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Since 1990, the kite has been a recurring symbol in Mark Dutney's work, featured in at least eight solo exhibitions. Becoming a signatory element, the kites have evolved as autobiographical representations and abstractions of the artist's life and his work as a medical practitioner. These familiar forms have hovered surreally from gallery walls, depicting various aspects of the human condition.
Upon taking up a position in Canada in 2001, Dutney found himself captivated by his new environment and its contrast to home. The precise geometry of the kite has now been replaced by the delicate details of nature, with intimate watercolours forming a record of his journey to and experiences of Prince Edward Island. The objects are all significant, quietly reflecting progression, transformation, fragility and transition.
‘Prince Edward Island-Spring to Fall' 2001, is a beautifully executed series, outlining the artist's journey; a journey which has allowed him to renew his links with nature through a quiet and concentrated portrayal of natural form. The work is presented as a series of twenty-nine artist books, each featuring one original work, numbered and signed. Arranged chronologically, the series spans four months from June to October. Dutney's meditative approach to the narrative is underscored by his signing the works on the back, ensuring that the nature of the work is not interrupted.
As Jane O'Neill states in her catalogue essay, 'Family & Friends-in Andy's Footsteps' 'is a personal history based upon footwear belonging to the artist, his friends and family'. This collection of subtle watercolours gives us a sometimes revealing, sometimes lighthearted, sometimes emotional insight into the Dutney world. A portrait, by definition, is 'a likeness of a person; a statement made firstly by the sitter, who wants to be seen in a particular way, and secondly by the artist, who wishes to present or represent that person'.1 At first inspection, we see a collection of forty-six intricate renderings of shoes, each pair isolated in space, giving us no obvious clues as to the wearer. On closer inspection we realise that the placement of the works, as well as the shoes themselves, are of importance to the reading of the collection. The works are arranged in the space as a family tree. Beginning in a corner with the Dutney's parents, the works then branch out in opposite directions to reveal offspring, partners, children, and siblings, all deliberately placed to suggest relationship. Friends of the artist and family members separated by vast distance are positioned further away from the family group, but still within reach, maintaining the bonds that connect them.
Within the works, Dutney plays with anthropomorphic characteristics, a device which is carried over from his earlier kites, often endowed with human characteristics. Peter Dutney's triathlon shoes pensively hover in their bag, not yet ready to show themselves, while brothers Paul and Sam are clearly very different personalities, as is suggested by the contrasting arrangement of their joggers.
Prompted by the title of this series, the viewer is tempted to search for 'Andy's' shoes. It becomes apparent that Andy is indeed Andy Warhol, who used footwear as a recurring theme up to the early sixties. Dutney's encounter with a Warhol watercolour drawing of a stiletto shoe from the fifties, coupled with an admiration for the intricate watercolours of Brisbane artist and friend, Eugene Carchesio, inspired this series. Warhol was noted for his ability to depersonalise a subject through repetition. In contrast, Mark Dutney has taken an object, the shoe, and imbued it with a richness of human spirit which echoes the personality of its wearer.
1. Lou Chamberlain, Art Insight, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Sydney, 1996, p.194.