Damien H. Ding
Braverman Gallery, 33 Eilat Street, Tel Aviv
Opening: February 15, 2020
(no opening reception)
Gallery opening hours
Friday: 11:00- 14:00
Saturday: by appointment only at phone number: 0509515915
Curator: Adi Gura
Braverman Gallery is pleased to announce Damien H.Ding’s solo exhibition Selfish Paintings at the gallery. Ding, who was born in China in 1992 and raised in Singapore, currently lives and works in the United States.
Damien H. Ding’s work seeks to construct a new model for the sublime. In his recent body of work he explores the chasms which stretch between images that populate quotidian culture and religious traditions— ones that are most often considered to be polar opposites.
The spaces which Ding investigates are manifested in his paintings through gestures of worship, fetish and intimacy. For the artist, it is in these specific circumstances where oxymoronic, nonsensical and conflicting elements precipitate to generate intense reactions within the human psyche.
These elements—calm and sensitive or turbulent and transcendental—unravel themselves in unexpected ways within the painting surface. In this sense, Ding’s work can be read as an attempt to describe emotions, and perhaps, to give them tangible presence.
In this body of work, Ding (who holds a degree in the history of art) employed an in-depth textual research of religious artistic traditions and the ways in which images are shaped by and within them. Ding’s work explores the visual mechanisms established by ancient religious traditions, such as Catholisim and Buddhism, underscoring their semblance and shared dynasties with Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Hinduism respectively. Examining these connections beyond textual boundaries and theological discussions, Ding implements his theory through a phenomenological practice that accounts both for devotees’ perspectives and for the ways in which images and objects affect those who view them. As such, Ding probes the question of the existence of a universal model of the sublime. Ding describes his works as “vaguely religious paintings in which the eerie and chilling converge with the transcendental”.
The works on view at the gallery space present recurring small, dark, and disturbing images: an open mouth revealing a set of lightningrod-like teeth; a headless body, part human part beast, holding a candle; or a drooling male figure. The images oscillate between the real and surreal, as well as between fantasy and terror, exemplifying a tension that is particularly evident in the large format works that depict landscapes and still lifes. These paintings provide a mise en scène to the rest of the works on view, and invite the viewer to wander in novel, obscure and uncharted psychological territories.
Ding paints using an egg tempera technique- a complex painting medium that is scarcely used by contemporary painters. This technique demands a lengthy work process that requires long intervals between each layer of paint. For Ding, the technique corresponds with the intimate scale of the works, and stems from the desire to resemble–as much as possible–the effects produced by historical paintings placed within religious sanctums.
Several paintings in the exhibition are characterized by having thick wooden frames with thin slits. The small apertures allow light to seep into the frame, consequently illuminating the works in a sustained measure. Such an apparatus calls for physical proximity between object and viewer, leading to an unusually intimate encounter with painting. Historically used for liturgical objects, this type of frame dons the work of art with an aura of sanctity– one that Ding repeats over and over to enhance his treatment of the works and the painted narrative.
The value of this closed framing format is particularly pronounced in works such as Getting used to the heat (2020), that depicts a young child in a crouched position, trying to collect chilli peppers with chopsticks while tears run down his face to the table in front of him. Here Ding underscores the importance of vicinage to the artwork– a closeness that isn’t achieved solely by aesthetics (which is the expression of a limited human category) but through the sublime which in turn is a category of the absolute and the extraordinary.
Ding’s interest lies in the “ambivalent pleasure production” created by the sublime: “When the sublime is encountered, it is experienced as a riveting discovery of the infinite within the finite, yet at the same time as a disturbing occurrence caused by contiguity to the infinite and meta human”.
Ding was born in China and at a young age moved with his family to Singapore. He was raised Christian, but once he reached adulthood he began to define himself as an agnostic. While his childhood background is prevalent in his work, the many cultural transitions he experienced as a grown man (including studies in Europe, the U.S and the Far East) have influenced his practice immensely. The image of the owl that appears in the painting Owl (2020) is a reflection of the artist’s complex identity. The owl represents the relationship between humans and birds and has a wide range of connotations and interpretations; in some cultures the owl was the subject of great respect and adoration, in others it is disdained; some considered owls to be wise creatures while others dismissed the animal as daft; in some traditions the owl was attributed healing powers, it was connected with the weather and even the circle of life; while other societies saw them as occult and even as magic itself. Ding’s use of such a charged image, with its myriad interpretations– similar to the artist’s own identity–mirrors his artistic method of action, asking how a symbolic icon may represent contradictions in different cultures, and how it may achieve an aura of mystique. This question is also present in the work Stroll (2019), which depicts a praying figure in contemporary garb with its back turned to the viewer. Next to the figure, a tree adorned with flames invokes the vision of the biblical burning bush, inquiring how a textual event may be imbued with a contemporary expression.
The work titles allude to the tension that lies at the base of Ding’s creative process. For example, in a work entitled Sometimes Holy Only When Severed (2020) a severed head rests on a pair of hands and blood running beneath. The title implies the grotesque act of human sacrifice, which has been completely delegitimized in the Western world. The exhibition title itself, Selfish Paintings, which can be read in several ways, presents the artists-viewer duality. On one hand, it invites introspection into the artist’s own psyche, yet on the other, the word ‘Selfish’ may also refer to the viewer, as an interpretive invitation to read the painting through a personal and subjective lense. As such, Ding returns the discussion to the artwork’s function as a harbinger of a greater message.
Damien H. Ding (born 1992) holds a Bachelor’s degree in Art History from Swarthmore College and is currently graduating from his Masters Degree at Virginia Commonwealth University’s painting department. Ding has presented a solo exhibition at List gallery in Swarthmore, PA, and in group exhibitions at Z/H Projects, Brooklyn, New York and Fox Garden, Richmond, VA. His work is currently part of the online group show Within Global Isolation: Asian Artists in America, curated by Han Hongzheng and Chandler Allen. He is the recipient of the 2020 Graduate Student Dean’s Scholarship of Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts.
Tue – Thu
By appointment only
11:00 – 16:00
11:00 – 14:00