Various Seductions
    Troy Dalton
    Olga Dollar Gallery, San Francisco
 
The Birth of Cain 1993
acrylic on linen, 104 x 96 inches
 
 
 

Troy Dalton's current exhibition operates on two distinct and not entirely compatible levels: first, in three large paintings that refigure the mythology of the Garden of Eden and, secondarily, as documentation of the process of realizing those paintings, via a large number of preparatory watercolors and graphite drawings. There is, of course, nothing intrinsically good or bad in such layered texts and contexts of production, but the result, on this occasion, is rather more murky than revelatory.

Dalton's work is rich in imagery, complex in composition and not infrequently imposing in scale. Though one may sympathize with the desire of artist and gallery to present as much as possible, this installation - in which every available surface carries at least one piece - affords but a poor environment for such already over-saturated work. Indeed, the effect - perhaps inadvertent, perhaps not - is to lend Dalton's somewhat lurid imagery, and the exhibition as a whole, a distinctly oppressive, even obsessive, ambiance, a sensation heightened by the sheer yet undoubtedly intentional excess of the art itself.

This excess, however, does not mask what may be a fundamental lacuna in Dalton's conception. Those who see in such refigurings of myth the potential for substantive cultural critique will be, to put it mildly, disappointed; the frank sexuality of much of Dalton's imagery appears to be a departure from tradition, but such departures are finally more illusory than real. It is the role of female sexuality which remains largely unexamined here, though one could hardly say the same for the female body; the various Seductions, for example, particularly the large graphites, might only be redeemed parodistically, an interpretive possibility unfortunately unsupported by available evidence.

Dalton at times succeeds in bravura execution, however. Spatialization in the final version of The Birth of Cain (1993) is especially noteworthy, a complex interlocking of figure and color that threatens to tip forward of the canvas in a profoundly disconcerting illusion; similar virtues animate the atavistic vision of The Death of Knowledge (1994). It is also with some irony, perhaps not unexpected, that many of the exhibition's greatest pleasures are found in the smaller works - a series of palm-size Lilith watercolors, decidedly Symbolist in spirit, show Dalton to be an evocative miniaturist.

The exhibition's earliest work, a Lilith from 1990, seems to derive from a slightly different sensibility than the later works; the evidence, perhaps, of a road not taken, it no less marks a direction which Dalton might well explore further. Although substantial in scale, its expansive compositional space aligns it with many of the smaller studies for the recent series. Significantly, though, its repeatedly distressed surface - once stretched and now unstretched, and extensively abraded—lends to its ghostly presence the conspicuously reflexive dimension necessary to Dalton's allegorical aspirations.