In Verne Dawson’s paintings the ways in which we mark time, invent stories and symbols, and regard the governing structures and belief systems of our lives are caught up in a playful entanglement of narratives that includes the story of painting itself. A painter of both fantastical landscapes and the cosmos, Dawson weaves the prehistoric past into the present embracing a vast history of some 30,000 years.
His work expresses a long-held interest in charting the continuities of human nature and culture and the perpetuation of methods of timekeeping through oral and visual traditions. Delving into popular culture his paintings often explore mathematical and astronomical signs in folklore, calendars and astrology. Despite a preoccupation with symbolic reference, Dawson's visual language does not attempt to idealise his subject matter. Rather, his painting style is self-effacing and grounded in the vernacular, offering careful consideration of narrative through composition and detail.
Dawson's interest in the past is, in part, an effort to show the continuity of ancient, even prehistoric culture in the present, often revealed in symbols and tales relating to the telling of time, marked by a persistent and common use of numbers in attributes of myth and popular culture, holidays and festivals. In his work, time collapses as past, present and future are represented in oil paintings that obey a non-linear chronology; often they stand simultaneously as a visualising of the past and as a perception of the present from an imagined future, where the natural and man-made retain a more balanced co-existence. Some of the works' imagery springs from the artist's imagination, while in others we see unmediated observations of intimates: a self-portrait, or a portrait of the artist's wife beside a stream. Characteristically, these works present an exploration of the continuities of nature and civilisation, and a belief in the enduring vitality of beauty and painting as a primary form of visceral and visual communication.
Born in 1955, Verne Dawson divides his time between New York and North Carolina. In recent years he has been the subject of monographic shows at Gavin Brown's Enterprise and Eva Presenhuber, New York, Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin, Le Consortium, Dijon, Camden Arts Centre, London and Kunsthalle, Zurich. Dawson's work has been featured in significant international exhibitions such as 2011 Yokohama Triennial, the 2010 Whitney Biennial, the 2006 Lyon Biennial, and has been presented in shows at venues such as MoMA PS1, New York, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.
Lund Humphries published a major illustrated monograph of Dawson’s work as part of their Contemporary Painters Series in March 2019.