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Dexter Dalwood: Fictional History

Part 5: Contemporary history painting

JPS: The idea of ‘Genius Loci’ is something quite important for British painting, particularly say, in the work of Paul Nash, who evoked the English landscape, yet by images of a magical, surreal landscape that were fictional rather than topographically correct. We talked about the way that Anselm Kiefer is in a national tradition of painting - do you think that the themes you deal with are part of a national tradition?

DD: No I don’t . I think my work is operating in a post Warhol tradition. It could also be described as contemporary history painting.

JPS: In the same way that Warhol took images from the mass media, you reuse images from a variety of sources. In so far as what you do is about recycling imagery, and about the way that both historical and contemporary events are represented, your work could be described as a type of ‘media painting’; especially in that you use collage elements, where the joins between the different spaces and ideas disappear.

DD: When I say ‘history painting’ I don’t really mean an extension of the nineteenth-century project of history painting, I’m just saying that the closest thing you could compare it with is history painting - and I’m also interested in how you can paint real subjects. That was something that wasn’t convenient for modernists, and was written out of painting - but the situation is more open now, and a number of things have become possible once again, like the depiction of space, perceptual space, and depicting the way that we mediate, as you say, or bring together images. What I’m doing is bringing three or four different elements into a painting, from different historical moments, differently painted, and seeing how that can gel for a moment to be something that is readable, and makes you think about something else.

JPS: What you are doing is really what painters have done throughout history, to take images from the past and reinterpret them, which can be a powerful way of making a point about the present - the way in which current events echo historical events, even very distant events, but also the way in which the present, because it is our present, seems unique.

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