"It's all about allegory, it's all about harmony, it's all about balance, it's all about everything working together, every colour, every element." So says Dan Baldwin about his paintings and style at the opening of his new solo show, his 15th in fact, entitled Under the Influence at London's Maddox Gallery.
The opening is something of a social event. Baldwin's work has been bought and admired by such celebrities as Elton John, Damien Hirst and Sadie Frost and the paparazzi were in close attendance.
What appeals about Baldwin's work is typified in Acid Reflux (above) with its joyously colourful yet edgy conflict between the innocent and the guilty, good and bad, the playful and the sinister, life and death - part of the balance that he referred to.
Very much a painted collage with the heavy influence of pop artists like Sir Peter Blake, you have Mickey Mouse and Bambi, symbols of innocence confronted by tanks and skeletons - conflict and death. These are the the themes that he returns to time and again. It's a curious blend of the nightmare and the ethereal.
Now aged 44, Baldwin has been taking stock of the last 10 years of his life. His work is very much a mixture of personal memories of a troubled childhood blended with current troubling political issues including war, climate change and the horrors of the global migration crisis.
To the Forest (above) has the pretty flowers, balloons and trees balanced by threatening birds, fences and spiky plants conveying all manner of layered meaning. In the middle stands a dark car. This has connotations to an incident outside his primary school when he was approached by a man falsely claiming to be picking him up on behalf of his mother. He still remembers the man wearing shades and a hat, beckoning him towards his Ford Granada. Fortunately, he refused the lift and ran back into the school. His mother appeared soon afterwards.
Baldwin was abducted for real a few years later when his mother took him and his three siblings from their father and brought them from the north to the south of England. His mother later suffered a breakdown and young Dan found solace in drumming, skateboarding, working on his VW Beetle with his stepfather, and spending a lot of time on his own.
He was fortunate to be talented enough to go to art school in Kent. "When I paint," he tells me, "I am at my happiest because it's still like being in my bedroom when I was 16 when all I did was listen to music."
To some extent, Under the Influence marks a new stage in Dan Baldwin's personal development, a kind of coming to terms with the past.
"It's taken me 26 years to get to the point where I've let go of all concerns to do with parents and family because I've carried around so much stuff for so long. My last show was called The Fear of Letting Go and I lost my stepmother to a brain tumour, people were dying all around me but it feels great just to be painting now and not worrying what anyone thinks."
Your Family Needs Autoflow (above) provides a good example of Baldwin's modus operandi in the studio. He never plans a work, relying on improvisation. If he finds that something doesn't work, he simply paints over it. He says this picture took so long that it is now 5mm deep. Those scientists who X-ray old paintings to discover the evolution of old masters would have a field day here. Yet still the severed limbs and symbols of conflict remain interspersed with more positive associations. One can't help but wonder whether the canvas reflects his conscious mind, that beneath the surface lies an anger formed from an unstable and shortened childhood while on the surface he is trying, in his artistic way, to temper it.
The painting is a diptych and he has cleverly linked the two parts with a playful pull of the hand by a dog that creates a literal tension between the two canvases.
"My work's really quite gentle," he says ruefully, and not entirely convincingly. "And it's so important to get the balance right. Nothing is accidental in my work."
Under the Influence is showing at the Maddox Gallery, 9 Maddox Street, London W1S 2QE until 25 October.
All images are used with the permission of Dan Baldwin and Maddox Gallery.
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