After returning from years of war coverage, Peter van Agtmael tries to piece together the memory, identity, race, class, and family, in a landscape which has become as surreal as the war he left behind.
Printmakers, sculptors, those who excel at drawing — all who practice the visual and plastic arts — are closely related in terms of temperament; and yet there are definite frontiers between each mindset, guarded by mysterious affinities.
Since the quality of the painted line has been his most abiding concern through three decades of strenuous effort, you could call him a drawing guy, rather than a painting guy. But that would miss the point. For a painter’s painter like Dibble, versed in the tensions of modernist work from Cezanne to DeKooning, the central activity of his art is to choreograph an ever more intense dance involving these two eternally incompatible partners.
The long stretch of art practice is something like dreaming. It takes place as much in the mind as in the studio, and time travel is commonplace. In recent large paintings on canvas, Dibble returns to themes and techniques that have preoccupied him since the age of 13, when he began a series of small line drawings. Those involved fantastic people and animals, mythic in feeling and rendered in a simple, uninflected graphic style reminiscent of Henri Matisse, or Jean Cocteau’s vivid sketches of Paris café life.
Flickering in front of these are lines that evoke a mythological scene. Toward the center a head is flung back along the broad body of a beast whose legs terminate in hoof- or foot-like appendages. Other faces hover, upside down or sideways, among marks that could represent landscape features. The total effect is like a vision of unknown constellations, mapped across swathes of a digitally cloned sky.
For the past 30-odd years, Dibble has earned a living as a professional roofer. Physically the artist has been shaped and tinted by long days in the sun and constant upper-body exercise. Glinting behind glasses, his blue eyes focus cautiously, and a white arc of T-shirt curves across his chest like freshly gessoed canvas.
Not as typical is Dibble’s longstanding devotion to esoteric meditative practices, which must also have a bearing on his fascination with visual repetition. In conversation about his work and motives he stresses issues of practice. He remarks, “I’m interested in what it shows me about myself. Immediately when I start to work I want to fall back on something known.” And he touches on the deeper reasons for his uncommon perseverance: “Mystery isn’t the problem, it’s the answer. How do you open to the feeling? I see there’s something that’s nourished in me (by certain approaches to the work) and I try to push. You have to be persistent; you don’t know what it is, but you’re preparing for something.”
[text written by Douglas Max Utter]
“Getting away from my work for a few days I realize I don’t know what it means to be an artist. Life’s pull is strong and I forget my aim. Fascinated with pop culture and the desire to create wealth I begin to fall asleep and get caught up in the grinding of life. Worries, anxieties and fear distract and hold my attention.
A certain freedom that was once possible is far away. Other people seem to know a secret about life and the importance of acquiring things; happily I’m ready to join them. Looking for balance and always hoping for a better tomorrow are my worst sins, not allowing me experience my life fully.
This might seem like it has nothing to do with painting but how I begin is important to me. If I start with what I know I usually get the same results. I can always paint a clever picture, that’s not my goal. I’m trying to make something with heart and authenticity, flavored with experimentation and discovery.
This is my situation, moment to moment, day to day and year to year. My wish is to live in the real world. I have a natural curiosity about my place on earth and a thirst for sincerity in all forms. These paintings are a glimpse into what happens when this very active inner life and the outer world come in contact.
I’m trying to approach the work as a tradesman approaches his job, in a very ordinary way, with a watchful attention and a certain confidence that comes from experience while at the same time searching for something new.”