‘The body is a powerful tool to characterize the identity of a character – from the inside to the outside. The English artist, Graham Dean transmits an essential part of the emotions and psychological states of his characters whether they be beautiful models, athletes, crazy bondage enthusiasts, identical twins, people with skin imperfections, – all using their bodies as vehicles of expression.
He is essentially a painter of identity. But more than the identity of the body, it is the identity of the soul as evoked by these sumptuous watercolours. Like Egon Schiele who was researching in mental hospitals to study his subjects, Graham Dean loves these oddball characters who voluntary use their bodies often in extreme situations. His images are recomposed in a creative alchemy, mixing people, body parts and time itself. Although the works are representational, they escape the illustrational to reach a universal form from something deeply personal. He has also used buildings, mysterious ships, confessionals in churches, forests, trains, to enhance these atmospheric moods.
For Graham Dean, the body is a ‘holding-pen of emotions’, a ‘thinking body’ similar to the research done by Wilhelm Reich. His characters are the receptacles of these emotions, ideas, and memories. They are witnesses of the human condition and our complex relationship with the world. Our individuality, our identity is formed by this interaction of our inner lives which is constantly penetrated and altered by the outside world. Graham’s painting is an investigation between the inside and the outside, the surface and what lies beneath. Arms, faces, torsos, legs become interchangeable – anonymous but recognisable, The body becomes a canvas, torn and stretched, a vehicle for the imagination of the artist. The works are open to interpretation, free, as are the movements of watercolour, colours and sensual shapes.
Using a technique he calls ‘’reverse archaeology’’, Graham Dean re-invents the traditional uses of watercolour resulting in a unique technique. Contrasting layers of paint are applied separately on thick, handmade paper from Southern India. Each sheet has undergone a process of tearing and overlapping to create a final composition, this corresponds to the multiple layers of the epidermis which protects the human body. The process is organic and cyclical, the paintings appear fragmented and destroyed using sections(front and back) that lead to a renaissance in the form of a new composition.
The choice of colours and contrasts is important to Graham Dean : like the English landscape painter John Constable, the use of red accentuates the dramatic effect of green and yellow. These powerful and bright colours like those found in silk saris, fascinated him when he had a residency in Trivandrum, Kerala in Southern India. The application of paint glazes (multiple, transparent layers) create intensity and depth, as in Rothko. The juxtaposition of complimentary colours creates strong, theatrical works. The artist illuminates his figures in the manner of a filmmaker, pointing to body parts, which are also found in the videos of the artist.
Intoxicated by the colour and the pleasure he takes in his touch, Graham Dean likes the thickness of the paper and the sensual, exotic properties of transparency and opacity. Just as Peter Doig builds the work of materials (sets of textures, colours – pure and mixed), he creates painted atmospheres. Moving forms which escape our gaze, disintegrate before our eyes . We admire his mastery of pigments suspended in water.’