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Every fortunate home has its kitchen dresser. The extra-fortunate home could have a story of its life told in one of Mark Gale's paintings. Click here to go to the contact page.

Dressers? Why dressers? Why the multiple frames?

"I got cancer," Mark Gale says. "I needed a project."

Where most of us would have collapsed in an introspective heap, Mark did something different. True, he turned his eye inward, though not directly on himself but to a domestic interior and his own kitchen dresser. Similar to a kitchen dresser, the project accumulated its character over time and with a logic only half-willed. "All paintings are scary," he explains. "You're starting on something you haven't entirely planned."

As he moved into the unplanned territory of his illness, the dresser project evolved into the extraordinary multiple-framed epics that have brought the mock-heroic to the domestic. The pictures contain light and celebration and suggest laughter in the rest of the house. And there's something more if we accept (and it's a far from ridiculous idea) that dressers are where home life tells a story. These are big, well conceived works full of skill and thought and the imagery revealed on this web site suggests a host of stories and a host of interpretations.

Had he not made a full recovery, Dresser #1 might have stood as an epitaph. Its blue light is raised by the strength of the yellows on vases that can only be reflecting sunlight from a window to the artist's left. Disturbingly, the nine images shudder downwards in an effect of unwelcome double vision with the horizontal crops not quite lining up. The painting is a brave response to a time of fear, reflection and assessment, a semi-formal arrangement of things that any of Mark's friends would recognise as belonging to him and his family. The bright ceramics were made or collected by his wife Nic. The garlic cloves might symbolise a white magic medicine or a ward against demons, werewolves, and vampires. More likely they're for the pot for Mark is one of the best cooks I know. And knowing Mark, the central clock hasn't been wound up. However, both real clock and the ceramic representation to the left tell times way before midnight. The day is sunny and only half through.

The Back Kitchen at the Courts is true to life in a House and Gardens sort of way. Stainless steel taps meet Vermeer. Deco Shelves is a more formal arrangement of a mask, another clock, an aluminium ashtray in the shape of a stretched racing car and a dozen other stories. Time has moved on in yet another clock that stands centrally in one of the cropped frames that makes up Blue Dresser. Bottom left, what would seem to be a pair of drawers emerges as one, trompe l'oeil, split across two canvases. Life is in flux. Mark will soon be pulling out the cutlery and table mats and perhaps slamming the drawer shut. The cat will demand its dinner. The magic metal racing car will pop up somewhere else in the house.

Dressers are self-conscious celebrations of home and the objects they display represent people's lives. That much is obvious but things are more complex than that. The dresser is a secular shrine, a formal muddle where objects of desire full of history or hope are next to objects of indifference that are there because they're there. Mark's paintings deepen the contradictions: the scale of the multiple frames turns the homely into something monumental; they are interior landscapes; still-life narratives; portraits without any people; and private histories that have taken on a public symbolism.

We all cope with our anxieties and desires in symbolic ways. Putting language to images is what makes us human. The artist uses life to share and define symbols in a manner that vaults auto-biography and strains toward the universal. Mark puts it more simply: "We're defined by our possessions and our gifts." His talent is the painter's one of showing what is seen. His gift is to suggest meanings and definitions that take us beyond the personal to reveal common experience. Isn't that a fair definition of art?

Another fair definition is that art is money. Mark's experience of cancer doubled his determination to make a living from painting. As a full-time pencil squeezer, he went on to accept a challenge to paint The Roses where the terms were that nothing on the dresser was to be arranged. "The clutter of our lives accumulates at random and on purpose and although there's a fashion that presses us to get rid of everything but the
functional, that's not the way we live."

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