Jeffrey Dennis

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Roberta Smith The New York Times 11th January 1991

Jeffrey Dennis is a young English painter whose eccentric realist style mixes the pleasures of paint and the omnipotence of nature with the harsh realities of working-class life. His relatively small, densely-packed canvases, with their abrupt shifts in scale and imagery and their nonsensical narratives, have an Alice in Wonderland quality: you never know what might pop up next. But the sense of life filtering through the artist's earnest, hard-won renderings is more John Steinbeck or Budd Schulberg than Lewis Carroll.
"Heartwood", one of the largest paintings in Mr Dennis's exhibition at Salvatore Ala, consists mainly of green peas painted several times their normal size. There's a fecund, claustrophobic obsessiveness to this surface that makes nature seem almost monstrous, until you realize that shelled peas occur in such quantity only when they are being grown and packaged for mass consumption. One has the sudden sensation of looking at an assembly-line vat that is the bane of someone's existence. The same goes for the lima beans of "Pearly Gates" and the platelet-like tomato-tinged pasta of "Confirmation".
The tiny figures and scenes embedded in Mr Dennis's strangely patterned surfaces almost always show people at work or on their way, sweeping, building, hurrying along sidewalks or crowding onto moving escalators. Burrowing in and out of these other elements is a third motif: networks of conduit and pipe that add another twist to the sense of scale while suggesting a vast infrastructure that is either being built or coming apart...