Dillwyn Smith has a most unusual technique, he gives us a labour of love, a quiet ease around the stitching of nylon fabrics which gently moves us on to deeper matters. These large new works contain a new light - there is precarious illumination which comes at us layered, striped, watered down, occasionally not of this earth, but subaqueous and reified. Dillwyn has made some new mystic moves and has been ‘a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about him; he has trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants’.
How important it is that Dillwyn is not English, that he is half Welsh and Half Irish, that he is a genuine Celt? It is very important, it matters because this means that certain things are there in Dillwyn’s work now that the English have no access to. It is, above all else, around colour and light that this delicacy of perception comes home to roost, like a dove brooding upon the waters. It matters because, as Walter Pater insisted: ‘all art’ does indeed ‘aspire to the condition of music’ and Dillwyn’s new work has finally managed the magic metamorphosis into synaesthesia.
For hours we have been thinking about how the new work is to be shown, to be displayed, to be allowed to perform its fulgent colloquies upon the eyes of those lucky enough to try and see into it and through it? What are these things he now creates? – paintings they are not. They are tricky boxes of colour, wobbly flags with no nation, rat traps for light rays, quilts without beds, aesthetic dirty laundry hung out to dry, lovely textiles shifting in sun and wind, The Colour of Pomegranates comes to mind. They are offcuts from a coat of many subdued colours, a soft coat of arms, the inspired motley this triumphant Harlequin artist has earned the right to parade.
This work not only moves us, it moves into us, constantly performative it makes its own rhythms. These rhythms of time and of colour exist outside ‘tick tock time’, working time. The fruit of his loom is work that does not ‘clock in’ and ‘clock out’, time works within it and around it now, time and light, mysteriously married. Disciplined lyricism, the unstable stabilized, quicksilver trapped until a common greyness silvers everything, not easy things to pull off. This is work that demands contemplation, not in a grand way, but in a revivifying way, as quiet and necessary as a day-dream. Such work comes about rarely and through intense testing – some parts of the great Russian Icons have it, some of the maroon and burgundy rectangles of late Rothko, and those strange, restrained pages of Capitals from The Book of Kells, they definitely have it. Yes the Irish thing again, in Dillwyn’s new work we approach the poetics of interlacement, a fabricated fluidity, disciplined but organic, beyond the hard geometric trickery of Cubism. Dillwyn’s fabrics are utilitarian too and embody an artistic commentary upon an entire Kingdom. He told me once that he was working with cloths which are deeply, symbolically, enmeshed and locked into the cultures and social politics of Oman. The fabrics are turned into the traditional Dishdasha worn by men. Many of the colours of these garments carry tribal significations, relating to the identities of ethnic groups. A certain yellow, for example, is exclusive to the people of the deep South in Salalah on the border with Yemen. Other colours relate to social standing and the stratifications of labour. That lovely maroon which so haunted and haunts my gaze is in fact the cloth worn by domestic workers, and so is not only beautiful but burdened with the labour of millions. The white cloths are reserved for administrators and government functionaries. Several of the grays and browns relate to the Oman elite. And so Dillwyn’s work creates a democracy of colour mixing, melding, interlacing the social and ethnic patterns of the tip of the Arabian Peninsula. As he makes those light damasks float Dillwyn creates a celebratory garb, which somehow, by hook or by crook, has made a whole society (embedded in inequality) float, light up, caper in gentle curvature, upon his wooden skeletons.
Maybe what is most magical about what we now see is that many of the fabrics are nylons, imported to Oman from Japan. He takes flimsy gauzes impregnated with chemical aniline dies, he makes his textile mosaics out of them, and suddenly they can do, they do do, the strangest things before our eyes and to our eyes. Only the great creative magicians perform such Alchemy upon the senses. James Joyce in the Nausicaa chapter of Ulysses took the language of cliché, thrown in saccharine heaps into girl’s romantic magazines, and then transformed the cinders of a dull dead language into Gerty McDowell’s soaring love song. Dillwyn takes garish bolts and bales of nylon, hung about with a grim whiff of the sweat shop, and turns them into geometric kaleidoscopes which albeit briefly can make our ugly little world tumultuously bright.
Words by Marcus Wood