It's a perhaps unlikely exhibition that's rooted in the audacious decision to daub trouser presses with paint and stick them to the wall, but this was the image that first turned Inverleith curator Paul Nesbitt on to then young art graduate Alex Dordoy's eclectic work.
"I didn't know quite what to make of it," admits Nesbitt of the work exhibited at Glasgow's Modern Institute in 2009, "but that's usually a good sign and I decided to consider Alex for our Exhibitions Programme."
"Showing here is a dream when you are at art school," says Alex Dordoy, speaking mid-installation at Inverleith House. "The space gives you so much." Dordoy, who was born in Newcastle in 1986 and graduated from Glasgow School of Art in 2007, was a frequent visitor to the east-coast gallery while a student and so is "very familiar" with its walls.
Loading article content
Not that Dordoy's work will be confined to the walls of the Georgian house in Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Garden. Dordoy, now based in London, may be a painter, but he also works in sculpture and installation, his exhibitions usually marrying wall-mounted - or painted - work and freestanding objects.
The exhibition has been in planning since 2012 when Nesbitt's initial interest in Dordoy was cemented by his most recent Modern Institute show. "I say two years, but what with everything else I've been working on, I didn't really start on the work until six weeks ago," admits Dordoy. "It wasn't much of a Christmas," he laughs. Nesbitt and Dordoy chose a January slot to make the most of the "pale, distant quality of light [when] the [surrounding] trees are at their most abstract and sculptural".
If Dordoy is an up-and-coming artist, he has come up rather more quickly than most, having already exhibited at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in 2010 as part of the Young Scottish Painters show. His new concern has been to make his work more 'personal'. "My initial entry point, when thinking about this exhibition, has been looking at quite personal objects," Dordoy tells me. "It's partly in reaction to a lot of the work that I've been making in the last few years which has been quite cold, digital and impersonal."
This newly personal side will be grounded here in a totem pole constructed entirely from plaster casts of a wooden bust of Karl Marx carved some decades ago by Dordoy's father. "It's quite silly," Dordoy says cheerfully of the "ritualistic" object. "My dad's seen it and he takes full credit. That bust is one of the things I grew up with. It had a quite heavy political meaning for him but it no longer has for me now. That shift in meaning over time is something I'm interested in. And I couldn't get Karl Marx into the show in any other way…"
Alongside Marx, there are "more substantial elements" based on Dordoy's continuing use of a motif found on ancient Chinese 'cong' ritual burial objects. The motif - a stylized face - appears on the plaster plinths into which he has sunk a number of "iconic" objects, from his recently defunct laptop to parts from a photocopier and a pair of basketball boots. "The process is really laborious and I had intended never to do it again after the first cast I made a year ago, but I felt when I visited here in November that that was what the exhibition needed. They give a sense for the show as a whole."
Dordoy's creative process is something of a nebulous thing. "I guess I don't think too much," he says, although this is somewhat disingenuous. The consistency comes from the recurring materials and the processes he is constantly developing, although past exhibitions have been overlain with ideas of impermanence and ambiguity, of vulnerability and the physicality of matter.
Dordoy's idiosyncratic processes include designing work on computer in Photoshop, then meticulously painting the image in oil on canvas. The plinths at Inverleith have necessitated a development of his "toner print transfer" technique to the simultaneous printing and casting of 3D work.
It's all been fairly plain sailing, with the odd hitch. When we speak, Dordoy tells me he has just spent the last two days trying to make a technically complicated perspectival wall drawing. After multiple rehashes, he rubbed the whole thing out. I ask if he might reuse the idea again, but he demurs. He will, in a few months, take part in Generation, the major retrospective of contemporary Scottish art at the National Galleries.
"They have given me a corridor of the gallery," says Dordoy. "I had been planning to do a wall drawing... But after this experience, I think I'm going to have a rethink."
Alex Dordoy: persistencebeatsresistance, Inverleith Gallery, Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh (0131 248 2971/2849 at weekends, www.rbge.org.uk) until March 30