Saturday, November 11, 2017

What Dreams May Come: Michael Dandley

Before and After, by Michael Dandley, 10 x 9 inches, gouache on paper
Michael Dandley creates vivid renderings of a transforming planet. The paintings in Dreamscapes (at Portsmouth NH's Nahcotta Gallery through Nov. 26), are postcards from a future in which the natural landscape has gone on without us after we're gone. They're suspiciously gorgeous to look at in person, as if meant to grip and hold us like a car crash from which we can't look away. 

Dandley's gouache technique (gouache is like watercolor but opaque, like acrylic) is masterful and the drawing precise. The colors are saturated, "fearless in hyper-pigmentation," as Nahcotta puts it. It's what draws one in to understand that Dandley "consistently renders what could have been misconstrued as a straightforward and quotidian landscape, cityscape, or tableau, into something paranormal and fantastical.... Everything feels just a bit hallucinogenic."

In Inconvenient Innovation, a school of nautiluses sport an unlikely adaptation - or is it a mutation? - in the form of a fusion between the animals and some kind of industrial scaffolding. 

Inconvenient Innovation, gouache on paper, 4 x 7.5 inches

The title brings Al Gore's work on climate change to mind, and the image, like much of the work in Dreamscapes, evokes the increasingly uneasy relationship between modern civilization and the natural world. The irony in "Inconvenient Innovation" is that many scientists agree we have initiated a new, human-dominated geological era, the Anthropocene, and that we are accelerating the planet’s sixth mass extinction. Huge amounts of the planet's life don'thave enough time to adapt or evolve. We are destroying entire species at a rate between 1,000 and 10,000 times the normal "background" extinction rate and virtually eliminating the prospect of human survival as the planet’s environmental changes outpace scores of species’ ability to "innovate" a way out. (Read more about that here.)

Swamp Rising
In Swamp Rising, nature seems to be reclaiming a decaying, perhaps post-apocalyptic trestle. But nature in what form? A golden, acidic-looking liquid pours from a broken pipe, irrigating a sickly green swamp from which ghostly vegetation, drained of color, rises against a clouded, violet-gray sky.

Blue Skies

Though dark in subject, the work itself is radiant, almost whimsical; the bright colors are anything but morbid. The combination of whimsey and dread is a rare one.

Dandley lives and works in Portsmouth, and while he has shown in group shows at Nahcotta, this is his first solo show.

The rest of this writing quotes Nahcotta's wall text: 

"These works explore lands fatigued from human use. After we have touched a landscape, the landscape still has a future. Echoes of today resonate within these spaces - looming anxieties of war, environmental disaster, and commonplace infrastructure give the impression that the scenes represented are not too far from our own."

One Plot
"Many are cast in a future where people are gone, but their footprints remain. Physical structures crumble, yet emotional energies remain - depicted by surreal color and lighting. If places know they have a purpose, Dreamscapes imagines they carry that memory into the future even after we have forgotten them."

The Scene


  1. Thanks so much for bringing the work of Michael Dandley to our attention, Chris. I am drawn into and repelled by these works, and recognize the necessity of his making and our viewing them. These vivid "hallucinogenic" scenes called Dreamscapes lure us into realms that our species can not or will not contemplate because they implicate us in our own annihilation. This is another vital role that artists take on and I'm grateful that Michael Dandley is doing so with such haunting beauty and powerful imagination.

  2. Thanks for your note, Kim! Well said - hear, hear!