The Nomadic Soul: Zoellin’s Latest Outsider Art Paintings
“I met Charlie at one of those artistic markets in Hossegor, France. We immediately fell in love. Don’t ask me why. You don’t need a reason to love someone. Now he is living in my studio full time. We have a very special relationship, and I regularly paint his portrait.” — Dimitri Zoellin
Doggies is a new series by artist and world traveller Dimitri Zoellin. His career of raw art — Zoellin’s term for his own inspired, informally trained, and unreserved style — continues with this bold, spiritually overflowing offering. Notable for its use of color and liberated form of self-expression, Doggies gives us work that is honest, playful, full of life, and, of course, raw.
These outsider art paintings depict creatures in contexts created through an emotional vocabulary wholly Zoellin’s own. Riding the bright colors of the acrylic paint they are rendered in, the eye frolics from piece to piece. Using intuition, mixed media, and even integrating the structures present at the time of creation — this character is a psychedelic spiral of contrasting colors and forms, erratic strokes. But it always returns to its main subject, his hero: the little doggie from Hossegor’s market.
Stray Dogs as Outsider Paintings
While hard to exactly define due to the breadth of its scope, Doggies is an enormous series focused on an ongoing relationship between Zoellin and the characters he has spent so much time with. It is not always a linear story, but it remains coherent through the brute force honesty of his painting. One comes away with the impression of change in time, notes moving in and out of harmony, but the paintings themselves always elude predictions of what might come next.
The characters in the series live and travel, developing over the course of the paintings. Their nomadic souls process the world in explosions of text, borrowed media, and errant dabs of color. It makes sense that the characters in Doggies would grow and change, as they have been a critical part of Zoellin’s path for years. With more than a hundred pieces, they have the space to recreate and reimagine.
Despite the size of the series, the artist says he has no plans on stopping. After all this time spent with the characters, they have taken up permanent residence in his mind.
Joy of stray
The series follows the roaming joy of stray. Both the feral freedom and inherent kindness in the dog who trusts the road ahead. At over a hundred paintings, certain vague narratives coalesce around your own emotional reactions to each piece. This reading of tone mirrors the canine’s experience in a way, experiencing waves of energy that place it in different psychological modes.
Aspects of life
Each painting is named for the emotion or real-life friend that helped formulate the piece. In this way, the recurring cast of characters return, representing more and more aspects of life, experiencing them. This use of characters as vessels of an ever-growing number of feelings and states of being lends them an eternal quality.
Zoellin knows the way of the stray. He has lived life on the seas, floating from place to place, selling art out of his houseboat. It is easy to see why he chose the subject matter, or why it chose him. Something to do with the connection between the pilgrim soul and the stray dog. As an outsider artist, Zoellin is like a stray, shuffling through the world trying to make his own way, neither led by the collar and leash nor comforted by the household. Perhaps the archetypal stray dog is the patron saint of all artists working on the outside.
If we take Zoellin’s own understanding of the works as evocations of Pagan spirits and as animistic works that hum with the power that runs through all creatures, plants, and things, we can appreciate the effervescence and wild ways of the pieces.
The Artist’s Totem
Inspired by a dog puppet Zoellin found on the street, the artist keeps the item around almost like a totem, a magical object that represents the beneficent spirit of dog kind watching over the traveller as he makes his way from port to port. This item, curled up in the corner of Zoellin’s life, began to work its way into the paintings. What emerged is a colorful, energetic series that meditates on the characters’ energy.
The Animism of Dimitri Zoellin’s Raw Art
Animism is a feature of Zoellin’s entire body of work, but Doggies draws out this worldview with new clarity. The characters are forever filled with vibrating energy, always captured mid-metamorphosis, in transition, endowed with a more permanent spirit that carries through each painting.
This connection to animism runs deeper than instinct. Zoellin began painting after visiting Australian Aboriginal people and seeing their artwork. Inspired by the forms and personal connection to the act of creation, Zoellin set out to make art of his own. The influences of his first teachers remain firmly at the heart of what he does. From the use of dotted textures and the pursuit of unveiling the interior energies of his subjects, Zoellin’s work is everywhere influenced by Aboriginal art.
As an outsider artist, Zoellin’s work embodies raw energy and follows impulse, and so Doggies also allows him to express this important element of style. As the artist travels and explores the world, so too do these energies inside him that form the characters of the pieces. These pieces, created using a mixture of Zoellin’s own personal discoveries and the influence of his Aboriginal teachers, bring together the threads of the artist’s life and journey.
The result is a sprawling series that brings out the interior energies of the world around us, riding the energies as they come at the same time the paintings depict them. Doggies is a wild work of imagination from an independent spirit, reminding us of the powers inherent to the stray dog. May they look after you in your life, travels and dreams.
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