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Dexter Dalwood: Fictional History

Part 4: Unpredictable, fictional space

JPS: One of the most important differences between the Bellini and what you are doing is that you have left the figures out. This is a characteristic of your work in a broader sense, to have empty rooms or landscapes. In the Bellini the figures tell the story very clearly - what made you leave them out?

DD: I’m interested in fictional space in paintings, and how the imagination allows itself to occupy that kind of space. This goes back through a long series of paintings I have been doing where once I find a location which evokes something that the viewer, after reading the titles, doesn’t know, then my image becomes a kind of substitute image. When they read about Camp David in relation to Bush, say, then my image of Camp David becomes their picture of what it looks like; or in fact maybe it doesn’t, they may think that my picture of Camp David has nothing at all to do with what it may look like. It’s like the film version of the novel, how everyone has a version in their heads of what they think it looks like - but these are all just interpretations.

JPS: And then often the reality can be quite disappointing.

DD: The reality of a space is something else. The thing that interests me now is to try and depict something that is essentially undepictable. The paintings I have always been interested in are those where the subject of the painting is not in the painting. When I say that I think of the painting by Caspar David Friedrich of the woman at the window. What I’ve always liked about this is that the subject of the painting is the woman’s gaze out of the window, although she is contained in the room, the real subject is outside, what she is herself looking at, which is something we can’t see. So as viewers we are excited and tempted to think beyond the image that is depicted.

In another way, this idea of wanting to create an alternative reality, can be both a substitute and a yearning: perhaps, for instance, like James Joyce writing about Dublin while in exile. I would like to do an exhibition of a room full of paintings, which you would walk into and recognise that it was all about London, though none of the paintings actually showed London, through a sheer visceral juxtaposition of images, showing not the actual but the fictional.

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