Technical mastery in art, much like beauty, tends to take second fiddle to more popular postmodern issues such as innovation and the grotesque.
Technical mastery in art, much like beauty, tends to take second fiddle to more popular postmodern issues such as innovation and the grotesque. In challenging the boundaries of what defines art, these two more conventional signifiers of quality have variously been belittled or bypassed for some time. But more recently, as in the case of Blakely Dadson, proficiency and beauty are once again becoming embraced. With his recent series of currency paintings, Dadson demonstrates technical virtuosity in extraordinarily beautiful artworks.
On view initially at Dunn and Brown Contemporary in a solo exhibition titled Rude Bwoy Tender, then re-assembled at TCU for his Master of Fine Arts exhibition, Dadson’s paintings garnered widespread appeal. In this body of oil on canvas currency paintings, Dadson created oversized “legal tender,” marked with surreal arrangements of appropriated imagery and diverse typographic fonts. By painting his own money, Dadson ostensibly associates himself with “rude bwoys”: Rastafarian ghetto youths who try to make do with what little they have. Dadson muses, “If I don’t have money, I’ll just paint money.”  His paintings represent commodity, and (it turns out) embody it as well, completely selling out at the Dunn and Brown show. In the tradition of artists painting money, pioneered by Ed Kienholz and JSG Boggs, Dadson’s pseudo bills provoke questions about how we create and assign value. On one level, monetary worth is transferred between people. On another level, what is represented on Dadson’s tender — cultural information embedded in recognizable imagery — is also exchanged.
The technical wizardry and visual dynamics of Dadson’s imagery hooks and reels the viewer into wholly bizarre associations. For example, in Peacemaker Plate, not only does Dadson replicate Andrew Jackson’s famed visage from the new twenty-dollar bill, but he also enhances it with Maori tattooing. Even more absurdly, he situates the historic portrait alongside a fearsome-toothed alligator advancing from moonlike terrain, with medieval German buildings in the background. Dadson’s seemingly random conglomerations confound expectations of a straightforward narrative. His photorealistic images bank on the subconscious to piece together incongruous visual relationships. With imagery that spans both culture and time, he successfully renders the otherwise disparate styles of Byzantine iconography in Reverse Five Plate, and Smurf cartoons in Papa Richter Plate. Dadson acknowledges the multicultural influences of his California upbringing in his artwork, which evince a melding of visual signatures from various cultures. This diversity contributes to the overall intrigue of Dadson’s aesthetic effect. He designates certain boundaries in his art — working within a traditional discipline (painting), borrowing an established format (currency) and employing recognizable imagery — yet with keen inventiveness, he pushes the limits of these restrictions to render curiously beautiful visual relationships.
Although Dadson composes meticulously photorealistic images, he tempers illusionism by including abstract passages of paint that flatten out space. In Papa Richter Plate he renders a convincingly realistic German town against a larger squeegeed scene of flat, cartoon Smurf characters. With this visual contrast, Dadson reminds us of a painting’s potential to fool the eye and its inherent two-dimensionality.
The uncanny combinations of his intricate layering of imagery develop quite organically. Dadson achieves an underlying harmony with a spontaneous and rigorous process. He responds to certain visual elements, working and reworking areas, oftentimes even completely resurfacing entire sections. Dadson likens the natural rhythm of his paintings to the layered structure of music — each work has its own dynamic tempo, with crescendos and interludes, major and minor chords.  The artist’s palette, like the composer’s key, indicates the overarching mood. Admiring the powerful language of music and acknowledging its influence on his visual works, Dadson asserts that he’s a musician who happens to paint. 
Investing incredible time, labor, and skill in each painting, he orchestrates complex visual compositions that distinguish him amongst the emerging artists in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Beyond his intriguing appropriations of cultural imagery and his clever monetary inventions, Dadson enters into a longstanding exploration of painting’s ability to simultaneously present reality and represent illusion. In so doing, he produces art that is as intellectually stimulating as it is visually pleasing.
Artist in conversation with Viviana Vargas, 27 March 2005. [return to article]
Images courtesty Dunn and Brown.
Catherine Deitchman is a writer living in Dallas.