Denise Weston


This series of paintings depict life-sized toys and dolls. In society, these childhood objects may be used in various ways. They may represent  stereotypes, symbols, fetishes and in certain circumstances, may be symbolically used in therapy. They exist in worlds of personal coded meaning. Fragmented narrative is an important thematic concern in this work.

"... The overriding desire ... is to get at and see the soul of their toys, either at the end of a certain period of use, or on occasion straightaway...Finally he prizes it open, for he is the stronger party. But where is it's soul? This moment marks the beginning of stupor and melancholy."

Baudelaire, 1853 'The Philosophy of Toys'


Published Critique


"Adored with such persistance that they are destroyed by its ferocity or simply abandoned to fare as best they may, dolls engage our deepest emotions, our need for wholeness, above all our desire for love. Yet as in any passionate relationship, the opposite is also true. Legless, half-blind, dolls lie in boxes for decades until other young owners claim them and kill them with kindness once more. Can we describe the strength of these feelings? Denise Weston has tried. On an indefinate ground of blue-green and ochre, a dolls head appears: eyeless, bodiless, its skull fractured. The only context is a reference to water. Behind it, prone, a floppy canine eyeless doll floats by, its feet and one long ear partially obscured. It seems dead or fast asleep. The background is one of loss and gain: that magma from which everything arises. For the same ground has already served other images, been other colours. One painting merges with another.

Naked beneath a blue-green cassock, a dimpled child totters to the left, the pudgy digits of one hand touching its bare chest, those of the other raised in blessing or triumph or simply to steady itself. Blue-eyed, red-lipped, blonde-haired, it exists to reassure other venturesome toddlers by its foolhardiness and derring-do. Behind it - though there is no perspective - a golliwog doll appears, with dreadlocks and a cap. He looks more than content: disengaged, blank, spaced-out. Lacking arms or legs proves a decided advantage, for they cannot be twisted or wrenched, or thrown away. To him, there seems no call for flight. Yet among the pentimenti on the left of this Wee Willie Winkie a reason for breaking free becomes evident: a crown, painted out, forgotten, rising like a thought above the headstrong tot. Or an ideal. But what of ideals? Dolls are not babies; they never grow. They just get pulled to pieces and disregarded. In a third painting, Noddy Boys, a figure is trying to escape. Near that shiny window which is the paint surface, a doll as big as we are, is trying to get out, or tell us something. The message will never be delivered. Permanent childhood is a nightmare. Frustration and willpower triumph over every other feeling: lust, greed and violence are admired, even encouraged, and in their turn children pass this on to their dolls, at the same time as they themselves are being treated like dolls, the toys grown-ups are prevented from owning. Why paint dolls? Because a strange power-principle governs our dealings with them. Perhaps we have been so in awe of them, so in love with them, that when we realise that they are only bags of stuffing, we never forgive them and are prepared to trade them for reality or whatever we choose to call it. At this moment, we become entire, independent people, we are told. Believe that and you'll belive anything.

"Night and darkness. Who is there?" A shapeless, changing mass, like Ibsen's Boyg, yearning for definition. Yearning for the viewer to give it definition. For art is not passive; it is at our beck-and-call, like a doll, to be loved and beaten, exiled or ravished. And ritually torn to pieces, finally, in order for us to grow, to move (if that is possible, if it ever has been possible). It does not matter if it looks like a figure; Gombrich was right about that. Instead, it obeys other rules: rules of the fetish. The fetish speaks uncomfortable truths: it reminds us of those rules we have been taught to believe in, a belief which let us down in schoolrooms, in hospital waiting-rooms, besides graves, where we have tried and failed to make sense of what goes on, unseen before our very eyes, like the man being rescued and attacked simultaneously. There is only a sad, sorry tale to be told about art. Only the occasional magnificence redeems it. But that, when it happens is worth everything."

Stuart Morgan, June 1996 

Mere Jelly catalogue for 'mere jelly' exhibition at Transmission Gallery, Glasgow and Keele University Gallery.

Stuart Morgan [1948 -2002] - art critic, writer and curator - was a former editor of Artscribe, London and the consulting editor of Contemporanea, New York. His writing has appeared in many catalogues and magazines, including, Artforum, Artscribe and Frieze. In 1995 he curated, 'Rites of Passage' at the Tate Gallery, London UK. His writings include 'What the Butler Saw' (1996).

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