As a youth, Rex Dixon first attended art college in Stourbridge, he was part of that initial wave of working-class students who recognized their difference when confronted with middle-class dominated art institutions. His preference for abstraction as expounded by the American action painters can be seen as an early decision in favour of Internationaliam, rather than British parochialism, and the confinement that that represented. A later decision to live in Ireland and Jamaica teaching, and now Trinidad, underscored his ability to identify with other cultures outside of his own, with little remorse.
His years in Ireland and the Caribbean combined, show that Rex Dixon has spent much of his professional painting career abroad, and his work has benefited from these periods of ‘exile’. As the outsider, he has been acutely perceptive to the distinctiveness of each new society, visually, recording, distilling, and digesting their characteristics. Yet, interestingly Belfast and Kingston suggest much that is similar, and the violently grafitti-covered surfaces that Rex first exhibited on his arrival in Kingston, struck a chord of empathy with Jamaicans still reeling from years of social change and political upheaval.
Rex’s work presents interesting dichotomies. Despite his overall working of the surface, there is always opposition, whether soft, hard, masculine, feminine, surface, depth. Rex Dixon plays with these binary relationships in an extremely formal and sophisticated way, pushing and pulling forms, adding and subtracting, darkening and illuminating, Of all these manoeuvres, the most powerful of his ‘plays’ are ones that he has not understood, the blind moves when the end result is left to chance. Presently, this is happening with a series of crosses that Rex is exploring. At once positive and negative, beer and good times, crucifixion and crotch, anger and primal ‘eXpression’, its open-endedness fascinates and leads him into difficult painted terrain where psychological interpretation cannot be avoided. These uniform blocks vie for space against nebulous holes of amorphous splattered colour, black holes that insinuate freedom and depression. Within the spaces, Dixon enjoys intuitive free play, he pours, drips and smudges pigment to achieve an effect that today owes more to the influence of Jamaican intuitive Leonard Daley, than to the avant-garde Jackson Pollock. These spaces are becoming more narrative, stories in which one begins to sense scratched, brutalized images…is this mere chance, or, as with Daley’s ghouls and specters, are they visions of the night-mind?
That Rex Dixon should find inspiration in Jamaica’s intuitives is a credit to his own perception as much as a comment on the parallels that exist between the modernist and the ‘primitive’. It begs a question regarding Rex Dixon’s status as a painter in Jamaica, by defying the role of Gauguin’s ‘noble savage’, he points the way to a new post-colonial relationship between artists, based on mutual respect, or even indebtedness, wherein artist from the center abandon their position in the West, in order to find ‘homes’ in the margins.
Essay extracted and edited from the Home and Away exhibition catalogue, London, 1998