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Dexter Dalwood: Fictional History

Part 7: Measuring success

JPS: You are saying that the success of a painting is not about who painted it - but you must have for your own paintings some criteria of success. What do you think success should mean for artists?

DD: Hmmm... I don’t think success is particularly good for young artists... I don’t think that success in itself is a particularly great thing... I do however think that the history of art is the history of success, on the whole - if you think of many of the painters of the past, they were successful, wealthy, doted upon and famous within their lifetime - think of Mantegna, who in his lifetime was bigger than Spielberg, in terms of the control he had of the visual world and the homage being paid to him and Altdorfer; phenomenally wealthy... living now as a painter in London is a lot different. Some degree of success is important, just to make it possible to carry on making work, to give the confidence you need to carry on making work. It’s good to struggle when you are a student, or much younger, to find your own language, but eventually it becomes essential to have some measure of success. One of the reasons I’ve made so many paintings in the past few years isn’t just because I’ve had some success, it’s because I’ve been confident that what I’m doing is interesting, not just for me but for other people. What I’ve always wanted is to have a voice within painting, - I don’t believe in this idea of the dumb artist.

JPS: It’s often been said that artists should be seen and not heard.

DD: Well I think that’s wrong. There’s something I really have to say here. There’s often a reactionary element to the way we see art of the past. Contemporary artists face this problem of how to use old art - if you don’t use it in an obviously respectful way, you’re seen as doing an ironic, throwaway project. I love painting - not just the act, but the subject - in the same way that Quentin Tarantino loves film, because really it is a question of enthusiasm. There’s a great interview with him– it’s just the sort of thing you should show to art students, not in terms of the subject, but because here is someone who has come through on enthusiasm alone. The only thing he is incredibly enthusiastic about is film, and the reason he got in the position to make films is because he got beyond being an enthusiastic nerd. He loves film so much that he was able to convince other people that he could do something great with the form. That for me is also important in painting. It’s not often you meet painters who are able to talk like that - who get excited about what it is about Cezanne, what it is about Goya - what it is about Bellini - what it is about pictorial space which can be thought about and talked about in a contemporary way, and used and reinterpreted for a new audience. And that’s the point, that’s the bigger project.

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