Ours is a world of sensory overload — both visual and aural — in which we are constantly being bombarded with sensations which we cannot assimilate except in a very desultory manner.
For all the sensory stimulation with which our world of mass-mediated images provides us, the net result is an anaesthetization rather than a heightening of the senses. By contrast, Dawn’s works radiate a quiet luminosity using extremely subtle and minimalist means. She is concerned in these works with how far one can pare back an image to its simplest elements while still maintaining a sense of tension and emotional intensity.
Through her understated play with colour and the edges between forms, Dawn’s works have an almost hypnotic quality about them. In contrast with the blatantly eye-catching images of the media whose impact is instant but ephemeral, the full effect of Dawn’s works emerges only after prolonged immersion in them.
They are works which invite quiet meditation — not in a detached, intellectual manner, but rather, in such a way that one comes to feel a part of the works themselves.
In this respect, her work is reminiscent of that of Rothko. Like Rothko, Dawn builds up her works through layering though she employs soft pastel, pure pigment and oil stick on paper rather than paint on canvas.
Mostly, she applies the pigment by directly ‘massaging’ it into the paper so that it does not sit on the surface but becomes embedded in it. In doing so, she treats the surface more like a skin with its own tactile qualities rather than as a flat, lifeless, two dimensional plane.
This creates a soft, velvety effect but at the same time, her application of colour to the paper is not entirely amorphous but is punctuated by more hard-edged lines, both straight and curved. It is her play with the different types of edges-some hard-edged and clearly defined, others softer and more graduated-which generates the sense of tension or ‘friction’ in her work.
Borders are often emotionally charged regions, making out the known from the unknown, the self from the other, inside from outside etc. as the anthropologist Mary Douglas has pointed out, and the uneasiness provoked by the tenuousness of these boundaries is expressed well in Dawn’s works where the lines of delineation are constantly threatening to dissolve.
In her works there is a constant duality between the softness and strength of the borders in which the straight lines (normally seen as ‘strong’) are often softened by blurring the edges which the curved lines (normally seen as ‘softer’) are strengthened by more clearly delineating them. Ambiguities in spacial relationships are also created by the placement of one line or form over another.
Besides her use of line, the other notable feature of Dawn’s work is her employment of colour. Dawn has selected warm colours which seem to glow with an inner luminosity. She works in a semi-dark space which heightens this effect. Through her use of colours, her works seem to radiate and pulsate with an energy of their own.
In this respect, they present a marked contrast with the austerity of much minimalist art of the 60’s where the sensual qualities of colour and light tended to be subordinated to the rationalist logic of formal geometry. The luminosity in Dawn’s works is suggestive of some spiritual force animating nature and indeed, one can see resonances between her work and Zen philosophy with its animistic view of nature. What also makes the colours in Dawn’s works come alive is their volumetric quality.
Rather than employing flat blocks of uniform colour, she creates subtle graduations of hues through variations in the number of layers of pigment applied to the surface. This gives her works a sense of infinite depth. Thus, even though her works are a more intimate scale than Rothko’s they still have a feeling for spaciousness about them.
One could perhaps sum up Dawn’s works by saying that through them, one finds the infinite through the intimate.
Dr Llewellyn Negrin 2000
Senior Lecturer in Art Theory
School of the Arts
University of Tasmania Hobart Australia