Saturday, November 1, 2014

Michael Dotson

There's an alluring sense of nostalgia in Michael's paintings. Disney has inundated us all with shared, collective childhood memories of characters and events that have never taken place. The past is comforting in its finitude, especially if we have positive associations with it, and it also lacks the chaos and uncertainty of the future. Through nostalgia, we shape the past in order to fit our own desire to idealize and control our memories and perceptions.
Michael's sexy centaur is taken from a Fantasia still. Fantasia is arguably one of the most ambitious, complex, and successful Disney movies ever made. Aside from how much the film has influenced Michael; it's also made a huge impact on Dan Colen, Alan Prazniak, as well as my own practice. The film encapsulates the feeling that anything is possible, and it manages to do so without pandering or losing any of its sinister beauty and mystery. The idea of boundless capability is so thoroughly tied to the American dream and the ethos upon which this country was founded. The ideal can be easily viewed as pernicious if taken to the extremes of Manifest Destiny, however it can also be a very powerful and transformative belief. It's the same desire that lies at the heart of so many of Nietzsche's writings, this yearning to make the most of ourselves, even if we do exist in a world that's no where close to perfect, and also what makes reading Nietzsche such an invigorating and profound experience.
I am drawn to how Michael blurs the line between childhood and sexuality, especially since the division is artificial. As much as our society at large would like to pretend that children are sexless, mindless, puppets, we can control on a string, we are born into this world as sexual beings with powerful drives, and instincts that no amount of denial or moralizing can suppress.
Many of Michael's paintings remind me of Agnes Varda's Le bonheur. The New Wave film is a brilliant critique of happiness, monogamy, and the institution of marriage. Varda used the music of Mozart, and the aesthetic of Impressionism to evoke an ebullient and cheery environment, beneath that simmers a dark and callous reality. Varda views Impressionist paintings as being some of the saddest ever made, because the Impressionists tried so hard to evoke this bucolic sense of joy. Similarly, Michael appropriates images from Disney that when taken out of context often reveal a disturbing and insidious undercurrent. Playfully riffing off of Munch's Scream, as well as Francis Bacon's bellowing, alienated figures; Michael achieves a concurrent sense of dislocation and detached horror. Using a female subject on the verge of mental collapse is also a departure from modernist paintings that romanticize the emotional breakdowns of men.

Michael's Cinderella, shares a parallel with Anne Sexton, who found her voice through satirizing fairy tales, and interjecting an autobiographical feminist critique. Here is an excerpt from Sexton's Cinderella:

He went to their house and the two sisters
were delighted because they had lovely feet.
The eldest went into a room to try the slipper on
but her big toe got in the way so she simply
sliced it off and put on the slipper.
The prince rode away with her until the white dove
told him to look at the blood pouring forth.
That is the way with amputations.
They just don't heal up like a wish.
The other sister cut off her heel
but the blood told as blood will.
The prince was getting tired.
He began to feel like a shoe salesman.
But he gave it one last try.
This time Cinderella fit into the shoe
like a love letter into its envelope.

There is an unsettling psychological intensity as well as ambiguity coursing through this painting; it's both comical and horrifying. Ariel's facial expression is not unlike Bernini's orgasming Saint Teresa. Are they drowning or cuming at the same time?! The scene not only brings to mind Richard Bosnan's despair ridden depictions of people drowning, but also Mike Kelley's very funny and elucidating essay, Notes on Caricature, in which he mentions, "a current television game show called Double Dare," that, "features on-the-verge-of-adolescent boy/girl teams in sports activities that often require them to cover each other in gooey foodstuffs. At certain points they must fish into facilely suspect substances labelled 'brain juice', 'mashed maggots', 'fish lips', 'dead worms', and so on, in order to win prizes. Part of the show's attraction to youth of that age is surely their fear of their dawning sexuality, which is associated with taboo, or 'disgusting' activities and substances...Double Dare occasionally brings on parents, whose submersion in gunk obviously has a different meaning: this is the pure pleasure of defiling an authority figure."