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Dan Coombs: Heaven and Earth    May 25 - Jun 23, 2011


You would be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled on an early Modernist primitive exhibition as this new body of work from Dan Coombs quotes from both Gauguin and Matisse. But with the awkward nude figures and bold and psychedelic palette, this is Utopia with a dark edge.

Coombs is interested in the relationships between figures, both formally on the surface of the canvas and between the depicted individuals. Initially cut-outs from a plethora of sources (life drawing manuals, magazines, catalogues...), the figures first meet on the surface of a study for the painting to come. Some seem content to be there, others positively enthusiastic, bowed in introduction while others still are ambivalent, disinterested, turning away (Village). Unlike the early Modern dream, these figures abjectly refuse to sit harmoniously on the canvas, a reflection off real (as opposed to ideal) human relationships and their complexities, be they isolated (God III), an Edenesque couple (The Bat) or a community (Village).

And what of their surroundings? The figuration in Coombs' work lulls you into a false sense of security, reading surreal landscapes into luscious impastoed paint, bold flat strokes of colour or circular daubs of the brush. The sumptuous quality of the paint evokes the abstract and intuitive process of Coombs in building the composition up from collage and paint and reminds us that, though we are offered clues such as suggested skylines or rock formations, the work is one of paint and entirely fictitious.

So it is that the abstract / figurative binary forges just one of many polarities whose voids are deliberately left open to be explored and exploited by the viewer. Are the paintings a vision of Utopia or an abstract composition with figures littered across the surface? Are the 'God' paintings spiritual or blasphemous? Male or female? Or both? A polytheistic Hindu God or the familiar bearded Christian God evoked throughout the canon of Art History? Night or day? Perhaps it is a fusion of all these ideas. Hovering on the cusp of the symbolic, the imaginary and the real, Coombs deliberately leaves it open...

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