WILLARD DIXON

by Orville O. Clarke, Jr.

(Tatistcheff / Rogers, Santa Monica) One is tempted when faced by Willard Dixon's majestic still-lifes to leave the reader with a page of blank space in tribute to the elegant silence his canvases are able to create. No words to clutter or obfuscate the simple beauty of his images; just emptiness to honor their purity--hoping that the reader would be intrigued enough to visit them personally to see what all the absence, or silence, is about.

These paintings, which are a continuation of the Honkyoku series, do call to mind the familiar Zen koan that asks "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" Dixon, who is a student of Zen Buddhism, has concentrated on the solo images in this series as a form of meditation and as analogous to the Honkyoku musical form (Dixon also plays the Shakubachi, a Japanese bamboo flute). The artist asserts that much art is "needlessly busy and cluttered with inessentials." Also, a Shakubachi inscribed with "Enlightenment exists in the sound of a single note" had a profound impact on him. Dixon's paintings honor that concept by stripping away ornament and artifice. They are very much about the silence that enfolds the still-life objects.

Paintings of flowers have been the staple of painters for centuries. However, rather than trying to create powerful metaphors or exercises for color or form, Dixon simply allows his plants to exist in space. Not perfect or rare flowers, like the breathtaking paens created by Robert Mapplethorpe for example, but banal flowers such as dried weeds. Furthermore, the vases that hold them are the kind one could find in any home, and they are placed on a nondescript ledge. The backgrounds are almost a mist of subtle colors and texture that are crucial to the quiet space in which the plants exist. It is really this space surrounding the plants, and not the plants themselves, that is primarily addressed in each four-foot-square painting.

Occasionally an additional small object is inserted by the vase--an orange, a Q-ball, or a blue ribbon--to expand the meditation. Yet the subtle balance of solid and void is never disturbed. The pictures' space extends out into the viewer's plane, just as Picasso or van Eyck did in earlier generations. We become part of the work rather than passive observers.

The effect of Dixon's work is at once overwhelming and barely discernable. The subtle handling of pigment and blending of color is mesmerizing and capable of sweeping you up into their spaces. Yet the more you study the grasses, freesias or lilies the less you are able to see. What we face here is the silence that I keep alluding to. It can be quite difficult, but you have to stop trying to see at some point so that your mind can concentrate. Comprehension is best achieved through a Zen-type of meditation.

The elegance, simplicity and beauty of this work is entirely convincing. Dixon is most commonly thought of as a landscapist, but don't be fooled by old labels. These paintings are sensual treats that provide solitude for the soul. If you listen closely you will be able to hear that perfect note emerging out of the silence.


"Peace Lily",
oil on canvas, 48"x48", 1996.


"Grasses II",
oil on canvas, 48"x48", 1996.


"Freesias",
oil on canvas, 48"x48", 1996.



"Cone Flowers with Blue Ribbon", oil on canvas, 48"x48", 1996.