We are all familiar with the concept of action painting, the spontaneous throwing, dripping, smearing, splashing of paint on canvas. However you feel about it, it is an unmissable aspect of painting itself, and let's face it, you secretly want to try it.
The Southport-born artist Alex Dodgson does exactly that – he allows his audience to act on those not-so-secret creative urges and offers himself up as a blank canvas to throw paint at. As we chat over a cup of tea I see no paint dripping from his chin, yet he oozes creative energy. "I very much like the visceral application of paint; I always wanted to be a painter but I'm just not so confident in my abilities."
Having faced what can be described as young artist's challenges: anxiety and self-doubt in his artistic oeuvre, he stumbled upon the ideas of Relational Aesthetics and began to consider his potential audience an essential element in not only witnessing his art-making, but taking an active part in the process. “I like the idea that human relationships are all art boils down to and emphasising that is crucial to a good contemporary piece of work.”
His work I Will Never See It Coming is a video recording of the artist standing outside in the university courtyard surrounded by fellow students, waiting for their turn to grab a plastic cup filled with colour to hurl at the artist. Giggling, shouting, some carefully dripping the watery paint onto his white T-shirt, others are seemingly disinterested, but still hover around to have a look. Outside in the cold, Dodgson is shaking noticeably, accompanied by the spontaneous 'Ooooh!'s and 'Aaaah!'s coming from the crowd. “It was in the middle of November and people were throwing wet, cold paint at me. Some were really enthusiastic and just wanted to throw paint for the visual effect, others were trying to try and put me off and even though it was obvious that I was going through a tough time; people still laughed, and still enjoyed it. Every time I've done it since, it's been a very similar response.” Not quite emotional, he recalls the experience as “cathartic; it was more of an abjectification of emotion. A visual approach to it.”
In terms of the mediums used, the artist is keen to avoid labelling. “I am not a performance artist, I am not a photographer, not just a painter but I can use any element I find to bring projects together.” After the performance there is always a video, photographs, and the painting – the canvas, which is either behind or underneath him in the process. However, the thing that he values the most is the experience itself, the thoughts his audience will take away from it and the reactions it causes. “It's a self-reflective experience for everybody involved.”
Describing himself as “not necessarily lonely”, but independent, through his work Dodgson highlights the range of emotions provoked by his performances. Throughout is time at university, which he perceives as very competitive, he was faced with the discouragement of those who refused to take his work seriously, which is precisely what fuelled the responses. “It brings out people's most primal attitudes, you really see key parts of their personality.”
Despite dealing with fairly dark, personal themes, the performances are still somewhat reminiscent of children's games and Dodgson easily accepts humour as part of the process. “I want people to laugh, they can laugh at me too. But not everyone has such positive reactions, some really struggle to appreciate it.” This may be the case, but Dodgson cannot complain about the lack of interest. After the Leeds University Graduate Show he was interviewed by the BBC and chosen as one of ten artists to win The Free Range Emerging Art Award.
Future plans? It seems that Dodgson is not going to succumb to post-graduation blues. “I think when you leave university you always need to have time for a bit of personal turmoil, but in a few months time it will start to come back. It's about balance and enthusiasm. Hopefully in the next few years I'll have some more to say.” We're looking forward to it!
Words by Maja Lorkowska