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Dexter Dalwood: Fictional History

Part 3: "That's where the painting is"

JPS: Here in your studio we’re looking at four unfinished works - two small studies, a medium-sized painting that looks more finished, and a very large canvas that is mostly underpainting, all of them containing a background based on the wood in the Courtauld Gallery Bellini. What was it about the Courtauld version that made you choose it over the National Gallery’s version?

DD: Well, in the National Gallery painting the frieze of trees in the background is a lot more solid and accomplished, the top right-hand third of the painting is a solid mass of trees, and what looks much more like an Italian landscape is the space through to the left. What really attracted me to the Courtauld version was this strange cut-through in the middle which gives this incredible depth of space, a never-ending perspectival space. It also reminded me much more of modernist painting, Cezanne, certainly, and then when I thought of Cezanne I thought of Phillip Guston, in terms of having a very crowded space. I remember Guston talking about one of his paintings that contained a great pile of bodies, and within the pile there was just one tiny patch of blue sky, and he went to the painting and pointed at this blue patch and said, that’s where the painting is. It’s the breathing hole in the painting; a thing you always see in Cezanne, where there’s always some way of getting through the mass of forms, where the thing begins to breathe, and yet everything looks as if it is carved out of stone. So Bellini makes me think of Cezanne, and then of Guston, and I thought, perhaps I can take something out of a Guston painting that contains this grave-like element, and put it in the painting as well. So I put this gaping mouth-like pit in the foreground.

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