The Fictitious Real
Evoking a twinkling in time, the artist’s eye lingers to muse within the psychology of a moment removed. Decontextualized and reframed, Jonathan Dalton’s world is one of interwoven states of unrest, where the overwhelming emotion of a moment is simultaneously disassociated and deeply ingrained. Moreover, it is a narrative tale that wanders and leads the viewer through loss and belonging, where fictive elements are rendered real, a story unfolds and the fragility of the moment is allowed.
But whose moment is it? And herein lies the rub. This is not the narrative of a contemporary woman. Nor is it the narrative of the found writings telling the story of a young Irish woman coming to Australia. Indeed, it is not even the story of Dalton’s parallel journey. Rather, it is the universal ambiguities of the displaced, stretched across time.
“I felt a most surprising sense of loss, a strange melancholy caused by an absent friend or lover, upon leaving Barcelona. A yearning for my home left behind. This show was a means of resolving this, a meditation to understand my own journey to Australia, an echo of this young migrant’s tale,” Dalton explains.
Drawing on old journals, postcards, notepads and, as Dalton puts it, ‘the other detritus of a life extinguished,’ the work chooses scenes from the life of a young migrant leaving Ireland in 1937 on the slow boat to Australia. Happened upon by Dalton in an antique shop, the finding, however, is simply the result of the true narrative, which is the search, or rather the need for the search. Similarly, what he chooses to depict, the snippets from life and charged moments of unease, are an emotional sounding board, rather than a linear telling or historic dialog. To complicate matters, the images do not serve as a metaphor or allegory. Rather, in the sense of literature, they serve as adjectives, to inform how the next bit, whatever that next bit may be, is understood. That we are never shown the progression drives the idea of universality home, in that all lives are made up of how moments affect our sense of being.
The horse is, perhaps, the most overt image described in the journals. Bound and held, its terror of the sea is so great that it breaks its fetters and plunges overboard. Dalton’s images show the horse struggling against the ropes in one, and entering the sea in another. Each however is presented as a stand alone piece. Where this differs from a metaphor is the psychology of the young woman observing the scene and imbuing its record with her deepest sense of self.
Dia ár sabháil*
That poor horse, terrified on Monday, is dead today.
They had it out again, but it bolted and before any of us knew it was in the water.
Herself said, the bridle had ratted.
A shame, she said.
It was a vaudeville farce, a shaking, horrid thing, that’s what it was.
In Dalton’s rendering there is nothing of the scene surrounding the terror of the horse: the ship deck; the type of ship; the passengers; the passengers shared terror or even the observer. These elements have been stripped away leaving nothing but the primal fact of the horse: flared nostrils; wide and rolling eye; every muscle sprung for action. But, without the ship, without the contextualization, there is no rationale to the scene as a narrative. Rather, it is fear itself that Dalton portrays and aptly titles On the Recognition of Fear, (2015 Oil on Board). Rather strangely then, the image does not evoke fear. Instead, it is like the Pinter pause: the invisible moment when a paradigm shift compels the next moment. In this case, the horse’s leap from the deck, and it is this moment of anticipation that the painting holds.
An inverse relationship between artists and writer is evident in Judith Wright’s poem, Request to a Year (1955). In Wrights poem the artist’s role in the face of such terror, in this case the artist’s son balanced on an ice-flow drifting towards a waterfall and certain death, is to record the event, while the poet’s role is a to address the complexity of emotions inherent to the moment: fear and hopelessness; but more importantly strength; resolve; sense of self and ultimately the innate sense of the artist.
Nothing, it was evident, could be done;
And with the artist’s isolating eye
My great-great-grandmother hastily sketched the scene.
The sketch survives to tell the story by.
As a former philosophy student it is tempting to frame Dalton’s work within the hallowed ambiguities of moral and ethical debate, and these most assuredly exist. The still life, most particularly so, is taken from a text mention of feeling like Persephone eating pomegranate seeds, one of the most ambiguous of allegoric tales. It is however, Dalton’s picking up on this phrase that is of importance, as contemporary philosophers including Dr Prudence Gibson, suggest: “Instead, it is an inquiry into the experience of art and a tendency to lean towards fictional elements, when the aesthetic experience begins to overwhelm. The main tenets of OOO’s** flat ontology are equality, non-subjectivity and a grasping of the real. Fictive elements may not be true but they are real.”
Gillian Serisier, May 2016
*Dia ár sabháil – according to Jonathan’s dad this literally translates from the Irish as God save us, but with much stronger emphasis and implication.
**OOO – Object Oriented Ontology