Bad tattoos should not be a mark of shame but a badge that a person was impulsive, had questionable judgment or, in place of a better word, was young. Sadly, the contemporary art world is overpopulated with work made by artists who were never young enough to have had a bad tattoo, resulting in a glut of safe, bland art that neither offends nor thrills. The commitment to a tattoo when you are young, to what in retrospect might seem a terrible idea, is what I most appreciate about the art of Gina Dawson.
Her large sculptures are layers upon layers of personal signifiers and pop-culture references that constantly feel like they’re just about to fall in on themselves. Creating a visual tension is what happens when art is at its best or at least its most interesting. The tension comes from understanding the choices the artist has made, while at the same time sensing that the work is being pushed to its limits. This is the risk artists face tenfold every time they put new work out into the world, desperately hoping it won’t fall flat on its face. Dawson ups this ante even further by including very meticulously constructed objects into her large collaged sculptures, making it apparent that if the piece fails it will be at the cost of a great deal of time and effort.
Dawson’s large amorphous sculptures are built up with various found objects and leftovers from previous sculptures. Each piece is tantamount to a small group show, locating Dawson’s art within a specific cultural milieu. The sculptures lay bare not only the things that meld together in Dawson’s subconscious as a creator, but more importantly open a window into the specific tastes and interests that define her as a person.
There is a generosity to Dawson’s art: in many ways, the point of the work is that it is okay not to like it. Almost everything that goes into her pieces are, on the surface, cultural waste that clogs up lawn sales–from bright gaudy puzzles to Scream movies, large porcelain Dalmatians and pink geodes. Not liking these things is completely reasonable, but Dawson has an uncanny eye for color and her skill at self-curating elevates all these discarded objects in such a loving fashion that it is hard to understand how anyone could doubt their value. What Dawson has done is make-work for all of us who unapologetically indulge in guilty pleasures, love lawn sales and are completely at peace following our inclinations regardless of conventional cultural values. Dawson has made a body of work that revels gloriously in the self-confidence to dance awkwardly at weddings, sing off key at karaoke, generally enjoy oneself and end up with a bad tattoo or two.
Gina Dawson was born in Dallas, TX and lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. She received a BFA from the University of North Texas in 2002 and an MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 2005. She has had solo exhibitions in Paris and Boston as well as multiple group exhibitions in Texas, Boston, Baltimore, and New York. Dawson has a diverse studio and sculptural practice, which mostly involves incredibly laborious processes that often result in objects she is unsatisfied with. Like most artists this leads her to make even more objects.
Carl Gunhouse is an Adjunct Faculty member at Nassau Community College and Montclair State University. He received his M.F.A. from Yale University and B.F.A. from Fordham University. Carl’s work has exhibited at Photoville, Spring Break Art Show, the Center for Photography at Woodstock, the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Modern Art, the Foto Galería FCE-UNC, Córdoba, Argentina, as well as shows in England, Russia, Sweden, Netherlands, Iceland, Finland and New Zealand. His pictures have been featured in Vice, The New York Times and Maximum Rocknroll. He has had monographs published by Waal-Boght Press and Arts & Sciences Press. He is a co-founder and director of Transmitter Gallery. He also writes art criticism on the website Searching for The Light. Carl has recently been working on a project on professional wrestling, punk rock and Downtown Brooklyn.