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WORK OF THE WEEK | 30 March 2020

This very colourful painting, Cut Out, Drop Out (1968) by Gerard Dillon, mixes melancholy with hope as a strange science-fiction landscape unfolds before the viewer.

In this cryptic scene, the artist employs a recurring figure in his work: Pierrot. A stock character from the commedia dell’arte (Italian street theatre), Pierrot is often seen as a clumsy and sad clown, but with deep pathos and a capacity for fun. Also featured in works by Antoine Watteau, Pablo Picasso, and Salvador Dalí, here Pierrot looks skyward, his melancholy form jarring with the colourful palette of Gerard Dillon (1916-1971).

This painting was completed in the aftermath of Dillon’s first stroke, which would have a profound effect on his practice. Often autobiographical, the works that emerged in the few short years that followed – including this one – became otherworldly, colourful and dreamlike meditations on mortality. Indeed, the three figures forming the branches of a (family) tree in the middle foreground of Cut Out, Drop Out may represent his brothers who had predeceased him.

And yet, as his biographer James White notes, ‘it is hard to imagine that any other artist ever got more out of his art than Gerard did. Through it he discovered the full joy of creativity.’

Perhaps this explains why, in his treatment of the sky in Cut Out, Drop Out, Dillon references Henri Matisse, who in declining health turned to making complex, joyous, and liberating cut-outs. Although his Pierrot seems to have fallen from his element, Dillon’s cut-outs ask us to look up and embrace the healing potential of play.

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