Who to love? Who to hate? How to love? Who will see you in their dreams? Not Dawn Mellor, I hope. Hers are violent, mean and cruel, filled with ‘vile affections’. Everyone is fucked.
In A Curse on Your Walls, this cycle of large scale paintings, Dorothy Gale is fucked, she is really fucked up. She is a chopped up bloody mess impaled by delusional protest signs, ‘A STAR IS BORN’, ‘SUICIDE IS PAINLESS’, ‘THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME’, (‘Dead Dorothy’, 2008). Slavishly pushing a wheelbarrow of gold bricks, she is an exhausted coal miner with ruby red shoes, a half dead Auschwitz labourer with skeleton legs, a girl amputee morphing into a geometric painting. Clearly, Dorothy has been fucked by modernism (‘Yellow Bricks Dorothy’, 2008). Dorothy dreams of a blood stained circular saw blade, or is it a clock twisting through her brain? A lit cigarette dangles precariously from her beautiful sweetheart lips, time ticks out the impending inferno (‘Cigarette Dream Dorothy’, 2008), like Mad Max she appears in a graffiti laden bombed-out Baghdad surrounded by an army of half naked graveyard cronies wearing Henry VIII armour. Are these golden glamour gals her enemies or friends?
Dawn asks if Dorothy is just another loud mouth aggressive American? Did she come to save us from devastation or did she start the war? (‘Death Army Dorothy’, 2007). Floating above a valley of fleeing people, (borrowed from Goya ‘The Colossus’ 1808-1812) fragile and frightened, Dorothy looks into her crystal ball towards ‘home’—a gentler, simpler time? She radiates a halo of thoughts: ‘destroy the Abraham morality trilogy of terror We will establish a new state Kill breeders Steal babies I am the way’. Is this her spirit of resistance? Or is Dorothy just another mad demented demagogue? (‘Giant Dorothy’, 2008). Finally, encamped in desolation outside Emerald City, shadowed by her demon Regan, Dorothy is no longer a passive victim—traumatised but now wielding a machine gun, she too is a terrorist ready to fight back (‘Partisan Dorothy’, 2008).
Actually, I feel personally hated, indicted by this series of paintings. They are caustic and hurtful. They are bold, vigorous and hard-hitting. Yet simultaneously, the work emanates a sense of frailty, desperation, deep anxiety, loneliness and struggle for innocence. Dawn Mellor’s paintings have all this vitality and more, the unknown quantity of striving to be fully alive in a work of art. For in the end ‘Dorothy’ is art, specifically oil painting, savagely, energetically and sensitively rendered and composed.
Dawn Mellor’s ‘Vile Affection’ paintings are scathing, sadistic portraits of celebrities—they are tortured by her lust, longing, moral outrage and sense of humour. Referencing Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Romans in the New Testament condemning homosexuality, Dawn ironically embodies these accusations—like the gay community’s strategy to embrace derogatory terms such as ‘queer’, ‘fag’ or ‘dyke’. Through her violations and misrepresentations of her ‘culprits’ there is also a genuine outpouring of ‘righteous’ indignation, self-affliction, frustration and gleeful malice.
Over the telephone, Dawn tells me that she (secretly) desires Dorothy to be her lover. When I look at her masterful painting of Dorothy asleep in a cloud of grey smoke, my desire for her is also ignited—I too long to touch her baby blue satin ribbon and kiss her luscious red (broken) heart-shaped lips.
‘Well, we have a whole new year ahead of us. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all be a little more gentle with each other, and a little more loving, have a little more empathy, and maybe—next year at this time—we’d like each other a little more.’ Judy Garland
Ellen Cantor is an artist living in London