Behind the Beauty of Formula One

September 18, 2012 by Sally J Clarke   Singapore

Few artists working today seek to communicate beauty through capturing the patterns, colours, shapes and symbols that construct the world. One artist who is concerned with portraying the world in a positive manner and evoking images of beauty is Mark Dickens.

The inspirations for his work are both contemporary and historic. Renaissance artist Masaccio (1401- 1428) whose painting is considered the first spatially correct painting in western art is of particular importance and he believes that, “Masaccio’s frescos have given me the freedom to make work in the manner that I do…..his work although allegorical, conveys a pure untainted sense of an artist’s understanding of his position in the world both spatially and physically.”



Aligned to the Masaccio’s frescos, illumination for his work derives from the mosaic, which travelled to Venice from Constantinople in the 11th century. Dickens, who studied in Florence, Italy where he completed a post-graduate Diploma, is inspired by the mosaic art form and appreciates the way it breaks patterns into multiples and the sense of repetition. When talking about the motivation for his work, he states, “I am interested not just by the beauty and continuity that is integral to the work of mosaics, but also the way they are structured and composed, which is different to a fresco.”

Bill Viola (1951) whose work, The Greeting has a particular resonance to Mark who says, ”I continue to draw upon Viola’s work not just in the aesthetic visual sense, but also sensibilities, his references to the Florentine Renaissance, the spatial awareness, the way he composes his pieces, he is an amazing artist. I think that the nature of one’s influences can be quite cryptic and profound; perhaps one is never totally aware of the meaning behind this.”

In the world of art, the term beauty has fallen out of fashion. Robert Hughes who was considered one of the greatest art critics of his generation, claimed that abstract painting has to do with the divine, that beauty matters as when we seek it we are able to look outside ourselves from our everyday concerns. Furthermore, he asserted that our desire to live with art and learn from it remains unchanged. The work of Dickens speaks to this perceived desire for beauty, which the contemporary art scene is so keen to negate. Hughes argued that we only have to look at the public’s reaction in London to Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project at the Tate Modern with its 2.5 million visitors in 2004 to comprehend that the search for a contemplative space continues.

It was art and ideas from the byzantine world that transformed art in Italy with Sicily acting as a melting pot for different civilisations. This interaction of civilisations created work that believed beauty was divinity and divinity itself was a golden gift, something to be celebrated. Dickens argues in conceptual work, “Beauty is not the artists’ way and not at the forefront of its mind-set”. Also unlike some contemporary artists working today such as Sopheap Pich or Jeff Koons, Mark does not write a design brief for skilled artists to execute, but produces his own work. Mark’s narratives record the beauty in the world around us using a mixture of the visual format of mixed media collage including the use of print, fabric, gold leaf, paint and handwritten texts set into resin on books or board. They speak to what is important, what we should remember and what images matter. “My process of building layer upon layer of different elements brings to each work a sense not only of its apparent surface, but everything that is obscured beneath: itself a metaphor for time present and time past.”

This week sees Dickens first solo showcase in Singapore, An Affair with Formula One™. The exhibition will unveil ten new paintings that interpret the world of racing. The resonance of his work can be discovered in its use of colour, symbolism and layers – the algebra of his oeuvre. Cityscapes, iconic racing images from each of the cities, where the races were held during 2011, are multi-layered; offering the viewer a panorama of Formula One all within a 100 cm by 100 cm frame.



In his work we observe that the inner frame changes to reflect a city’s heritage as do the street lights.

In Singapore we can see Peranakan motifs, which reference a unique hybrid culture that is still part of the city state’s living heritage; the motifs have a mosaic like quality and the artist’s use of them extends into the centre of the work. In comparison, perhaps China is the more poetic piece: its increased use of metaphor echoes the rising predominance of the country on the world stage. Here we see the cultural heritages of the Formula One™ host cities coexisting in one work. The Peranakan motif can be viewed alongside Turkish tiles, road signs in multiple languages and a golden Buddha. Dickens believes, “we take a lot of beauty for granted, which is why I use many symbols in my work such as street lanterns and butterflies.” He says that “his process of building layer upon layer of different elements brings to each work a sense not only of its apparent surface, but everything that is obscured beneath, itself a metaphor for time present and time past.”