To tinker is to repair a thing through a manual interaction that is as close to play as work can get. An object is worried at, fiddled with, trimmed down or cobbled together, and in the end transformed to agree with an idea held in the tinkerer’s head. The object is the fruit of a compromise between that ideal and the reality of things, fed by expediency and the pleasures of play.
Dominic Beattie’s work emerges out of the most basic materials – scraps of plywood, sheets of stickers, marker pen and spray paint – through a process of improvisation and thinking on the spot. Ordinary objects beget compositional forms that nod to the classic modernism of Tatlin or Lissitzky. Perforated plastic becomes a cut price Bridget Riley; Ellsworth Kelly returns in a sliver of wood. Beattie’s practice is, as with any tinkerer, born of a kind of looking: the world of things is a scrapyard of potential transcendence. The tinkering transforms. Look closely at any one of his works: Beattie’s learned sense of compositional rightness generates the visual charge of an abstract painting, and his willingness to let things be – that tinkerers’ trust in his own judgment – allows the component parts to call back to their origins, to carry their past in the forms of the present. Each work operates somewhere between the matter-of-fact bluntness of its component parts and the fizzing visual energy of its arrangement.
Tinkering implies a certain space: the attic or the garden shed, somewhere locked against the noise of life. Seated at a table in his studio, Beattie works like an obsessive hobbyist, generating his outsider aesthetic from the detritus of the external world. This DIY approach to abstraction casts a sidelong glance at modernism’s purist pretensions, while recasting artists of the last century as tinkerers themselves. By assembling a half-remembered modernism out of the discarded stuff of contemporary life, Beattie tinkers with – modifies, corrects, repairs – the afterlife of the century gone. His work shuttles between the head and the hand: it’s this, albeit that, albeit this.