A Sullen Perfume by Dean Cross smells of testosterone, petrol and danger


A Sullen Perfume, by Dean Cross, is dominated by a huge wallpaper installation titled Chariot, 2020. The vehicle in question is a clapped-out white Ford. With this work the Sydney-based Worimi artist joins a long line of artists for whom the car is a semi-scared symbolic object, both totem and omen. Damian Dillion’s black and white video STRAYA, 2019, in which a car turns endless smoky burnouts – a defiant bogan ballet, both beautiful and destructive – comes to mind. As do (of course) the far better known Holden Torana paintings by fellow Australian Ben Quilty.

The pale car in Chariot is surrounded by an ambiguous white mist; part mythic fog, part burning rubber. Even static, abandoned and surrounded by weeds this automobile represents potential: potential speed, power and of course danger, all of the things that drive (pun intended) thrill seekers of all persuasions towards fast cars.

Cross has staged a bright yellow disc balanced on a jerry can in front of his Chariot. The title of this 3D collage, The Boy in the Moon Grew up and Got Arrested, points to the risks inherent in petrol soaked adventure, as does the work placed almost, but not quite opposite.

Dean Cross, Installation view of Dean Cross, A Sullen Perfume. Courtesy of the artist and Yavuz Gallery.

This assemblage of three loose bits of canvas, violently nailed directly to the wall, reads like a warning: joy-riding thrills are all too easily followed by tragic spills. In this a work a rough square painted hazard yellow seems to depict traffic cones on a sketchy highway, cordoning off the location where it all went wrong. This bright scrap of canvas partially obscures the bleary painted figure above, standing dazed in a landscape of scrub. Is he the victim or perpetrator of the accident? Either way he surveys the implied wreckage, apparently muttering the rueful incantation scrawled four times in capital letters on the adjacent sheet of calico: I WILL NEVER DANCE AGAIN.

Is Cross painting an actual car crash or the virtual train wreck of circumstances? Either way his I WILL NEVER DANCE AGAIN, 2020, is laden with a heavy sense of loss. Is it the loss of life, the loss of joy, the loss of country, or culture? Perhaps all of the above.

In other works fuel-injected stories take on a tone more akin to that of a ‘boy’s own adventure.’ In MINE/MINE, 2019, Cross presents a diagrammatic drawing in oil stick on unframed linen. Here, using a kind of cryptic cartography, the artist categorically claims his territory, without revealing its location.

Elsewhere, a very dark grey X seems to mark to the spot on a highly textured black canvas. Again without really giving anything away. But the title, ONE BILLION, 2020, does provide a clue. The work may be less of a treasure map and more of a memorial. It is likely that this big X emphatically marks the tragic crossing out of untold lives, both human and non-human, during the recent (and ongoing) catastrophic bush fires.

In this way it seems that while A Sullen Perfume by Dean Cross definitely reeks of testosterone fuelled folly, it is not the heady whiff of teen spirit but the far more dangerous stench of what we have come to call toxic masculinity. With a petrol infused nod to the destructive influence of the fossil fuel industry, Cross cleverly points out that the attitude that you should ‘drive it like you stole it’ – whether applied to a car or a country (as artist Vernon Ah Kee quipped on a T-shirt) or the planet as a whole – is behaviour that threatens us all.

A Sullen Perfume
Dean Cross
Yavuz Gallery
27 February – 28 March

Review Words by Tracey Clement