon.
For 18 months, this plywood square bobbed just beneath the surface of the water, recording - through wear and tear - the impact of each ray of light and cycle of tidal current. So did the steel chain that bound it to an anchoring concrete block - and the pattern of copper nails driven into its surface.
Now, hovering in space under a dramatic beam of light, what might have been dismissed as mere driftwood takes on an uncanny kind of character. Everything about it seems so accidental. Yet it also pulses with the touch of the divine.
"The work in the show, however, that really brings you to a halt on your first quick turn around the gallery is that of Daniel Dempster. The work consists almost entirely of the pattern of light on the gentle ripples of water over a sandy bottom and rendered with the most exacting precision. This is emphasized and set off by a small area of dark rocks, loosely rendered for contrast. That is all there is. It is both powerful and restful at the same time and the sandy greys of the almost monochrome colour scheme are at once warm and cool. The result is almost hypnotic and I was by no means the only viewer at the crowded opening evening to return to it again and again."
"Mr. Dempster has a unique eye and the technical facility to make the very most of it... extremely individual, spare, delicate, almost fragile perception of the unencumbered Bermuda that was here before man messed with it... brilliance of his water scenes... dramatic intensity... remarkably simple and startlingly successful..."
"Simplicity is the stuff of genius. Mr. Dempster deals with simplicity with no little success."
"... soft, gentle pastel drawings with which Mr. Dempster has already distinguished himself. The play of light through the water is this artist's chosen instrument and on it he plays with talent and versatility... another skein of light shimmering through the water washing through the interstices of flat, cracked rocks, demonstrates the artist at the height of his talent. The skill with which he blends the fluid with the firm and renders patterns of light as counterpoint to the formations and fissures in the rock is modestly downplayed by the gentlest of eyes and a nearly monochromatic colour scheme. It is the balance of Yin and Yang forces resulting in a natural peace remarkably satisfying to both life and spirit."
"...exquisite pencil studies of sea water shallows that look real enough to trail a hand through..."
"It is the best thing in the show and tells us a great deal about the artist, who has given us exquisitely understated drawings and paintings of close-up water and rock details that have been absolutely first-rate... This video is much the same water and rock scenes as are the best of his work... What his eyes see is quite remarkably uncommon..."
"The outstanding exception... abstract works by Daniel Dempster taken around the shores of Bantry Bay in Ireland. They observe in detail the interaction of clear water over or on textured rock or sand in much the same way as do the best of his painted and drawn works...Admirably presented in well chosen frames, these photographs display a carefully thought out colour scheme, a balance of texture and line hardly to be seen anywhere else in the show... these photographs to me were outstandingly the best in the show."
"... these steel plates were indeed enthralling. Their essential steeliness served as a counterbalance to the abstractionist impression created by the oxidation, frequently almost ethereal in quality, not unlike astronomers' photographs of the Magellanic clouds. In others, where one plate had lain flat against another, there were defining lines of varied oxidation that gave a random definition to the random oxidation... I was very pleasantly surprised and found the general impression to be both restful and energising, a curious combination of reactions. I know the artist has a fine and individual eye and this show attests to that again."
"... Mr. Dempster best encompasses this philosophy of the "spectacular in the mundane" in his collection of sandwiched stainless steel wall plates, gorgeously "hydro-optic" installations whose colourfully rusting surfaces suggest a new-age topography that change with time and the elements."
"...it works perfectly - the graphite shimmers on the canvas in light relief recreating perfectly the intricate interface of water. light and rock... the effects he has produced are a marvel which say more about the calm induced by Bermuda coast than a thousand representationalist reproductions of John Smith's Bay... the sense of depth created by walking across the front of one of his works deceives the eye so I felt I could plunge my hands into the water."
"The artist's inspiration was absolutely clear and the success he achieved with his painstaking techinique quite plain... immensely successful..."
"Time has been built into the work, hard wired into the concepts, change is natural and intended and inherent in concept. Instead of decaying with the years these works are intended to change with the years, evolve, carry into the future not only the physicality of change but also the resonance of past states."
"These exquisitely detailed drawings are not only a visual delight but, moreover, from the technical aspect the artist has taken the medium of coloured pencils to its zenith. There is nothing overdone, he uses each line or shaded area to render his subject in fine detail; nothing more and nothing less."
"Each piece is wonderfully detailed and delicate, resulting in a startling degree of realism. At first glance you see each piece for what it is, paper and pencil on a flat plain. But the more you look the more you become drawn into the space and marvel at the clever way in which Dempster has captured such ethereal qualities... Whatever Dempster makes you think, there's no getting away from the fact that they are beautiful works of art."
"Eight of Bermuda's leading artists are now to be seen at the Desmond Fountain Gallery in the Emporium Building on Front Street. For the most part they are either at the top of their form or have broken new personal ground.
Most notable in the latter category is Daniel Dempster. In one sense he has gone back to his undoubted talent for interpreting shallow water, its dynamics and its plays of light. Where he used to work in chalk he has now taken to oils and the result is little short of dramatic. His start turn is "Wet Sands, Grape Bay: where he catches the evening light in reflection over an expanse of rising tide spread smoothly over almost flat sand. His perception of light and colour is as faultless as his well-known technique and sense of composition.
Almost in the same league is "Sunbeam, South Shore." Here the artist catches a glimmer of afternoon sun in water that is for the most part shaded by summer clouds. The warm glow imparts surprising warmth to an otherwise cool painting. One of the more exciting works is "Portents, South Shore" where Mr. Dempster, long known for his mastery of ripples of calm water, tackles with complete confidence and success tangled water breaking at the edge of a roiled sea."
Daniel C. Dempster
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