Nicola Harvey, Frieze, 26 February 2008
There is apparently a new drug-resistant superbug burrowing its way into a minority of the San Francisco population. It's been named USA300 and by all accounts it could cause havoc on a mammoth scale. Under a microscope though, enlarged to titan proportions, this noxious bacteria is a visual splendour. Phosphorescent greens and an inky teal, usually reserved for the depths of the ocean, delicately encircle the pink nucleus. Such abstract precision reminds me that manmade attempts at luminosity are so often belittled by the boldness of nature's own. The recent paintings of British artist Dan Perfect attempt to evoke a similar spectacle, but (aptly) succeed in revealing a Petri dish-type imagined universe defined by garish colours, morphed organic or architectural forms, and floating fragments of comic characters. It is a world in which even Ren and Stimpy would struggle to be heard.
Dominating the cavernous gallery space of Chisenhale are seven large paintings in oils and acrylics, each battling with the other for attention. At first glance the paintings could, reductively, be described as slightly manic abstractions. There is an obvious predilection for vivid mark-making, yet Perfect is engaged with neither the tactility nor limitations of the medium itself. There is a contrived deliberateness in each stroke that alludes to the possibility of every element of the work being representative. Aleph (2007) first appears to be a mash-up of earthy tones and harrowed scribbles, cemented to the canvas by a spray-painted blue dot. In contrast, Easter (2007) is a fragile network of spring tones, tightly controlled, it appears, by the remnants of stencil templates or silk screens. Any traces of the free-association drawings we are told inform the large paintings remain secondary to a well-devised design. But Easter in particular negates the artist's concerted efforts to control the representation of his vast painted universe. Dominating the left side of the work is an unmarked landscape of raw linen from which the painted festivities seem to recoil - revealing a surreal, barren wasteland. It is a successful counter to the graphic abundance evident in the majority of the work. The micro-details are only a part of the overwhelming nature of this show. Perfect seems to enjoy playing with the scope of the canvas and succeeds in evoking a different, almost antithetical reaction to each piece based on the viewer's proximity to the canvas. Aleph, for example, becomes suggestively architectural when viewed from a distance. Grey and unrelenting, it is an environmental meditation, a gut reaction to the grimy landscape of East London on a wet winter's day (which makes the accompanying press release's comparison to the St Ives School painters Patrick Heron and Peter Lanyon unsurprising). At a distance, away from the microscope, Easter offers an insight into the mindscape of a gaming-obsessed youngster who dreams in technicolor and whose vision is punctuated by cropped manga characters, barren deserts and lollipops.
Mutated cartoon forms feature prominently in both Perfect's past work and the current exhibition, demonstrating not just a visual awareness of and interest in the work of illustrators like Steve Ditko and John Kricfalusi, but an appropriation of the ideas that govern the Marvel Comics universe. Although American comic books often reference the sociopolitical, their alternate worlds are oases in which characters can bend the rules of human nature and societal strictures. They posit a system of polarities: good versus evil; sickness versus healing; death versus life; abstraction versus representation. Perfect's is a similarly conflicted world. His paintings leave the viewer feeling either repelled or harmonious. One is not quite sure just how vile the subject matter really is; appropriate reflections of inner turmoil or not, there is simply no order or abstraction in Dan Perfect's world.