Samuel Beckett's influence on contemporary art is seismic. I use the word seismic because the more I look and see, the more I feel his energy and legacy rumbling underneath like the undercurrent motion of lava influencing on varying richter scales. Miroslaw Balka is one artist more obviously influenced by Beckett ('How It Is', 2009 - read my article on the subject here) and Graham Dolphin is another. Dolphin's latest exhibition, currently at Seventeen Gallery is a presentation of his exquisite pencil works on paper replicating famous writers, artists and thinkers' last words, Sylvia Plath's gravestone - 'Stone' and the fans last words on the memorial wall for Ian Curtis - 'Wall (Walk in Silence)'. Included is a replica of Beckett's last poem ever written 'Comment Dire' meaning 'What is the Word' in French or more literally 'how do you say', a characteristically tongue in cheek title for the last poem by one of the 20th century's greatest writers and deemed by Dolphin the most apt title for his related body of work.
Along with 'Comment Dire' is Aldous Huxley's last scrawled words, written in his last few moments; 'LSD - Try it 100 intramuscular', as he just had, dying under the influence of the mighty hallucinogenic, the last known work by Charles Bukowski a witty 'fax poem', Allen Ginsberg's last poem 'Thinks I'll Not Do', among others.
The content of the drawings is so intense - captivating historically important documents - and emotionally charged with our own fear of mortality and act of sharing in the direct thoughts of those who faced death head on, their time spent, now behind them, that you actually forget just how beautiful the graphite renderings are. Faithfully portraying the lined page, the indentations of folds and fingers, the shadows created by the accidental landscaping of the paper. The realisation that this is the work of Dolphin's own hand adds a dimension of time, meditation and complete absorption to the works, demonstrates the dexterous craft of draftsmanship, let it be unfashionably said, and a physical assertion of the artist as living mediator between his deceased heros, and the audience - us.
The most poignant perhaps though is 'Last Diary Entry' Frida Kahlo's parting words of grace. Kahlo died at 47, the official cause of death was said to be a pulmonary embolism, although it's suspected that she may have deliberately overdosed. A few days before her death she wrote (as translated in Seventeen's press release):
"Thanks to the doctors
Farill - Glusker - Parres
and Doctor Enrique Palomera
Thanks to the nurses to the stretcher hearers to the
cleaning women and attendants at the
Thanks to Dr. Vargas
Th Navarro to Dr. Polo
And to my will
I hope the exit is joyful and I hope never to return.
Until Saturday 5th May 2012