External Drivers is the title of Dan Withey’s current solo exhibition at Hill Smith Gallery, featured as part of the 2017 SALA Festival. The show includes an impressive thirty-seven paintings, mostly acrylic on canvas, as well as a series of sculptural pieces, which represent a new direction for Withey. The exhibition also contains Withey’s largest work to date. Taking several months to complete, Reality measures 2 metres by 3 metres. Positioned on the back wall, this expansive canvas is the final and most poignant statement in his exhibition.
“This piece explores aspects of the degradation of humanity through symbolic figureheads with totemic-like qualities, vivid characters and graphic imagery. A large hand, speared by arrows, depicts the power that corporations have over the everyday man. The arrows become a metaphor for the ineffective weapons used against these powers; the failing of trickle-down economics, and the slight ripples the everyday man causes,” says Withey.
While confronting deeply serious issues around migration, displacement, equality and identity, Withey’s work is unashamedly quirky and unpretentious. He represents lived experiences and feelings that are relatable. Ring Roads perfectly illustrates the frustration of driving round in circles. Likewise I’m Not Here and Eye Spy demonstrate the feeling of being an outsider. He describes his practice as, “A way of trying to make sense of the world.” Difficult themes are cleverly sugarcoated with humour, colour, caricatures, pattern and attention to detail – his artwork is immediately accessible to anyone.
Influenced by renowned painters Brett Whiteley and Arthur Boyd, External Drivers also references historical and contemporary artists work such as Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series, Grayson Perry’s ceramics and The Wave by Hokusai. Director of Hill Smith Gallery, Sam Hill-Smith agreed, “External Drivers is Withey’s most ambitious body of work to date. He has explored more complex questions or ideas in these new paintings, along with introducing three-dimensional works. Withey, amusingly has appropriated Nolan’s famous Kelly image, to parody his own life and also as an update on the more contemporary view of injustice in the Withey vernacular. He continues to grow stronger as an artist and painter, as is evident from this his 4th exhibition with us in Adelaide.”
What sets External Drivers apart from previous exhibitions is his experimentation with both sculpture and scale. It’s as if the bigger the work, the more the artist has to say and the more powerful the message. This is a promising transition for Withey and shows maturity and conviction. Once Broken Never the Same is a broken shovel with a Withey stylised face painted on the spade. This work is a comical reminder of the challenges of the everyday.