Report from the Sunday Guardian- Dean Arlen: Big doodles, Big ideas

By Marsha Pearce Wednesday, January 16th, 2013 Categories: Reports, Updates

Marsha Pearce writes about Dean Arlen’s upcoming exhibition The Paint Installation Project: A Postcolonial Dada, which opens on January 17th, 2013 at Medulla Art Gallery in Port of Spain for The Sunday Guardian, on January 13, 2013 p.B3. The show draws on the spirit and philosophy of Dada, and the relationship between art and public urban living spaces.

Dean Arlen’s The Paint Installation Project: A Postcolonial Dada, which opens this week, draws on the spirit and philosophy of Dada, an early 20th-century movement in the arts. Dada emerged during World War I. Artists of the movement railed against anything that contributed to the horror and the perceived senselessness of the war. Dadaists were fed up of society. Their philosophy was that of negation or overturning existing values and traditions—including artistic traditions. They challenged traditional assumptions about what is considered art. They also sought to sabotage ideas of what was considered aesthetically pleasing or beautiful in art. Dadaists responded to their social context with art that appeared nonsensical, whimsical and outrageous. Yet their art reverberated with serious undertones.

Artist Dean Arlen. Photograph by Marsha Pearce.

A famous example of Dada art is French artist Marcel Duchamp’s display of a urinal in 1917—a work he insisted was art. Audiences were often shocked by the creative outputs of the Dadaists. “The Dada movement raged against the space at the time. My work attempts to do that, to rage against the system and deconstruct power,” says Arlen.

In his new exhibition, the artist will present roughly eight large paintings (60×80 inches) mounted on coloured walls. He is experimenting with an installation and display format in an effort to destabilise what he sees as the power an art gallery can exert on artists. “I am questioning how an art gallery should operate. Many galleries are white cubes. The white cube imposes traditionalism and conservatism. Artists are forced into a trap of sticking to traditional means of representation. The galleries do not allow themselves and artists to take risks,” Arlen explains.

Streetwall-Wallstreet-Materials for Diversification, 60x80 inches, mixed media on canvas by Dean Arlen. Image by Marsha Pearce

Arlen is one of Trinidad’s contemporary artists. His art career has taken him to such places as Venezuela, Colombia, Cuba and South Africa. Arlen’s ongoing concern is with the place of art in communities. He continues to work on bringing his idea of a sculptural playground to fruition and hopes to construct one in Tacarigua. He is interested in the relationship between art and public urban living spaces and has a vision of our communities becoming public art galleries.

Dean Arlen studied jewelry design at John Donaldson Technical Institute, an experience that he credits with introducing him to sculptural design. He later attended UWI, where he attained a diploma in visual arts. By means of a Commonwealth Fellowship, Arlen studied installation art at the Ontario College of Art and Design. In 2002 he exhibited his drawings and sculptural pieces at CCA7. In 2011 he collaborated with the National Centre for Persons with Disabilities in San Fernando and David Blake Furniture and Wood Products Ltd to produce and display a collection of furniture designs called the Alter Ego Project. In 2012 his work was one of the winning designs of the Urban Heartbeat street art contest.

In his upcoming show, his paintings explore urban life in T&T. The art pieces include images of planes, jets with guns falling from them, dogs, grocery price tags, pasted pieces of Japs fried chicken boxes, gangsters and women posing. “I am looking at a number of issues, including consumerism. The airplane is about T&T tourism, the importation of culture, moving in and out—who is moving in and out? The jets with the guns are a comment about what we can call big business. It is a visual comment on the idea that everything coming into the country has something illegal with it. The jets are also about excess. The way some of us can still fly to Miami to shop and come back despite the economic downturn.

Dean Arlen "Football", Acrylic, 60" x 96". Image courtesy of Medulla Art Gallery

“Gyrating, posing women are part of our environment. They appear as part of party ticket imagery. Women are part of the excess. They are part of our culture of consumerism. Is this a good thing? Is it a bad thing?”

“The dog is a recurring image in my work. Dog and men behave the same way. We pee where we want. We lie down where we want. My project is about our urban space. People might be jarred by it.”

What audiences may find jarring is Arlen’s graffiti-style approach in paintings he calls “big doodles.” He combines spray paint with stencils. He glues paper to the canvas and rips into pasted layers. According to him, he is “streetifying the gallery.” He insists, “I can see these works extending through the gallery to the streets.” Like the Dadaists, he challenges what is considered art and what is deemed beautiful in our society. Arlen’s art-making practice goes off the beaten path of painting conventional, pretty scenes. His Paint Installation Project looks at what he terms “the offness.”

Dean Arlen. "Five Men Discussing their Trans Politics", Acrylic, Graphite. 60" x 80". Image courtesy of Medulla Art Gallery

“The offness is the whole nastiness of the work. The work is nasty. In a painterly artist’s or graphic designer’s eye it would not be considered clean. “But it is painting. I am bringing this offness into a conversation about art and how we present our ideas and stories. My work is contemporary art so it challenges traditional art forms.” Dean Arlen is committed to stirring a revolution in visual arts practice in T&T. “I am at the point where I am asking: how do we create an aesthetic revolution and can it happen through the gallery space?”


Dean Arlen’s The Paint Installation Project: A Postcolonial Dada, opens on January 17 at 7 pm at Medulla Art Gallery, 37 Fitt Street, Woodbrook, and runs until February 7. Arlen will speak at an artist talk on January 24 from 7 pm at Medulla. Info: 740-7597 or email .


For original post visit the Trinidad Guardian.

Marsha Pearce
Marsha Pearce

Marsha Pearce is ARC’s Senior Arts Writer and Editor. She holds a PhD in Cultural Studies from the University of the West Indies (UWI) St Augustine Campus, Trinidad. She lectures in the Department of Creative and Festival Arts at UWI and is also a freelance arts writer for the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian newspaper. Pearce is the 2006 Rhodes Trust Rex Nettleford Cultural Studies Fellow.