Minotaurs as Metaphors in Dan Rushton’s Automated Paintings
Every day thousands of people enter and exit the lobby of the Whitney Museum’s new spacious and light-filled building, never once suspecting that an ancient monster lives just across the street. At DUTTON gallery, in an old stronghold of the Meatpacking District, held captive by exposed-concrete columns and walls saturated with animal fat, a Minotaur lurks, resurrected for the 21st century by Brooklyn-based artist Dan Rushton.
Rushton’s interest in the classical myth of the Minotaur extends beyond a simple recontextualization of the images involved. Through his multipart painting process, which involves a mechanized drawing apparatus, the artist aims to adapt the mythological half-man, half-beast to reflect the difficulties of deciphering authentic identities in an era overrun with virtual personas. Fittingly, the nine large-scale works that dot the walls of the gallery are created through a hybridized process that involves both man and machine.
Rushton begins his paintings by sketching an image on a digital tablet—in this case, borrowing portions of etchings by Pablo Picasso—and uploading that image to a plotter, a piece of graphing equipment that has been outfitted with a graffiti marker, which traces sections of Rushton’s drawing onto gessoed paper. The sections are then stretched and aligned to recreate the original sketch, albeit inexactly, so that lines sometimes fail to flow smoothly across panels. The resulting effect is akin to that of a stained-glass window, with heavy black lines cordoning off sections of white space to create the figures.
Despite the fact that Rushton only uses a limited set of source images, none of the works are exactly the same, as the artist incorporates a variety of minor tweaks to offset the highly controlled movements of the plotter, which manages to replicate Rushton’s drawings with remarkable precision even as the paintings become increasingly complex. These small shifts, such as a change in line weight or the addition of drips, imbue the work with a human element and add distinctive personalities to the occasionally near-identical images.
By pulling symbols from past fables and putting them through his automated painting process, Rushton creates updated allegories for the present. As man and machine meld, whether online or on gallery walls, one is reminded of how easy it is to get lost in our own self-constructed digital labyrinths and how escape is often as simple as recognizing the person behind the screen.
“Mazed” is on view at DUTTON, New York, Jul. 1–31, 2015.