Jeffrey Dennis

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from: The Independent 15th July 2003

Crisis of Connections, Art Space Gallery (Michael Richardson Contemporary Art), 84 St Peter Street, London N1 (020 7359 7002) to 2 August

Culture broadly follows trends, and art is no exception. One minute, everyone is a pop artist; then, they are all conceptualists or neo-realists, heavy on the old irony. But Jeffrey Dennis is a real one-off. His paintings do not look like anyone else's. He may have the academic credentials behind him - one-time tutor at the Ruskin School of Fine Art, now senior lecturer in painting on the Chelsea School of Art BA - but it is not the academic qualities of his paintings that strike the first chord, but their oddness and idiosyncrasy. Whether or not you fall in love with them will probably depend on a rather intuitive and personal response - but they certainly demand attention and time. They are hard to describe. The surfaces are a disarray of tiny circles - rather like clusters of pebbles or reptilian skin - and fragmented objects. Sometimes the paint is so thick that it becomes nodular and lumpy. Juxtaposed against these areas, like stills in a film or views through a window, are odd scenes painted with meticulous realism. The works have names such as The Interrupted Meal, 2001, and The Delivery, 2002, which features a white van in the window-like frames. The titles imply a narrative that is impossible to pin down. Things seem as though they should make sense but they don't. As if this wasn't complicated enough, the "scaly" areas are littered with strange sections of white pipe. Some are broken, some have U-bends and often they have been loosely connected by a line of white thread, like a row of bones. Other objects such as a bicycle wheel or machinery also litter these sections. It is hard to know what to make of such paintings. One of the most profound influences on Dennis has been the work of the Victorian fairy artist, Richard Dadd. In Dadd's The Fairy Feller's Masterstoke, c1858-64, (now in the Tate), the artist creates a convincing Lilliputian world that is at once mad and utterly convincing. Dennis is clearly not mad. Yet there seems to be some way that he uses this counterpoint between the "reality" of his "window" images and the fragmented surfaces to explore the nature of dreams and how we remember things and try to make connections. On a more technical level Dennis seems to enjoy playing with the nuances that exist between painting and photography (to which he acknowledges a debt). Though the small "windows" seem photographic in their realism, they in fact owe everything to the technical mastery of paint.
Sue Hubbard