From Used Books to Painter’s Tape, Ramsey Dau’s Hyperrealist Paintings of Collages

Ramsey Dau admits he had no real interest in African sculpture before stumbling across a battered copy of Jean Laude’s 1971 book The Arts of Black Africa in a bookstore. According to Dau’s account, the “poorly photographed, poorly reproduced” book spoke to him, and he decided to incorporate it into his latest series of hyperrealist paintings.

In addition to images of African sculpture, Dau populates his work with graphic patterns, blue painter’s tape, and borrowed texts from existentialist philosophers and neuroscientists. His use of layering and collage creates a unifying thread among the 16 paintings in his solo exhibition, “The Singularity is Near,” at KM Fine Arts. The exhibition takes its title from a book by computer scientist Ray Kurzweil, which Dau also discovered through his intellectual wanderings.

Dau has been painting for nearly 20 years while also working as a graphic designer and art director. His experience comes together in his art. Each work begins as a physical or digital collage, which the artist then finetunes on a computer. Using a projector, Dau then transfers the image to a panel and begins painting, using his expertise to create photorealistic renderings. 

Some of Dau’s works stand out in particular not only for the imagery he uses, but for the way he portrays traces of the collage technique itself—the layering of different components and the shadows that emerge, for instance. In the masterful three-panel painting What We Were, You Are, What We Are, You Will Be (2015), Dau playfully incorporates a page from The Arts of Black Africa whose main image has been hastily cut out, drawing attention to his choice to represent objects, not just images. Other works play with ideas of surface and illusionism with trompe l’oeil touches. In Samsara (2015) three pieces of blue painter’s tape across the picture plane are actually made from wood.

While these finely executed works seem rigorously conceived, Dau, surprisingly, points to ambiguity and automatism as his driving forces.

“Composition and technique is paramount,” he explains, “but that process is guided more by feeling and intuition for me. Basically, I’m exploring my own aesthetic personal preferences. It’s not intellectual. It’s not hitting you over the head with an agenda.”

—Rachel Will


The Singularity is Near” is on view at KM Fine Arts, Los Angeles, Sep. 12–Nov. 12, 2015.

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