DEAN BYINGTON'S THEORY OF MACHINES
Dean Byington's work references religious conflict and terrorism in the Middle East and Western Europe alongside the damage wrought by human processes such as climate change and urban sprawl into previously uninhabited regions. On view at his new solo exhibition at Kohn Gallery will be the painting, Theory Of Machines (Grand Saturn), the third and most complex version of the Saturn series, which engages with issues of humanity’s impact on the world. This painting references Edwin Church’s The Heart Of The Andes re-configured within screens and panels above a dystopian landscape, inverting Church’s attempt to produce a “pure” landscape–a monumental imagining of the untouched environment.
Byington’s paintings simultaneously recall surrealist collage of Ernst and Schwitters and the assemblage and psychedelic aesthetic of the 1950s and 1960s in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the late 1990s, Byington began to combine his interests in 18th and 19th century prints and book illustrations with digital and photomechanical processes. His self-taught approach uses the archaic style of old etchings and wood engravings, appropriating images to silk screens that transfer the underlying imagery onto finely prepared linen canvases. Each work is finished by re-painting, glazing, scraping, overpainting and varnishing upon the silkscreened imagery.
Byington’s earliest remembrances of the movie lots of Culver City and Hollywood, especially the abandoned sets of Desilu Studios and MGM in Culver City, were formative to his practice. These experiences instilled within him memories that would serve as a backdrop for his imagined history, augmented by his parents’ involvement in the Manhattan Project, which spurred his interest in machines and their impact upon the environment and society in general.
As Griff Williams points out in his introductory essay, Entropy Has No Opposite, “The disjointed labyrinthine structures of Byington's work may be fueled by the legacy of dark scientific experiments or the artifice of Hollywood's past, but they also share sympathy with the Wunderkammer, the sixteenth century treasury of all things astonishing and exotic. Precursor to the modern Museum, the Wunderkammer celebrated the intersections between science and superstition, the natural and artificial. It housed an astounding array of drawings, illustrations and objects of curiosity meant to celebrate unexpected connections and elicit exploration of our world. Through the unexpected relationships, the new interdependencies, the idiosyncratic climate of his environments, Byington’s juxtapositions also encourage our interpretation of a dynamic universe, and it is endless.”