Hello. I’m Elly Varrenti and thanks for being here tonight to celebrate the launch of Bryan Dawe’s Tangiers Illusions.
This stunning photo-montage series kicked off in Tangiers earlier this year after Bryan was approached by a local gallery to show the work.
It was his 6th visit to Tangiers.
Bryan Dawe is a classic student of the Aristolean peripatetic school – a man who does much walking and travelling, observing, listening and arguing, accompanied always by an open-heart and mind, and a boundless curiosity and desire to learn the new.
Yes, Bryan is a man of many and eclectic talents, and at times a hyper manic filigree of ideas and infectious creativity. Sharing a glass of red with Bryan is like jazz, but without the instruments.
It’s said that travelling to Tangiers is an opportunity to reinvent yourself, to live another kind of life, experience an alternative identity, to embark on the next big adventure. So at this stage of Bryan’s creative, intellectual and dare I say, spiritual life, Tangiers is a damn good fit.
The history of artists who’ve been captivated by the city of Algiers reads like a literati’s shopping list made in heaven:
Writer and composer Paul Bowles, playwright Tennessee Williams, the beat writers William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. There was Mark Twain, Jean Genet and Jack Kerouac, the painter Brion Gysin, the Rolling Stones, George Orwell, Yves Saint Laurent, Edith Wharton and Barbara Hutton. It was after Delacroix that Tangier became an obligatory stop for artists. Matisse went there many times.
And they kept on coming back, so inspired and seduced were they by the city’s geographic beauty, its ethnic mix, expat community, its texture and colour, its mystery, it’s spies, it’s aristocrats, it’s carnival, it’s transgressivness, it’s ancient cafes, its clash and tumble of religion and dialects, its celebrities, its exotic ‘otherness’, its playboy and playgirl millionaires, its buildings with facades like ageing beauty queens, its bazars, its Kasbah, its people.
All of these things have fuelled Bryan’s conscious and unconscious imaginative engine. And he’s always loved the outsider: the rogue thinker, the maverick, the mordant and the satirical, the prankster, the artist. And of course he likes having fun too and watching the world close up.
Algiers has got opportunity for all that in spades
But it’s Bryan, the writer and narrator, who fully inhabits this gallery tonight.
‘Part of the magic for me,’ he says, ‘is that Tangier is a city full of story-tellers and tales. Stories and more tales.’
When Bryan alighted on these stories of Tangiers’ he understood what it was he wished to explore in his work but then he had to figure out how to technically make it as he’d not used montage and collage in his earlier work.
Illusions is a kind of travel essay in pictures – they are playful and provocative, narratively layered and at their simplest, beautiful.
But what is the significance of the hot air balloons that keep on popping up throughout these pictures? Now the black umbrella, we’ve all seen before in those opening credits of Clarke and Dawe, Bryan holding up a black umbrella, the 2 of them standing about in a laneway, looking like they’ve fallen out of a Magritte painting.
Every piece here is a story. From a Woolworths heiress to an old man in a cafe, from circus performers to old spy movies, from Delacroix to Dawe.
With a nod to the Surrealists, a wink at the Dadaists, Bryan’s pictures resist homage and nostalgia but are of a style all his own. These pictures invite you in, to go deeper, to see what lies beneath and beyond.
Oh, and by the way, Charles Boyer’s apocryphal line in the 1938 movie Algiers, “Come with me to ze Casbah,” did not appear in the film, but who cares, it’s part of our collective imagination and that’s all that matters here.
So. Let’s all raise a glass and celebrate Tangiers Illusions.