The Morning News - Dec. 4, 2008

Covering Northwest Arkansas

A Mystery In 'Monument And Memory': Powerful Paintings Are Weighty, Stately, Haunting

by Sara Sullivan

installation view, John Brown University

"Dark" and "angel" aren't words that seem well-suited to each other, but in Dan Addington's show, "Monument and Memory," on display at The Gallery at John Brown University, it's a match made in, well, heaven.

The paintings -- brimming with coffee, amber and blood-red colors tempered by teal green -- glow like embers in the gallery's low light.

Created with oil paint, tar, fabric and wax layered on raised wooden boxes, the works were designed to have the physical power of sculpture, Addington said.

When Addington -- who lives in Chicago, where he owns his own art gallery -- was studying painting in graduate school, he felt that regular paint wasn't enough. He wanted more texture, more thickness, almost like molding with clay.

He decided to experiment with the ancient Egyptian encaustic technique, and for a couple of bucks purchased a wheelbarrow full of beeswax from a beekeeper. Not long after, a bucket of roofing tar was left behind his building.

"When you're a student, anything that's free you'll try once," he said.

And, luckily for the rest of us, maybe a few times more. Because, though the first attempts at making art with his new materials were "all disasters," he kept experimenting.

He decided not to mix colors into the wax, which allowed it to retain its honey glow "so the light could get through it and bounce off the underlying surface," he said. And the blackness of the tar "almost seemed like it was eating the light up. They just seemed like materials that were made for each other."

As Addington was finally mastering his media, it was all brought into focus by a trip to Ireland where he was struck by "the ancientness" of everything.

"I wanted to make paintings that looked like they'd been dug up," he said in his easy voice. In the United States, everything is new and reinvented, he said. "Maybe I need to go in the opposite direction to find out what's really important."

As a creator and collector of art, Addington is attracted to works with a "sense of oldness," spiritual content and depth. He likes paintings that say, "There's a mystery here and you can become involved in it," he said.

Seems pretty accurate to me.

Veiled Glory

In "Veiled Glory," a striking upshot of a male angel figure is accented with red and green tapestry richly covered in smooth wax. A page of music notes is layered underneath. Swirls etched into the wax and streaks of tar make the painting almost seem like a faded old photograph, textured by time.

Look for phrases from Yeats' poetry etched into the surface of the paintings or in the titles. (Yeats was always a favorite of Addington's, and his words worked their way into the paintings after the trip to Ireland.) Also, don't neglect the sides of the paintings, which are quietly harboring obscured diagrams and designs. (And while we're on things to appreciate, note that across the street from the art building where "Monument and Memory" is being housed, there's a stately cemetery. I found it complementary.)

The works, ranging in subject matter from human figures to horses to crosses, are meant to touch people's emotions in different ways depending on where they're coming from, Addington said. "I think that's why art is different than, say, advertising," he said. "There isn't just one thing that you want people to feel."

But each painting is still about communication, he added. "I mean, I want (viewers) to hang out with them and spend time with them."

And that they can do from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday until Dec. 14.

Installation Shots: John Brown University

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