Again with Feeling - Natasha Percy
"Artist's Palette" Magazine, Australia 2003 (no.27)
Dion Archibald's work is intense and evocative. The poignancy of his thick brushstrokes, the sometimes stark blocks of colour, the sketchy lines and simple but powerful colour contrasts reflect the personality of his subject. Painting for Dion is a matter of feeling as well as skill, and his career so far promises a bright future.

Art has always been Dion's passion. As a child he drew and built things, using whatever materials were to hand. Drawing, was where he was most comfortable, combining his thoughts with his surroundings, simply using pencil and paper. "Rather than playing sports or getting up to no good as a child, I drew, coloured in and discovered ways to express myself," he says. To this day he still has an affinity and a great respect for drawing. "It really is the 'bones' of art," he says. "You have to be able to walk before you can run."

Dion discovered oils at the age of 15 and was instantly a fan. He remembers marvelling at the different effects that could be achieved and his fascination with them has not waned. "Oils have held me captive ever since and my obsession with the medium has only increased each year."

Turkish Smokers 2001 - Dion Archibald
Turkish Smokers 2001

Around this time, Dion's eyes were opened to the possibilities of modern art through the work of Brett Whiteley. "Before, I thought art was about painting sheds and landscapes - but Whiteley's work showed me that it was more than that," he says. The vivacity and variety in Picasso's work have also been important influences for Dion. "Picasso did so much and he had such an energy and love for it," he asserts. And Van Gogh's vulnerability captured Dion's imagination. "Van Gogh was so absorbed in his work that he sacrificed himself to it," he maintains.

The following year, he went on to study art at TAFE and this was a time of discovery, receiving feedback and learning about the process of art in general. "Before, I would take offence if someone didn't like my work," he says, "but with different teachers offering me advice, I have toughened up a bit and learned to take criticism." Dion was particularly influenced by Newcastle artist Michael Bell, who was one of his teachers. "He helped me to understand that to be an artist, you have to make sacrifices, be very disciplined and most importantly, have fun with art!"

University was the next step, where Dion studied art history and theory - or what he refers to as the reason behind painting. While this was an interesting time for him, he soon became restless and the simple desire to create something took over. "I don't feel I have to explain in detail the reason for painting or sculpting a work. I do it because it is fun, and I'd be restless if I didn't," he reasons.

Istanbul (Cityscape) 2002 - Dion Archibald
Istanbul (Cityscape) 2002

The desire to draw and paint has dominated his career, but he admits that being an artist has been far from glamourous. "I have sacrificed a lot and I've gone without many of the things my friends take for granted," he says. Painting has been his full-time focus for the past eight years now. "Art has been very important to me all my life, so I have given it the time and commitment it deserves," he reflects.

One of the great influences on Dion's life so far has been the exotic land of Turkey. Hungry for adventure and eager to meet a girl he got to know over the Internet, he set off and spent a year in total living in Turkey. His time there familiarised him with the culture and gave him a wonderful opportunity to explore different subject matter. Still lifes, interiors and portraits were his initial conquests. "I was still forming a relationship with Istanbul, looking for ways to know it better and create a more honest depiction of the place," he says. He was struck by the differences between this city and his homeland. "It's an ancient city, lived-in and used like no place in Australia," he says.

Turkey's magic and charm still stays with Dion. "Turkey for me is a place of extremes," he says, "it is kind and cruel, beautiful and ugly, east and west, democratic and oppressive, old and new." He grew to love, appreciate and understand the landscape and the lifestyle in a way that perhaps will never leave him.

This time in Turkey also had a lasting effect on Dion's colour palette. The blue-grey, cream and caramel-yellow colourings of the city buildings were essential for a true depiction in his paintings and they have stayed with him, now seen in his paintings of Newcastle and also in other figurative and still-life works. "I had been working in reds and blues," he says, "but these were colours I had never seen before and I just liked the combination." They are now a part of the process for him, giving him the freedom to focus on the other areas of painting. "It means I can focus on painting itself without worrying if the colours are going to work together," he adds.

The Bench (Newcastle) 2002 - Dion Archibald
The Bench (Newcastle) 2002

These colours work particularly well with the texture Dion likes to create in his oil paintings. He loves the consistency of oil paint, which allows him to build up layers, scratching lines into blobs of paint for a flickering effect reminiscent of old movies. Oils suit this artistic process. "I can paint a layer and then come back and start again," he explains. "My idea for a painting might change as I apply more layers and I like that unpredictability," he smiles. Working in oils also means he can have 10 to 15 paintings going at the same time.

Dion's paintings have an intense and emotive quality about them, which he says is all part of the picture. "I'm not bothered if a painting shows how I feel," he says. "I have really liked the work of other artists who have done the same thing." However after two hours working away in his studio, Dion says he comes away exhausted. But he admits that painting is so much a part of his nature that he doesn't have much control over the artistic impulse. "If I see something and I think it looks nice, I can't help myself - I have to paint it," he says.

Dion is enthusiastic about the Internet as a forum for artists to communicate with one another and sell their work. "It has really opened up so many new doors for me as an artist." He envisages a bright future for artists on the Internet. "I believe it will become as essential as the art gallery for artists," he predicts. Dion also loves the honesty and partial anonymity of the Internet. "I think communication online between the artist and the viewer is often more direct because people are more relaxed with the idea of sending an email to another computer than they are writing a letter and sending it to the artist, or talking directly."

Dion looks forward to a future of fun and success as an artist - enjoying and developing his painting but also acquiring the promotional skills to be able to share and sell his art, and he concludes, "I'm aiming for the emotional honesty of Van Gogh and the promotional skills of Coca-Cola!"

Man and Beach (Newcastle) 2002 - Dion Archibald
Man & Beach (Newcastle) 2002
Article by Natasha Percy
"Artist's Palette" Magazine, Australia 2003 (no.27)

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