In Sam Dargan’s fifth exhibition at the gallery the artist continues to combine and investigate the traditions of landscape painting and moments in history when revolutionary ambitions were possible.
The artist cites the rock band Neon Neon and specifically their album ‘Praxis Makes Perfect’ as the starting point for the body of work which spans three years in history.
The album in question introduced Dargan to the life of Italian left-wing publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli. Typical to Dargan’s working process the artist went on the historical trail of the revolutionary publisher via research which led him to the tragically romantic figure of Monika Ertl. Ertl was the daughter of cameraman Hans Ertl, famed for filming Nazi propaganda and who on fleeing Germany became a member of the armed political underground movement in Bolivia. Monika’s experiences when accompanying her father on filming expeditions along with her failed marriage into an old German mining family drove her underground and earned her the title of “Che Guevara’s avenger.” She was feasibly responsible for the murder of Bolivian colonel Roberto Quintanilla Pereira who was involved in the execution of Che Guevara and was killed by Bolivian security forces on May 12, 1973 in La Paz.
The series of paintings, some large scale others as intimate as the book covers they reference are painted in Dargan’s precise graphic style, with each gleaming pebble submerged in a muddy puddle finely picked out. And as with previous work there is a sense of cinematic foreboding; an abandoned car in an empty field, tyre marks leading in various directions towards an imposing mountain scape.
Dargan draws from a multitude of sources for his inspiration: music lyrics, political events, film, newspapers, underground movements, Romantic landscape painting and of course his own imagination. And in so doing offers the viewer numerous means of entry into what are deeply layered and ambitiously rendered paintings. Without the titles the audience has any number of ways to read the paintings, however epithets such as Mischeif Making at Fellowship Farm, Pottstown, PA, 9th March 1971 point to a specific geography and historical moment encouraging deeper readings of the work should one wish. And who wouldn’t want to be led to an underground revolutionary via an empty premonitory landscape?
American politics concurrent with those in Bolivia make their way into the paintings which as the exhibition title suggests are set between 1971 and 1973, incidentally around the time that the artist was born. Whilst reading about Ertl, Dargan was also researching a burglary at the FBI in Media, Pennsylvania. In 1971 a group calling themselves the Committee to Investigate the FBI revealed the extent of the FBI’s use of informants, coercion and general lawlessness under Hoover.
Through his artistic practice Dargan brings us back to the term praxis and asks if painting today can be a vehicle for critical thinking which leads towards reflection and perhaps even action.