Dan Coombs, a one-time Saatchi bratpacker, is the grunge guru of 3D bricolage. His past installations, which included objects that looked as though they had been found at a car-boot sale or the back of a toy cupboard, assembled with other randomly assorted kitsch elements, have given way to something more painterly. He has always used paint-bomb splutterings of colour, but these are now big paintings with bits stuck on to them, rather than installations splattered with paint.
Princess M, 2005
Finding a subject for contemporary painting is always a problem. The Abstract Expressionists did the sublime and the heroic; the Minimalists did, well, minimal; and the Warhol generation did popular culture. Hockney bagged boys and swimming pools; Freud is big on modern “old masters”; and Saatchi’s kids claimed New Neurotic Realism – so the territory is pretty packed. Coombs makes a fairly good stab at doing something of his own with these strange juxtapositions of collage, construction and a nod at a formal painterly language.
His colours are synthetic, trippy acid yellows, pinks, mauves and oranges, sprayed, painted and dribbled on to the canvases. On these surfaces he adds plastic bric-a-brac and illustrations from papers and magazines of TV and film celebrities. It’s as though Rauschenberg or Oldenburg had run a workshop for pre-school tots who had been dropping Acid tabs.
Born in the 1970s, Coombs appropriates images from the pop culture of his salad days. In Princes M, a lurid flock of fluorescent budgie cutouts have been stuck on to the surface to accompany those of TV’s Buffy, the teen vampire slayer, and a plastic Incredible Hulk. Hidden within all this are a number of photocopies showing step-by-step images of a man performing the trick of taking off his waistcoat without removing his jacket.
There is nothing restful about these works, with their swirling lines and cacophony of colour. It’s rather like listening to techno music first thing in the morning, when stone-cold sober – it is spiky and jars – whereas the night before, in a dark, sweaty club under the influence of something mind-changing, it all made perfect sense.
One of the oddest paintings, Butterfly, is vaguely reminiscent of those Victorian fake photographs of fairies. The head and torso of a heavyweight boxer has been grafted on to the tutu and legs of a dancer to create a surreal image that is repeated several times across the canvas. On his back, he sports a pair of 3D butterfly wings, and trips through the lurid green landscape, bordered by a collaged picket fence. It makes for a striking, disturbing image.
It is hard to say what these works are about, because they defy any categorisation. What Coombs has managed to do with a certain deftness is to rearrange the elements of painting. He appropriates, mixes and matches whatever he chooses, stirs it around, shakes it up and spits it out as something comparatively new. In so doing, he keeps alive the possibility of painting.
Dan Coombs Visual Arts Art For Sale at The Approach, London until 13 March 2005
Content and Texts © Sue Hubbard 2005
Images © Dan Coombs 2005
Published in The Independent