Po­etry and paint­ing paired with pur­pose

With David Laing Daw­son, the words and the paint are work­ing to­gether

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - REGINA HAGGO

I don’t un­der­stand the bird In all its feath­ered light­ness Fac­ing, I think, with­out fear The vast ocean and the omi­nous cloud. David Laing Daw­son wrote this poem. A paint­ing, “Feath­ered Light­ness,” goes with it.

“The paint­ing comes first,” he tells me. “And then, later, I sit star­ing at it and let a poem form in my mind.”

Daw­son’s paint­ings and po­ems con­sti­tute A Feath­ered Sym­me­try, an ex­hi­bi­tion at Gallery on the Bay.

Paint­ing and po­etry have had a strained re­la­tion­ship through the cen­turies. An­cient Ro­man writ­ers, for in­stance, de­clared po­etry to be above paint­ing. But in the late 15th cen­tury, Leonardo da Vinci, a painter, be­lieved paint­ing was su­pe­rior to po­etry.

And then there’s Daw­son, a Hamil­ton psy­chi­a­trist, nov­el­ist, play­wright and artist. His paint­ings and po­ems work to­gether.

“The poem is not an ex­pla­na­tion of the paint­ing, but an­other art form echo­ing what might be in the paint­ing. This time us­ing the sounds and rhythms of words as well as their strict mean­ing in the same way a paint­ing uses the shape and rhythm and colour of an ob­ject as well as its strict ref­er­ences.”

“Feath­ered Light­ness” is a strik­ingly sim­pli­fied land­scape. Daw­son di­vides the space into two dis­tinct hor­i­zon­tals: wa­ter and sky. The wa­ter, which takes up one-third of the space, is high­lighted with lit­tle white lines that re­call the tops of waves. Golden yel­low sky dom­i­nates the com­po­si­tion. A cloud hov­ers on the left.

The poem sug­gests we see the wa­ter as an ocean, feel the cloud as omi­nous. A small bird rests on a branch on the far right.

“The painterly prob­lem is how to put a bird in a land­scape with­out it tak­ing over. So how to place it, and sug­gest it, so it be­comes part of the paint­ing with­out dom­i­nat­ing and fix­at­ing the eye. Hence the birds are quick brush strokes placed where needed in the com­po­si­tion, iden­ti­fi­able enough to evoke, but not take over com­pletely.”

In “Dor­mant River,” Daw­son cre­ates a land­scape from four hor­i­zon­tals: land, wa­ter, land and sky. The two land zones con­sist of green, blue, yel­low, pink and mauve cir­cu­lar forms show­ing the marks of a fan brush. Wa­ter and sky are, by con­trast, plainer.

Sim­i­lar cir­cu­lar forms reign supreme in “A Con­fed­er­acy of Cir­cles.”

“I think of them as the op­po­site of the vista: nature up close, un­der a mi­cro­scope,” he says.

Un­like the sense of or­der im­posed by the hor­i­zon­tals in the land­scapes, this com­po­si­tion seems an­ar­chic, as cir­cles bump into one an­other, over­lap and push oth­ers out of the space.

“Each of the cir­cle paint­ings is con­structed on an older paint­ing with some of the older paint­ing vis­i­ble. Keep­ing the ob­jects and shapes to cir­cles cer­tainly sim­pli­fied the prob­lem of com­po­si­tion, and al­lowed a free ex­plo­ration of colour, tex­ture, rhythm.”

Just as po­etry and paint­ing work to­gether, so do the two paint­ing types.

“For a while I al­ter­nated be­tween a land­scape and a cir­cle paint­ing, or started with an op­tion of go­ing ei­ther way,” Daw­son says.

“Paint­ing the cir­cles maybe helps free up the land­scape paint­ings, re­mind­ing my brain that in a paint­ing, form, line, shape and colour re­la­tion­ships are more im­por­tant than ac­cu­racy.” Regina Haggo, art his­to­rian, pub­lic speaker, cu­ra­tor and for­mer pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Can­ter­bury in New Zealand, teaches at the Dun­das Val­ley School of Art. dhaggo@thes­pec.com


David Laing Daw­son, Feath­ered Light­ness, oil on can­vas, 24 by 30 inches, $1,700.


David Daw­son, Dor­mant River, oil on board, 24 by 30 inches, $1,700.

David Daw­son, A Con­fed­er­acy of Cir­cles, oil on board, 24 by 30 inches, $1,700.

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