Alex Dordoy: Answering Machine | GRIMM

The ambiance cast by the works in this exhibition somehow matched the weather on the day I went: cold, clear and uncannily still. Alex Dordoy uses shallow collages of acrylic paint on canvas to render apparently comforting and familiar scenes. The interior of a church (Answering Machine); a seascape (A Few Careless Words); a couple camping in a forest (Kindling the March Wind).

Look closer, though, and things get uncomfortable. The church’s statues are cut off at the ankles; a big wave in the middle of the sea is breaking on… apparently nothing. And that comforting forest scene pictured below - which Dordoy based on an English poster ad from the 1930s - is lit up in livid shades of red and magenta.

Alex Dordoy - Kindling the March Wind (2022)

The closer you look, the weirder this painting gets. The trunks of the trees in the background are surreally skinny and knobbly. The slope on which the couple have set their (tiny) fire is incredibly steep. Looking closer, there are no visible brush marks at all: each section is a single flat colour. This painterly precision somehow adds to the chilling, foreboding atmosphere.

And what about that couple in the painting? Neither one is looking at us and they’re facing away from each other. Are they fighting? Are they plotting something? Or maybe they’re frightened - wouldn’t you be if the hill you sat on was lit up in acrid pink, the tree across the way was glowing red - red for danger.

Dordoy doesn’t generally paint from life: instead, he uses stock pictures and phone photos, as well as archival images like the travel poster that inspired Kindling the March Wind. These are then run through Photoshop and subjected to various distortions, before ending up on canvas.

He’s treading a path worn in by other digital manipulators of found images such as Ed Fornieles and Wade Guyton, in other words. But there’s something in Dordoy’s homely sinisterness that held my attention, even after I stepped out of the gallery and into the cold, still Mayfair afternoon.

Alex Dordoy: Answering Machine is at GRIMM (London). 10 November 2022 to 06 January 2023