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Dexter Dalwood: Fictional History

Part 2: Cyclical mythologies

JPS: How important are the actual details of the Milosevic case for your painting, or are you making a more general point about genocide? What were your intentions?

DD: I suppose that’s a question about how premeditated much of what I do is, in terms of the thought process and selection of images, and how I want it to be read... it makes me think of something Robert Ryman once said; that he thinks a lot about making a painting before making the painting, and he thinks a lot about the painting after he’s made the painting, but while making the painting, he doesn’t think about the painting at all. Once I’ve chosen the elements I don’t really edit until afterwards, and then maybe I think, that’s really more interesting than I thought it was going to be, or, in fact, that’s more superficial and daft. For this painting, I started thinking afterwards that this was all going back to an event in the thirteenth century (the assassination of St.Peter), and that feelings of nationalism or grievances can often be traced back through the centuries to certain battles, or cataclysmic events whose effects can be felt for generation after generation, the whole thing is cyclical. You can certainly read Anselm Kiefer’s paintings in terms of this kind of idea of history. By using him I’m trying to say that the type of history he is making paintings about - Nazi war crimes - is still continuing now, so you can use the same type of imagery, just tweaking it a bit, to make it still relevant. He does that himself, the writing in the trees in the painting I am thinking about names not the sites of Nazi atrocities, but battles in the distant past, the slaughter of Roman armies by German barbarians, which became mythologised in the Third Reich.

JPS: The battle of the Teutoburger Forest.

DD: I think that’s correct.

JPS: But for Kiefer the important thing was that he was using German myths, national myths with a taboo. That’s not something you could really do, is it? Bellini isn’t very English, apart from being in the National Gallery.

DD: That’s interesting, because I really like the fact that it is just what’s available. It comes down to talking about how artists engage with collections of art, and how a collection of art, like the one at the Courtauld, is useful for the artists in London like myself, because I can come along and do something with it. That’s a different thing from finding something in a book or on a website and just suddenly saying, that’s the image I want. I’ve known the paintings in the National Gallery and the Courtauld for quite a while... they’ve been in my consciousness. This means I can make the comparison between the two paintings, physically walking down the Strand to Trafalgar Square.

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