Frightening Utopias: Chris Dorland at Winkleman Gallery
by: Serena Qiu
September 19, 2012
In a timely reaction to the rousing and the return of galleries from summer hibernations, Chris Dorland has assembled an ominously enticing body of work at Winkleman Gallery, presented under the title “PERMANENT VACATION.” Rather than a press release, Dorland released a video trailer online in which a man’s deep voice beckons with seduction and some malice: “Are you looking for more meaning in your life—a sense of happiness? […] Sounds like what you need is a vacation. A Permanent Vacation.” The gravelly narration is delivered over a montage of color-adjusted commercials featuring luxury products, which warps the idyllic into something demonic.
The trailer’s closest relative in the exhibition is a short, single-channel video installation Dorland made in 2012, which also lends its title to the show. In his explanation of PERMANENT VACATION, Dorland says: “Taking its cues from the power of film, music videos and advertising, the short video appropriates the seductive high res imagery of desire, freedom, and yearning that is an all too common hook used in our corporate consumer culture.”
PERMANENT VACATION is the thematic connecting thread for the rest of the exhibition, comprised largely of Dorland’s more recent painting series, which are interspersed and presented without description or chronology.
The most starkly striking of which are his logo paintings—enlarged re-renderings of corporate and commercial logos in single color gradients on a largely black ground. The logos for Chase Bank or Toyota, which have become so familiar and iconic, take on an uncanny and somewhat menacing glint on Dorland’s canvases. The show also features a series of works Dorland refers to as “Simulations”; these feature abstracted and almost unrecognizable images taken from mass media on harshly neon colors. The trick is that these are not traditional prints, but oils on canvas. Dorland is known not only for his deftness as a painter, but also for a sharp wit that he communicates both visually and verbally. The third series featured in this exhibition are part of Dorland’s “Bild Müll”—German for “building waste,” or literally as “garbage images.” For these paintings, Dorland gathers found images in an assemblage that looks as though it has been vandalized and are weathering away on some urban wall.
Dorland, who started as a graffiti writer in his early teens, is deeply drawn to accumulation and iteration in urban environments. In earlier paintings, Dorland would digitally manipulate images of architecture, and produce multiple versions of a single composition before painting it. There is a gravity to these brightly colored visions—they demonstrate a proximity between hope and horror, utopia and dystopia. In eloquence and irreverence, Dorland once succinctly summed up his own work using three telling words: “Corporate. Paranoid. Hyperreal.”
PERMANENT VACATION is on view through October 20, 2012 at Winkleman Gallery.