In his fifth solo presentation with Hugo Michell Gallery, opening on 22 March, James Dodd asks the question ‘where is the artist?’. The exhibition, titled Miller, features luminous paintings of swirls and trails, emerging from black backgrounds into energetic and mesmerising spiralling colour fields.
These shapes and marks are not made by hand though, they are generated via the Painting Mill, a machine constructed by Dodd to experiment with and produce paintings. An artwork in itself, the mill is a range of cordless drills attached to a gantry made of an old bicycle and roller blades. Growing up on a farm, Dodd has always been interested in tinkering and DIY. “I grew up with broken stuff being cobbled together, I’m really interested in how we can fix things using ingenuity, necessity and discovery.”
This curiosity with re-making and re-invention has continued into his art practice, where Dodd explores the historical role of the machine in art. Over a hundred years ago, The Futurists famously embraced the machine age and challenged the traditions of painting and painter. The Painting Mill is Dodd’s contribution to this ongoing discussion and in previous exhibitions he has included the art-generating mill as a form of performance to engage with the audience.
In this current exhibition however, the machine is not present. The audience is invited to see Dodd as the miller, the transformer of raw material into a fine-grained finished product through hand and machine. As Dodd says, “The artist and the miller are parallel, the miller understands the machine and works the machine to get the best outcome.”
Dodd’s practice is not bound strictly to the studio, extending to explorations of street and public culture. A current project is ‘River Cycle’ with Country Arts SA and Vitalstatistix’s ‘Climate Century’ program, where he is developing a fusion of a bicycle and a tinny to become both a physical and metaphorical vehicle for exploration.
So to answer his own question, where is the artist? In the case of James Dodd, he can be found in his studio operating his mill, in a gallery exhibiting his work or coming soon, peddling hard on a hand-made bicycle on the River Murray.
First appeared in The Adelaide Review, Issue 457.
Images: Mill Painting (Blue Greens), 2018, Acrylic on canvas, framed, 96 x 96cm; Mill Painting (Dusty Caramel), 2018, Acrylic on canvas, framed, 96 x 96cm, Photographer Sam Roberts Photography.