Millican Dalton: A Sublime Midlife Crisis
The relevance of a 20th century cave-dweller to environmental aesthetics.
Wednesday, 23 December 2020
At the mouth of the cave at Borrowdale, May 2020. Photograph: Lewis Eaton.
On a swelteringly hot day in the North Western Fells of The Lake District, the gaping mouth of a cave offered itself as a refuge and swallowed us mercifully into its cool damp interior. Caves are otherworldly places. This particular cave, set into the hillside of Castle Crag, allows you to peer out at the gently swaying trees and glimmering daylight of the outside world from a viewing point void of light and sound. The daytrip itself had been to seek refuge in The Lakes; an attempt at replacing the stagnancy of a locked-down city summer with a more welcome, less claustrophobic, kind of tranquillity. We spent a few minutes scrambling around on the siltstone, marvelling at the height of the cave walls and exchanging the obligatory comments about feeling small in big spaces. On leaving, I noticed a large, flat stone covered in scrawlings. At the centre in neat, deeply-etched letters read ‘Don’t Waste Words, Jump to Conclusions’ with dozens of smaller sections of writing surrounding this. Each gave names and dates, with many faded with age and dissolving back into the stone’s surface. It was from a frantic Googling during the car ride home that I came to find out we had happened across a sort-of pilgrimage place for hikers: the cave in which a man had lived out his summers for over forty consecutive years.
In 1904, at the age of thirty-six, Millican Dalton gave up his life as an insurance clerk in London in order to dedicate himself to The Great Outdoors. Having spent part of his childhood in Nenthead, the North Pennines, he found life and work in the capital stifling in comparison. From then on Dalton split his year, spending the summer months in the cave under Castle Crag and winters in a canvas hut in Buckinghamshire. Far from your conventional hermit, Dalton was an active and sociable member of the community. He organised camping excursions for the outdoors novice which included teaching hiking, rock climbing, rafting and how to forage for food. What I found extraordinary for the time was that these excursions didn’t exclude women, with one of Dalton’s advertisements for a mountaineering course stating his views bluntly: “Ladies are welcome to the camp. There is nothing new in ladies camping, the custom being at least 10,000 years old.” This rare indiscriminate approach led to Dalton forging a long-lasting friendship with geologist Mabel Barker, who over the years consistently recommended Dalton’s courses to women students and friends.
Dalton and Barker atop a needle, 1913. The Mable Barker Collection.
Artist of the Month
Here you can find the work of London’s next generation of artists. Each month we feature a student artist studying at the Courtauld or other universities in Greater London. If you are interested in being featured, please fill out this form.
This month we are excited to feature Courtauld PhD student Carole Nataf, who recently exhibited in Courtauld SolidariTee’s virtual Habitat exhibition. Below you can find several portraits from her ‘Quarantine Selfie’ series. Here is what Carole says about her practice:
“Figurative painting is an emotional and imaginative journey, not just an exercise in copying. My work attempts to recreate perceptual impressions and visual effects by developing a coherent, personal language. More than the object of my attention, it is the process of seeing itself, the experience of sight that I wish to lay out on the canvas. Exploring the expressive power and subtle flavors of soft and vibrant colors enables me to get at the heart of what I see.
I am inspired to paint the intimacy of my surroundings and the attraction that absorbing places, stirring people and tantalizing objects exercise on me. As a plein air painter, I favor immediate contact with my subject. However, I do venture painting after digital photography and explore the frustration of its artificial format in my recent portraits.
I approach the creative process as construction work, where simplified shapes are juxtaposed without blending to assemble a landscape, a body or a face. I apply thick brushstrokes onto a wet surface to obtain a rich and juicy texture and to manifest the tangible physical presence of my subject imposing itself.”
To see more of Carole’s work, please visit her website or Instagram @carole.nataf.art.
Aqua, acrylic on panel, 20” x 16”
This month we are featuring Esme Garlake, a Courtauld MA student and columnist for The Courtauldian. Esme explains her creative process and the influence of her course, focusing on the Italian Renaissance:
“I use a range of mediums, primarily mixed media collages, linocuts and painting with Indian inks. I take a lot of inspiration from my MA History of Art course, in which I have looked closely at sixteenth-century printmaking. I find the idea of reproduction fascinating, particularly in relation to linocuts: to what extent is the printmaker innovating or copying? I collect early twentieth-century postcards, mainly of Italian silent film divas, so I have used these as visual sources for linocuts and used them to think more about invention vs reproduction.
Recently I have also been experimenting with combining different media, like printing my linocuts onto collages or paintings. It gives the prints so much more depth, and I really like that I never know quite how it will turn out. I also enjoy the effects of viewing different types of reproduced images (from early photographic postcards, 1960s lads’ mags, or my linocuts) brought together as one image.
I find the process of creating far more enjoyable than marketing or publishing it on social media. I try to keep a balance, because the more I focus on trying to promote my art online, the more I tend to feel the need to create art which fits under one category or brand. I think the idea of branding our art can be so counterintuitive to the creation process. Trusting what inspires me and seeing where it leads ultimately helps me to produce art that I then want to share with others.”
To see more of Esme’s work, please visit her Instagram @esmeartshop or Etsy shop.
Lyda Borelli, linocut
Pina Menichelli, linocut
Helena Makowska, linocut
Satellite, paper collage
Pin Up, paper and indian ink
Venuses, linocuts on paper
Speak Look and Listen, linocut on paper
This feature is the second in our two month look to American student artists. We are excited to showcase the figurative oil paintings of Mac Realo, who will soon be graduating with his BFA from the University of Michigan. He describes these visual explorations of gender roles and masculinity:
“My work challenges, reinvents, and initiates discussion around the standards of masculinity in contemporary society. What does it mean to be a man? How would the world be different if power, aggression, and stoicism weren’t at the top of the list in describing masculinity? What would happen if men allowed themselves to be vulnerable and express emotion? Choosing to share my own investigation of manhood through self-portraiture increases vulnerability and dissipates shame in myself, simultaneously giving me permission to be my authentic self.
Obtaining permission to be our truest selves is something that I, along with many other men, struggle with on a daily basis. We are trained to never be perceived as weak, to never accept any feminine aspects of ourselves, but to suppress both, along with any emotions that arise. As one could imagine, this is quite the unsustainable way to live, leaving me stranded, having to choose between sacrificing everything I know about being a man and remaining a stoic, struggling man. I choose to dive into the discomfort of being vulnerable, of showing my true self to the world. This takes form in my large-scale paintings and performative work, using the self-portraiture embedded within to become a more authentic me. This method does not proceed without significant questioning of myself and my values. By intentionally portraying myself in ways that obstruct my understanding of what is acceptable of men, I question everything. Who am I, really? What type of man portrays himself in a conventionally feminine role, on purpose? Why do I think it is okay to be seen like this? Am I still a man? These questions are pivotal to grow beyond the toxic masculinity I have subscribed to most of my life. My definition of manhood is constantly changing, and with each evolution comes a new layer of liberation.”
To see more of Mac’s work, please visit his website macrealoart.com or Instagram @macrealo.
What Am I Doing?, Oil on Canvas 32" x 48"
Can I Do This?, Oil on Canvas 54" x 72"
Brushing My Teeth, Oil on Canvas 24" x 30"
Nails, Oil on Canvas 24" by 30"
For the next two months, The Courtauldian will be looking across the pond to spotlight a couple American artists. First up is Mara Cressey, who will be graduating with her BFA from Fontbonne University in St. Louis, Missouri this spring. Primarily a figurative oil painter, she also works with mixed media and collage which you can see below. Here’s what she has to say about this series:
“My mixed media work depicts a clash of opposing ideas, reflecting my own struggles of finding balance and connection in many aspects of my life. My process first includes gathering small objects and images found at antique markets and thrift stores and drawing idealized figures and integrating them both within a composition. I seek out vintage fashion advertisements and depictions of classical beauty within works of art to deconstruct and combine them with overt representations of death, gore, and unpredictability. While the juxtaposition of these ideas may seem harmful or unexpected, I find that it is both essential and inescapable, and acknowledgement of both sides is the only way an affiliation between the two can be made.”
To see more of Mara’s work, please visit her website maracressey.com or Instagram @maracresseyartwork.
Death and Internal Grit, 2020, mixed media on Stonehenge paper, 49 cm x 29 cm
I'm Torn; He Watches, 2020, mixed media on Strathmore paper, 23 cm x 30.5 cm
Unnatural Extension, 2020, mixed media on Strathmore paper, 23 cm x 30.5 cm
Pulley System Persuasion, 2020, mixed media on Strathmore paper, 30.5 cm x 23 cm
The Courtauldian is excited to start the year off by featuring the 2D and 3D acrylic paintings of KQ Huang, who is currently studying for an MA at the Courtauld specialising in Circum-Atlantic Visual Culture, c. 1770-1830. Below is a bit more about the artist and his practice:
“KQ Huang is a British-Chinese conceptual artist based in the UK. Born in Birmingham, he is interested in exploring the cultural identity and heritage of the Chinese diaspora. His work incorporates traditional forms of Chinese culture such as calligraphy and opera to explore notions of cultural identity and advocate for greater empathy, engagement and education with diasporic communities. He believes that increased Asian representation in the cultural sphere helps combat misrepresentation and fearmongering through cross-cultural dialogue. Motivated by the possibilities of working in the interstitial and hybrid space between two cultures, he seeks to challenge perceptions of identity and authenticity. Having experienced the cultural empowerment of studying Chinese history and visual culture, he is passionate about inspiring the Western-born Chinese to reconnect with the richness of their Chinese heritage.”
To see more of KQ’s work, please visit his website kqhuang.com or Instagram @kqhuangart.
Opera Mask ‘Courage’, Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 30cm
Opera Mask ‘Respect’, Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 30cm
Opera Mask ‘Family’, Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 30cm
Take Away ‘Porcelain', Acrylic on card, 15 x 15 x 30cm
Take Away ‘Black Lacquer', Acrylic on card, 15 x 15 x 30cm
This month we explore the fiber works of Mary Gatenby, a graduate of the Ruskin School of Art at Oxford (2019) and current Courtauld MA History of Art student in the Documentary Reborn special option. Mary’s sculptures take inspiration from this quote by philosopher Walter Benjamin:
“Viewed from a certain distance, the great, simple outlines which define the storyteller stand out in him, or rather, they become visible in him, just as in a rock a human head or an animal’s body may appear to an observer at the proper distance and angle of vision.”
To see more of Mary’s work, please visit her Instagram @mary.gatenby or website https://marygatenby.cargo.site/.
Source (detail), 2020, 67.5 x 61 cm, embroidery on cotton
Man's Insanity/Heaven's Sense, 2018, 2m x 2m, machine embroidery and watercolour on nylon, wire armature, wooden frame, chains recovered from the solent, wool
Reflections on Vicuna, 2019, 300 cm x 200 cm, raffia, wool, mohair, rope, string, crochet
History at their Shoulder, 2019, wood, steel, clay, linen, embroidery, appliqué
This month we take a look at the artwork of Jonathan Hart, Courtauld BA 1 student and staff writer at The Courtauldian. He says,
“My artistic practice focuses on the dialogue between digital and manual forms of art, and of the relevance of traditional painting and drawing methods in the internet age. In my recent works on canvas and panel I have been attempting to configure a form of what I term 'maximalist minimalism', creating a hyper-saturated, overwhelming visual experience, whilst remaining within the limited confines of sharp lines and abrupt transitions between flat, uniform fields of colour utilised by hard-edge painters such as Frank Stella and Kenneth Noland. Although the absence of any obvious painterly signifiers such as brushstrokes and impasto detailing might lead the viewer to conclude that there has been no involvement of an artist's hand, these works are constructed entirely with flat synthetic brushes and masking tape only. I would however term myself a 'visual artist' rather than simply a painter, and as my studies at the Courtauld continue I intend to explore other mediums such as photography and code-generated art.”
To see more of Jonathan’s work, please visit his Instagram @jonathanmichaelhart
Stripes No. 3, acrylic on canvas, 80 x 60cm
Cave, acrylic on panel, 24” x 18”
Split, acrylic and Flashe on canvas, 76 x 60cm
Ellipsis, acrylic on panel, 20” x 16”
I really aim to astonish myself when it comes to my works. I have never been a planner, therefore there is never anything preconceived. I just wish for my work to stimulate me, to take me somewhere I have never been before. When involved in a creative endeavour, I don’t think one contemplates about meaning; you just get lost in the process. Otherwise, if you start to think about it, you restrain yourself. Honesty gets lost. Meaning is only added later and, in most cases, by other people.
Too many hours watching Contagion, later, I felt like the only human left alive.
I over-dramatized my life into an inaccurate, epic tech-noir with peripheral Blade Runner vibes.
Poor, poor me. Stuck in my vacuous ‘shoebox’ of a student room.
On the Strand.
It was around the first Thursday. Half-pre-empting the self-loathing and sick that present me would have to endure, a process that tends to self-recycle, I wrote a few words about my artworks. Quarantine was so invasive and isolating and uncertain. I did enjoy feeling sorry for myself. The positives far outweighed the negatives and I knew it, really. A disgusting and shameful yet, I hope, a very human privilege. A necessary step through polarised marks that drive the waves of our lives. Hard to realise at that moment but from the point of entrance, that dense encasement can be seen for what it is. Admittedly, it is easy to criticise from a new and improved context.
‘Charge sight from a direct into an alternating current’. This is what came to my head, for no reason, as a way of salving this state through making my artworks. With many objects of misunderstanding, for me, physics is filed under ‘incomplete- dunno’. So again, for no sensible reason, circuit symbols came to mind whilst making sense of the people and world around me. Appropriating the imagery of this hazy memory, I superimposed it onto MONUMENT. It is an incorporeal, non-monument, monument to this. Short direct curves plant on or dive into the surface. A stagnated sculpture or an iceberg hiding a body below the surface- an oscillation that remerges into its twinned arch. What is the concrete floor? Quite literally it’s a grey area. I think it’s an ever-ambiguous, ever-painful to accept, objectification of human fallibility and frustration- not certain.
Sorry, future me.
You can find Lucy's poem that accompanies her artwork on page 15 of Issue 23, Time.
Untitled (Mirfield Moors)
I took this photo of my mum pretty early on into lockdown. I came back to my native town of Huddersfield just before it started, and I’ve been up here ever since. With the conversations going on around race and the pandemic, I’m feeling stressed, scared, angry, fed up and sick of it. I think as a Black person right now it’s important to take some time out from the constant pain of this constant conversation, before the conversation burns you out and eats you alive. The conversation can only do so much. It’s exciting to see real change happen before my eyes, but I fear what will happen when its no longer en vogue and I’m still just standing here. These are strange, exciting and tragic times, I’m plugged into the never-ending discourse 24/7. But sometimes I just have to sit down and close my eyes, feel the grass and try again tomorrow.
Inhabiting New Worlds
To be born and to grow up in a country where 11.3 million people can’t read nor write really makes you think. Perhaps it makes you think of the world they could be missing by not being able to do so. And perhaps it makes you think of the world you miss daily by assuming yours might be richer because of written literature. And don't forget the exercise of writing, which intimately, is nothing besides one talking to oneself. Being able to touch someone with inanimate words, which then are made alive when someone reads them, is truly unbelievable. Imagine then being able to touch those 11.3 million that read and write in gestures and languages beyond reach. They do not suppress their sensibility and can reach the sun, feel the nature, and caress the clouds when water is needed. These moments, when I attempt to communicate in these languages, are the moments when I feel most alive.
I was named after one of the strongest plants in the Amazon Rainforest. Sowing these plants is not only my way of communicating with the imagery of my memories, but it is also my way of rejecting conventional means of communication which falsely make us assume that reading and writing words is the only way of inhabiting new worlds.
It’s a banal story.
The first time getting flowers for myself. The flower market hurt, the flowers hurt. The scent, the rustling sound of petals and leaves, the clusters of fresh colours – as if spring would not befall with time but burst out from buds and branches.
I stuffed flowers into my tote bag. There are depressing times when my body’s filled with tears that’d overflow at any moment. This was one of them. The comic contrast between the devastating me and the thriving flowers. This is why I never liked them, with their easy joyfulness and innocent cruelty.
They took over my room the moment they settled down. I couldn’t take that tender lightness that I couldn’t share. Such refusal of doubts and depths. It only took two bouquets of flowers to conjure up a jungle that suffocates.
Two months later, those flowers long dead, I’ve had my share of serendipity. Something so beautiful and full of love. I start to use ‘we’ instead of the solitary ‘I.’
We rescued a pot of flowers. They were supposed to be a token of love but ended up in broken shards and arguments.
We drove them back to our place. The warming light was so intense and infused colours into their reflections.
Days later, the ripped stems grew back. The flowers stood with lifted heads. The same warming sunlight gave them a painterly texture in a random photo I took of them. I’m grateful. I hope the floral survivors are a sign – the bondage between their givers and the supposed receiver might be mended like the stem. At least a little bit.
It’s a banal story of a lucky one that received enough love to take that joy and beauty. At a less than beautiful time when she feels the urge to share her gratefulness.
Flesh and 3 Lines
I’ve always been drawn to the nude body in a 'matter of fact' way. It still surprises me that in a life drawing class I look at the model in such a non-judgemental, accepting way. Societal expectations and criticisms all go out the window.
At first, I stuck to line drawing as it reflected this simplicity of approach. But recently, I’ve felt a growing desire to add colour and life to these images, to paint not just the form, but to distinguish the lumps and bumps and soft, cushiony folds. I do this not in a way to criticise or even examine but almost in admiration of the versatility of bodies and their own unique beauty. Breasts are uneven, sometimes round and sometimes triangular, nipples vary in size, tummies sometimes have rolls and sometimes don’t, thighs touch, some people have hairy armpits, not all bottoms look like Kim Kardashian’s – but it doesn’t matter. The images always come out celebrating that person’s unique and beautiful form.
It is through this practice that my image of myself as changed in my mind. Of course, I still notice my own imperfections – they’re there, plain to see, and I’m not exactly Zeuxis’s Helen of Troy (ancient photoshop at its best). However, I no longer view them with dislike. Over the past year, it has been heartwarming to hear that my art has given those who view it this same sense of body confidence, that my models actually enjoy being drawn as they find the experience and the end result freeing. I hope I can continue creating this feeling both in myself and others.
Detaching from the City
I made these charcoal drawings over the course of my first term at The Courtauld. Attending life drawings classes in my first term was a really important and necessary experience for me to help me feel settled and at home in London. Coming from an insular and quiet town, I found the capital and its people to sometimes feel overwhelming and chaotic. To sit and draw for a couple of hours in silence acted as a form of meditation and I would leave the sessions relaxed and grateful.
I was frustrated to hear that The Courtauld Art Society can only run one life drawing class per term, due to the lack of funding for our student union. I believe there should be far more free life drawing lessons run by The Courtauld to help students deal with the hectic city lifestyle as well as offering them as vital opportunity to meet students from other seminar, lecture, and year groups.
Ghosts of her Rag Sons
Himarni Brownsword, Ghosts of Her Rag Sons, 2018
Back in 2018, I was asked by North Staffordshire based art organisation B-Arts to complete a project entitled ‘What is Now?’ in Burslem, one of the six towns that make up my hometown, Stoke-on-Trent. It also houses one of the country's emptiest high streets. As part of the project, six artists, including myself, and producers were asked to reimagine the high street in Burslem and to create and install artworks in the town’s empty shops. The resulting project came to be ‘Ghosts of her Rag Sons’, an installation created in order to explore Burslem’s rich heritage.
The shop I exhibited my work in had previously been a pet shop, among other things. However, what was most significant about it was that it was also attached to a passageway that used to lead towards Burslem’s historic market. Burslem was once known as the ‘mother town’ of Stoke; it’s where Josiah Wedgwood was born and housed many of the important pottery factories that the city is most famous for. However, I feel that this past is not something that is reflected in the town’s current state. Thus, when I was asked to envision what the high street in Burslem could be, I decided to create an installation that explored the town’s history through some of its most famous (and infamous) figures.
The characters I created were made of wood, wire, straw and raw clay. Each of the figures was handmade and pieced together in situ. There were 12 in total, some representing soldiers, poets, artists and others representing unsung local legends. The central figure, who came to be the ‘mother’ of Burslem, was Molly Leigh, a woman accused of being a witch in the 18th century, but who was, in fact, a wealthy woman with independence and a charitable nature who many were suspicious of. The shop I displayed in didn’t have any electricity or running water making it extremely difficult to work with the raw materials. This often meant producer Martin Gooding, who helped curate the installation, and I would have to work in pitch-black or fetch water from the KFC across the road covered in clay and freezing despite the summer weather. Regardless, the response the project received made it all worth it in the end; I was really pleased to find that many who visited my exhibition began to engage more with the history of the area as well as imagine what Burslem could look like in the future.
Recreating the "plein air experience"
I was mostly interested in the dynamic and painterly aspects of impressionist brushwork, and I wanted to experiment with short thick strokes and bright colours. Watercolour was perfect for the translation and personal interpretation of texture, made possible through the juxtaposition of wet and dry techniques. In addition, the immediacy of watercolour and the rapidity of its execution was a way for me to reconstitute the plein air experience.