Dan Withey has one of those relentlessly amiable personalities that never fails to get past your defences. Inevitably you’re going to like the guy so there’s really no point in putting it off. Perhaps you’re in a really bad mood? Let’s say you’re a balloon of vitriol waiting to burst. Dan notices this, puts you at ease with some self deprecating humour and pretty soon you’re forgotten what your problem was and you’re feeling good again. It works every time, just like his art.
Imbued with a playful humour and ungraded emotion, Dan Withey paintings are accessible and completely unpretentious. As decorative objects they look great on the wall but within each image there is a layer of emotion that lies beneath the surface. As a whole, Withey’s style draws upon a tradition of graphic imagery in the sphere of fine art that perhaps began, in they country, with Reg Mombassa.
Withey explains, in his Birmingham accent, how Mombassa introduced him to art and Australia when he was just 8 years old. “I thought art was for a small group of people that I wasn’t a part of. But when I saw his [Mombassa’s] work I can remember thinking ‘oh, art’s for everybody.’ There was something about his images that just stuck in my brain as a kid. Also, my family had just moved here so I guess his art taught me about this place in a weird kind of way.”
But where Mombassa took Australian iconography as subject matter, Withey is inspired by the swirling mass of popular culture. In this sense Dan likens his brain to some kind of ‘weird filter’ that sucks in all that interests him and translates it into his own visual language. Having witnessed that language develop over the years we can now enjoy a richness to Withey’s compositions that wasn’t there in the beginning. But throughout his growth as an artist Withey’s style has remained constant.
Clean lines, vivid colours and solid shapes are the mainstays that make up Withey’s characters. Their simplicity combines human and animal forms into creatures that are neither one nor the other. It’s also worth noticing that his characters are almost exclusively masculine suggesting their role as the artist’s alter egos. Together with their tribal elements, his characters hold a totemic quality, each with its own subtle emotion used to capture Withey’s feelings at the it was created.
Paintings of this kind, which reinvent tribal imagery, will always have an appeal because they work on universal visual mechanisms. We respond intuitively to basic colour combinations and simple shapes because they remind us of the inescapable truth that we are all still animals. The use of these mechanisms becomes all the more endearing when used so openly. They politely ask us to let our guard down and remember the simple things we all have in common. Of course, when we do, we discover that it feels good word’s.
- Peter Drew