PV begins with Q&A between the artist and Brendan Lancaster, 6-7pm Friday 28th June
Exhibition continues Saturday 29, Sunday 30 then Friday 5, Saturday 6 and Sunday 7 July, or by appointment
Gordon Dalton’s paintings have a melancholic humour that questions their seriousness and intentions. His seemingly dour, offhand approach denies any superficial finesse to reveal a love of defiant, unwieldy imagery. The paintings are self-conscious of what they are, their possible failings, yet disregard any angst by replacing it with a certain nonchalance and arrogance.
Gordon Dalton in conversation with Brendan Lancaster.
BL: Where did the title of the show come from?
GD: A good painting has it's own strange life and personality. I started to wonder what the paintings were up to when i wasnt in the studio. Do they come down off the wall and sit around smoking, drinking, and listening to AC/DC? Do they go on holiday or do the weekly shop? I liked the idea of them all getting together, shouting for attention, like some kind of Idiot Convention. There's always that trepidation when you go back into the studio, like they had been up to something bad, like Gremlins.
BL: What are you sources for imagery or subject matter? In particular, the trails of smoke or cloud (?) in the recent paintings, where did they come from? GD: I’m still an adolescent kid with stuff piling out of a wardrobe covered in Heavy Metal posters, trying to ram it all in. There are lots of objects I keep for a long time which crop up, old tennis balls, rubber snakes, band logos. The recent ones, with smoke trails, etc, I'm from the North East and live in South Wales, so smokestacks are burnt into memory, so that's one reference, and painting smoke or clouds is always a pleasure. There's a more direct references to other painters such as Thomas Jones, the Puvis de Chavannes paintings. I was thinking about them as what was happening off camera, just out of shot or a glimpse. That led to imagining what they get up to on a night, that the subject might have got up and left the painting. I've been obsessed by the John the Baptist paintings by Puvis de Chavannes for over a decade now, and in this show elements of the paintings have started to crop up or directly referenced.
BL: What is it about the Puvis de Chavannes that hooks you?
GD: I guess his obsession with the subject and composition that he tried and tried again with the second painting. I'm not particular interested in the symbolism, and it's not even my 'favourite' painting, but his approach to the tree, the different figures, the background, it seems to be a good example of looking harder, looking longer, what makes a painting, why it continues to fascinate.
BL: Looking at materials and ‘finish’, you talked to Danny Rolph about the ‘polluted’ quality of the materials. And I know you have mentioned how you used to use scrappy brushes. I wonder if this relates to some idea about finish, about the type of finish a painting presents. I’m thinking of something Willem De kooning (I think) said that at the time (50s 60s) European painting had a quality of finish, polished maybe, that he didn’t want, that he wanted to actively avoid. To look unfinished, unpolished. You can see that I think when you look at European abstract art from the time, eg, Pierre Soulages looks mannered compared to De Kooning. So...long winded approach to the question... do you think about that, about scrappiness of finish – in the paint surface, in the gestures, textures,materials and even the drawing? If so...why?
GD: Good question. There's an interview with Paul Housley where he talks about painting as 'pushing coloured mud around with a hairy stick'. I like that, it's down to earth, honest. Some of the work here has a real dried out feel, like you've found it in a box at a car boot. I'm trying different finishes, gestures, etc, but they are still polluted or dirty, almost off putting, but I want it to be attractive in some way. It's not about looking hard won or showing off. There is a certain scruffy clunkiness that I like, something that trips you up so you almost fall into a painting. Each one has a series of small battles going on, trying to get that 'just so' moment. I'd hope the scruffiness or ugliness is part of the charm of my work, it makes you love it a little bit more, almost feel sorry for it.
BL: How important are titles? How would you describe the purpose of the title? GD: They veer from being red herrings to overtly, almost pompously poetic, to being some dumb saying or phrase. They set a tone sometimes. Then again, I often ask friends for titles so they can be pretty meaningless. I have lots of titles kicking around looking for a painting, some come whilst painting. It depends on the mood. The smaller paintings in the show are titled slightly differently, as they are all about smoking in some way - Ex-Smoker, Smokey Joe, but the others can be overheard conversations or lyrics which can kickstart a painting, or bad punch lines. I guess i want them to reference a kind of 'bad grammer', which I think my painting has.
BL: Why is bad grammar so appealing (to me too)? What is it bad grammar does that good grammar doesn’t? GD: I think it makes you question what you are looking at, to hopefully make you look again. It can be as simple as having a mustard yellow where a blue should be, or in the surface or mark making. I wish it were that simple. In books it would just be annoying, but in painting i think it makes it 'look right' even if it's not technically correct. It also links together parts of the painting where you are not quite sure what's happening, that's allowed, its ok just to follow your nose.
BL: Humour, in an oblique way, is in the imagery. Which of your paintings do you think is most successful in getting the humour you want? GD: There's a ridiculousness I like about painting an octopus or a whoopee cushion, or a fake beard with lots of pipes. It's a slightly sad humour, self- mocking perhaps. The humour lets you in I hope, it’s an entry point into the painting. I often think art is pretty stupid and get almost embarrassed, so it’s like taking the piss out of myself. It’s pretty deadpan.
BL: Why painting? What is it about painting that compels you?
I'm still looking for that answer. I think it's looking for that one image that emerges out of the paint, something that sticks... Everything goes in, a lot gets vomited
out. I think painting has always been exciting, if a little frustrating. It just about manages to avoid fashions and trends, yet remains vital. I really like just having an ongoing one on one experience with a painting. I don't think other art forms have that.
BL: So when you’re painting do you generally prefer to keep the paint wet, so you can push it around? And paint a picture all in one session? Or do you plan and paint in stages, letting layers dry deliberately? Or is it all less planned than that?
I generally have a few on the go at once, some are done in one session, but that could be 12 hours or 20 minutes. Others may have 24hrs spread over months. Some of the recent paintings mix up dry and wet surfaces, especially the empty frames. I’d like to say it was more planned but intuition plays a major part. Sometimes not knowing where you are going is the best path to take.
BL: Tell me about colour – it seems as if you have a range of colours that crop up a lot – the primary red and quite a weak (?) yellow, and the muted mid-tone greys and browns. How did this come about, this palette? And how about green - is green an odd colour to work with?
GD: Colour is another set of battles, they often start out very bright, primary colours, it's something to fight against. Others start dark and go the other way. There's often a muted or faded quality i'm looking for, but i'm always aware its paint, coloured mud. Green is an odd colour to paint with, it can play tricks on you and the viewer. Same with the yellows. Weak yellow is a great description, such a vibrant colour reduced to looking slightly ill, melancholic, almost pathetic. Saying that, I’ve been using a Cerulean Blue straight from the tube which is pretty zingy, it’s like something John Hoyland or Richard Diebenkorn might dismiss for being too bright.
BL: How do you know when a painting is finished?
GD: It's a rubbish answer, but sometimes, if you are lucky, you just do. It's instinct that comes through lots of studio practice. There can be a general point where you are close to where your aiming for, then it can just hit bullseye. Saying that, I've shown work before that has gone on to be worked on again, sometimes changing radically. There are times when holding back from what could be 'finished' helps the painting in the long run...to have something missing, to not be so obvious.
BL: Which living artists most interest you?
GD: There's so many, but Merlin James is constantly interesting. I like people like Paul Housley, Renee Daniels, Ansel Krut, Phillip Allen, Doig, Mali Morris, but if I made a list I'd only miss someone off.
BL:Which dead artists?
GD: Oh man, again it's impossible. De Keyser died last year didnt he? Guston, Morandi, Gaugin, Thomas Jones, Sickert are always somewhere in the studio; Periode Vache Magritte, William Scott, Hopper. Some come and go, some take on more significance...I didn’t really appreciate Graham Sutherland or Paul Nash until recently.
BL: Is there any ‘naïve art’ you look at?
GD: Not particularly, I'm always a bit suspicious of the term, similar to that of 'bad painting'. Are Alfred Wallis or Lowry naïve? I don’t know, but I like them.
BL: What paintings would you hang in your dream exhibition? Or if you had a huge house and unlimited budget –what paintings and art would you choose to live with? Blimey, where would you start? Far too many Gustons but perhaps Couple in Bed? Room? Ancient Wall? Any of them basically. Degas' Combing the Hair, Daumier's Don Quixote, Thomas Jones' Building in Naples. Luckily, those are quite easy to see in museums in the UK.
BL: I'm intrigued by you including Daumier's Don Quixote? Where does your love of that one come from? I guess it's a mixture of all of the above. It was one of the first paintings I really liked, and it's an image that's stuck. There's a graphic quality I like, but also the paint seems to have been pushed or fallen into all the right places.
BL: What shows have you seen recently that you’ve most enjoyed?
GD: The Lion Lamb gallery in Shoreditch has been pretty good of late. Unknown Sitter had Aly Heyler, Housley, Matthew Burrows, Geraint Evans, etc. Also shows by painters like Yelena Popova, Nicholas Carrick, all good. And your show at Motorcade, obviously! I haven’t seen Merlin James at Parasol Unit yet. For pure enjoyment, rather than envy, the Morandi print show at the Estorick Collection was simply brilliant.
BL: Do you think about originality – does it concern you?
GD: I don’t worry about it when working, i'm not fretting about it being new or original, it would bog you down. I guess there's the whole history of painting to weigh you but it's the same as influences, it all helps with learning something new, or at least getting 'better'. It looks forced when you try and make something original, painting is a one long, winding learning curve, with plenty of pitfalls along the way. I wear my influences on my sleeve, mainly because there's no hiding from them. It's a way of learning new things, of looking in a different way, there's nothing wrong with that. I can get caught up in stuff like that for a long time, things like Constable's cloud paintings, etc.
BL: Do you draw – if so do the drawings relate to the paintings?
Not as much as I should. There's sketchbooks of scratchy little drawing, notes, photos, lyrics, and depending on the painting, lots of drawing on the canvas. I’m hoping to do a lot more drawing later in the year.
BL: Are there any self imposed "rules" that you stick to when making your paintings? GD: I think I'm always trying to break my own rules or 'house style'. It's easy to slip into or fall back on what has been ‘succesful’. Whilst it's something I like, I'm always looking to surprise myself first. No rules as such, as intuition should kick in, but sometimes it will be 'don't sit down or step away from the painting for an hour' or only use the same brush. Just little tricks to get working. I sometimes paint totally ridiculous stuff on a blank canvas just to get started. Words, cartoons, band logos, speed penises, etc – if they ever x-rayed my paintings a hundred years from now, God only knows what they’d think.
BL: At the risk of sounding mundane, do you take painting home and see how it looks there, maybe to assess if it's finished or if you like it? If so do you think this is different from assessing work strength in a gallery hang? (I think the two are different - but I think seeing them at home is important for me, even though it's not the whole story. I see things in them that I like or not that I couldn't see in studio. And when they get on a big white wall they are different again.)
GD:Good question, not mundane at all. I do that. Not so much with the larger works, but it's a good test. You can get blinkered in the studio, even in the gallery. I've taken works home and they've looked so different they go in a different direction.
BL: Music and film are influences - tell us about them. Books too - anything else? GD: It seems quite generic to say music and films, but away from the studio, they are an escape. I'm not particularly an art film fan, I guess I have a fear of pretension or some kind of inverted snobbery, which is weird for an artist to say. Give me a blockbuster or a John Carpenter movie and I'm happy.
It’s pretty well documented that I love Heavy Metal and Horror movies. I just feel happier talking about that stuff. They have that immediate impact, can be dumb and completely ridiculous and over the top, but also clever at the same time. They want to be liked, to entertain the viewer, to aspire to greater things, but also retain a sense of mystery or uniqueness. I like that. Books wise, Douglas
Coupland sets a tone or feel i feel happy with, a kinda downbeat optimism. And they are brilliantly visual.
BL: Is there any sculpture in this show?
I’m considering including a couple of small things from the studio, just to give the paintings some company. One is a model of the Sydney Opera house that is actually a hat. It's kinda stupid, but has a similar awkward feeling to some of the paintings. It gets repainted on a regular basis in the studio. Haven’t quite decided if it goes in yet, we'll see. I wouldn’t really class them as sculpture, it’s all about the painting.