Everything I am not. I am becoming
2 - 21 March 20145
Brian Dawn Chalkley was born in 1948
He studied at Chelsea School of Art and the Slade.
Brian currently lives and works in London.
A conversation between Jessica Moore, Brian Chalkley and Dawn Chalkley.
JM: In your watercolour paintings you said they were of ‘all the people I want to be’. Does Dawn inhabit the worlds of these women? Is the feeling of becoming something that you are thinking about when you are painting?
BC: I think we should ask Dawn about that because she’s got some views on that, so Dawn, what do you think?
DC: Well, oh my god, all the people I wanna be. I wanna be everybody I really do. I mean those glamorous girls out there and all the ones that you paint, I want to be them, I want to be her in every way. I want her hair her eyes her nose and I wanna just be fabulous all the time.
JM: Using watercolour seems to be subversive in this context, perhaps even perverse or humorous?
BC: Yeah that sounds like a real art question doesn’t it, subversive watercolour? I mean what I like about watercolour is it comes out of a kind of amateur painting and I don’t mean the word amateur in a bad way but enthusiastic painters, which is something I’ve never been. But people learn classes in watercolour painting. What I liked about it was its so downbeat, so un- arts. Um, so what do you think Dawn?
DC: I think watercolours are for amateurs, I never understood why you use that method. Its so crap.
BC: Crap! What do you mean by crap?
DC: I mean who the hell uses watercolour anymore? Anyway, I don’t want my portraits painted in watercolour. Why don’t you use oil?
BC: Dawn, shut up, you don’t know anything about art.
JM: You mentioned that the tree sculpture is connected to Sigmund Freud’s Case The Wolf Man, about a dream his patient had of a tree with wolves sitting in it. You’ve dressed the tree with pieces from Dawn’s outfits, is this to reflect the fearlessness of the wolf?
BC: Yeah I think The Wolf Man is really important. I’m not sure as to the symbolism for Freud in that but I knew that the Wolf Man was Freud’s patient and he had a dream, these wolves sitting in trees and Freud found this incredibly significant. I think he spent most of his life in Freud’s analysis and when he was asked at the end of his life if it had been effective he had doubts about it. I’ve been in Freudian analysis for fifteen years and I suppose this is my Wolf Man tree. My Dawn personal tree.
DC: What do you mean dawn?
DC: I’m not a fucking kind of mad person! I’ve never been to psychoanalysis in my life. The only analysis I’ve had is in the Way Out club in the darkroom.
BC: Yeah, well Dawn you are a completely different creature aren’t you? Anyway, I think analysis has been useful, regardless of what the Wolf Man might say.
JM: In the film you are narrating vignettes of nights out. Is it important you tell stories? It’s like each different medium you’ve used is a window into Dawn’s world. Or we are watching Dawn, gazing out of the window at the trees outside and in the direct gaze of the women in your paintings.
BC: I think narrative is really important in the work. And very early on when I started to develop Dawn as a persona, I did it without any intention of it being an artwork. I remember somebody saying to me, is Dawn a way of getting into the art world? And I said absolutely not. She has nothing to do with art, she doesn’t really like art that much and it wasn’t anything to do with a kind of trick, or some art kind of idea. It came out of a desire that had been there since the age of ten, and wanting to somehow have this femininity that I had in my head about being a woman. Not necessarily wanting to be transgender in that way, but I felt like this was such a strong part of my personality that I’d repressed for so long and it had brought me lots of problematic situations in covering up Dawn, of trying to deny Dawn’s presence.
It was only in 1997 when I did the first show at City Racing with Hillary Lloyd and Jemima Stehli. Paul Nobel invited me into that show, I will always be thankful for his insight into what I was doing. It gave me a chance to put on a show of Dawn and other people that were associated with some kind of transgender. From people I found in clubs who had never made any artwork in their life to people who were professional artists like Grayson Perry and Dawn Mellor. In that show I made a piece about being in a cab and telling these stories about the people I’d met in night clubs. There’s a way I think I can tell a story and visualise it in my head at the same time. I think narrative is incredibly important and if you look at the watercolour portraits of Dawn’s friends and colleagues and people she’d like to be. It’s like a film clip in a way that the narrative suggests the work is not necessarily what you see but maybe what’s to either side of it, where that narrative might go so that the spectator can then get involved with their own narrative in relation to it. I think that the models that you see and the quotations in current fashion magazines are the philosophy and the narrative of the present. They are in a way the common philosophy, the one about your personal obsession with beauty, your career, making it and being a celebrity. I’m interested in the notion of the celebrity where a certain kind of attitude comes out which I think is very much about being part of a social structure. So the work is trying to not be about art practice. I’m using all the materials that I used when I left school and worked in an architects office, using tracing paper and Rotring pens, and in my lunch hour I was tracing Pirelli calendars and hiding them under my bed from mum.