Gill Hedleyback

Curator & Contemporary Art Consultant

Dillwyn Smith

Gill Hedley speaking at Site Gallery, Sheffield, in 2006

Dirty Linen: Paintings and Drawings

Catalogue essay to accompany the exhibition by Dillwyn Smith at Patrick Heide Contemporary Art, 

image of one of Dillwyn's canvases

Over a decade the marvellous fluency and personal charge of energy in these paintings links homeopathy to Rothko, Arabia, electrical discharges and the Irish coastline. Dillwyn Smith observed his mother’s journey through Alzheimer’s when the spoken voice had left her and touch and silent conversations were all that was left. He realised that this was similar to painting: get out of a chair; put paint on canvas; go back and 'sense' if a dialogue is going on between us.

He was given homeopathy in his childhood and thought it worth trying to find the essence of paint.

Homeopathic remedies are made by crushing a plant or mineral substance in a solvent, then diluting further, repeating many times. After each dilution, the mixture is vigorously shaken in a process known as succussion. With generous and timely support from Nelsons UK, Dillwyn Smith created essences of cobalt blue, ivory black, cadmium red, chromium yellow and titanium white to add a metaphysical dimension to his colour fields.

As well as colour, and its powerful absence, these paintings derive tone and texture from a range of canvas which include hand and pre-dyed fabrics, nylon, hessian, linens, cotton duck, primed linen.

Dillwyn Smith arrived for a Mark Rothko Residency in Latvia, 2012, not with paint but material bought in a tailor’s shop in Oman, during another residency earlier that year. He sought out someone who could stitch and so began his dialogue with Daugavpils, the city of colour, where Rothko lived during his first ten years. The doors and windows of the city fascinated Dillwyn by their rhythm, fretwork and shutters, and the colour which surely must have imprinted itself in Rothko’s childhood mind.

In Oman, Dillwyn’s choice of colour had been infused with the light of the desert, flags and robes, veils, gauzed or blank. As well as his traditional knowledge of layering, saturating and glazing colour, he began to add texture and tensions using stitch and joins. Where tension pulls the fabric to a lopsided line, he lets it create drawn lines to catch the light.

He has recently made a series of Kirlian drawings in which an object is placed on photographic film over a metal plate that is subjected to high voltage so a corona discharge - or glow - between object and plate is caught on film.

In all these works a sublimated energy is harnessed, a secret life and subtle power beneath the surface of works that otherwise present clarity and calm. But throughout Dillwyn Smith’s work is a palpable joy in experiment with organic materials, fabric and pigment, and with light and its capture. He tests the potential of his paint, its fabric support and even the stretcher with a confidence that derives from a deep knowledge of his materials and the history of painting.