Neil Dawson is a master of the sculpted motif, his laser-cut metallic friezes and free-standing installations often charged with repeated enmeshed iconography. His practice, which encompasses both large, site-specific public works and more intimate wall-hangings, uses these repeated patterns to play optical tricks, becoming some form of three-dimensional analogue to M. C. Escher’s famed drawings and prints.
Over the last few years, Dawson’s work has been informed by several specific techniques and designs, as well as being influenced by external events - most importantly the widespread destruction caused by Christchurch’s earthquakes. His recent large-scale pieces have reflected upon this tragedy, notably in sculptures echoing the form of the city’s cathedral spire. With his smaller works, the artist has produced fractal-like vortices and cloud forms on curved surfaces, giving the optical impression of depth and distance. Negative space emerges, and shadow and light become an intrinsic part of the presentation. In many of the sculptures, Dawson has played up this open space by painting the reverse side of his metal in fluorescent colours, producing a deep blush upon the bare wall behind the work. In pieces such as Vortex 5, this has led to an apparent ominous weightiness to what is in fact an empty centre. The artist’s Cloud forms also play with colour and light, their highly reflective surfaces producing visual effects as the viewer moves around them. The works themselves are often not the entire focus of the art; it is the interplay of the surroundings with the pieces which creates the strong visual effects and gives the sculptures their distinctive warmth and character. As the artist himself points out,“The majority of my work has more holes in it than substance - it's about looking through things, not just at things.” (1)
In his most recent work, Dawson has created enmeshed haloes in powdercoated black steel, haloes which seem suspended without support within a thin wire frame. The artist is playing with the concept of three-dimensionality and with the expected disjunction between weight and ethereality. These works, in the much-quoted words of Douglas Adams, “hang in the sky in much the same way that brick don’t.” (2) The illusions become not just optical but cognitive. Dawson is also deliberately referencing early ecclesiastical art, a theme which is common to much of his work.