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.
Finding Solace in Familiar Faces
Plastering the streets of London.
by Sara Quattrocchi Febles | 17 August 2021
With the monotonous life I followed for a big part of my last year at the Courtauld due to the pandemic, I established a very regular routine. Part of it was a pre-breakfast walk (or run, if I was motivated enough) through Regents Park where I would follow the same path: starting at the entrance of Great Portland Street and going through the English Gardens, I would walk straight until I reached the empty ‘drinking’ fountain on the Broad Walk where I would turn left and walk on the left side of the zoo. If I was lucky, I could sometimes catch a glimpse of a lion or watch a couple of camels eating. After that, I would loop around the football fields and then go back the same way I came from. After a couple weeks, just a few days even, I realized that doing the same walk (or run) at the same time almost every day meant that I would pass by the same people doing the same things at the same time, people following patterns similar to my own.
A petite woman wearing rectangular glasses and a ponytail would be sitting at one of the benches closest to the Great Portland Street entrance reading a book and drinking from a Pret coffee cup. A short man wearing a baseball cap and a long black coat would be briskly walking through the open football field with his hands in his pockets. Another man would always be standing next to the café near the park toilets, glancing around and jotting things down in a small notebook. I have not done this morning walk since May, so maybe all these people are long gone. However, for those few weeks, it was comforting to witness how the same people would be doing the same things every day.
This comfort is sometimes difficult to find in a city like London, where people are constantly in motion and things are in continuous fluctuation. That is why most times you have to actively seek your spaces of comfort, and, sometimes, this can take some time. After three years living in London, I managed to find comfort in the face of a woman plastered all over the city streets.
Her face is simply drawn with thick lines, where the main features are a singular eye, plump lips, an L-shaped nose, and a singular strand of hair. These features seem to seep through the surface she is drawn on as the chin is the only element that defines the confines of her face. Her sometimes carmine lips seep through the sides of her mouth, yet, the most dominating element is her singular eye, which stares back at whoever looks at it, from any angle. As her simply drawn are vaguely reminiscent of the multiple perspectives popularly used in cubist art, her stare becomes ambiguous - she could be looking at you from the front, or from either side.
She dominates the city of London as her static gaze marks the different points where people rush through. She is always appearing the same yet is never quite identical. Sometimes, she is discreet, whereas others she is blatantly pasted on public walls or on the decadent and no-longer-functional phone booths in Camden. Other times, she is large and imposing but more temporary as she is plastered on Soho’s scaffolded walls that will be removed once the job is completed. Sometimes she stays months on one wall, establishing its permanence through spray paint and becoming a pleasant addition to the familiar pattern of a daily routine.
Still taken from Limbo, directed by Ben Sharrock. Image: TIFF.
Other times she appears drawn on A4-sized pages of text plastered on lampposts or postboxes just like flyers and leaflets. She becomes more vulnerable as a result, as she can suddenly be ripped from the surface she once covered, leaving only the traces of some strips of stuck paper.
I often find myself lost in thought when walking from point A to point B of the city. Sometimes, I arrive at my destination with no real recollection of the journey. I used to be easily absorbed in the constantly moving spaces, forgetting about the value of the smaller pieces that help make up the bigger picture; the singular dots on the screens of static.
Only in the last year have I really begun stopping and acknowledging the points on my journey that exist between point A and point B. Sometimes these other points manifest themselves as cute mews, which I walk into spontaneously and select a house I could imagine myself calling home in my fantasy world. Other times, these points are looked at through a quick side glance such as the interiors of houses on a residential street, which I enjoy internally critiquing as if, all of a sudden, I was a well-established interior designer. As I now more often stop and look up at my surroundings while I walk instead of looking down to get from point A to point B as rapidly as possible, I have just recently assimilated the constant presence of the plastered woman and her gaze.
It has taken me some time to want to find the name behind the picture, especially since I knew perfectly well that a simple Google search of ‘woman face graffiti London streets’ could lead me to the website of the artist behind the works, regardless of them being signed or not. Maybe it is because not knowing the artist behind the woman’s face maintains the woman’s independence, detaching her from any singular living individual. She has become a face of the city by the city, as she seems to suddenly appear out of thin air on one wall or another. Once one finds the name of her creator, one can no longer see her as a universal face of all, but one fabricated and fully dependent on one singular person, causing the illusion she creates to completely shatter.
While in this article I focus on these works of street art through their potency as being independent from their creator, it is also important to give credits to the artist behind the works, who is Anna Laurini. You can find more of her works through Laurini’s website (https://annalauriniblue.com) or Instagram (@annalauriniart).