A BOOK BY DAVIS MORTON
In the spirit of “show me … don’t tell me,” this book uses
a unique adventure to deliver its message by pairing
40 different paintings with prose, vignettes, and stories
that were inspired by those paintings.
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As a painter, I have never known how to describe myself by any one particular phrase or label. Using the appearance of my paintings as a reference, I have called myself a Realist/Impressionist. But style or technique, don’t describe the spirit of my work. I paint scenes that resemble my subconscious view of reality.
Acknowledging my dependence on this view, I also tried to call myself a Surrealist. But with no flaming feet or melting clocks in my paintings this new label only made an understanding of my work more difficult. Although I don’t think of myself as being a Classical Surrealist either, what follows is an explanation of the connection that I see.
My most poignant dreams have not been nightmares. They come with soft distortions and muted sounds instead of screams. Whether this qualifies me as being a Surrealist or not, this is the way I paint.
Rather than the Surrealism of Dali or Magritte, I feel closer to the Surrealism of Edward Hopper or Vermeer. By filtering the reality of their own times through inner vision, they both said something about time itself, without a dependence on the fantastic or theatrics. Their work is strong because it’s subtle. Like them, I don’t paint my dreams and I don’t invent my own dream-like images. But I do use dreams as a reference along with another conscious phenomenon that taps my subconscious view directly.
Memories often seem like dreams. When we think about a childhood home, we may remember images of our first room, the yard, and friends. With effort, many other details surface that seemed forgotten. But many times, our most vivid memories of such a place are spontaneous and unsolicited. They come in a flash of recognition, with almost photographic clarity, and like odd dreams, the conscious mind may dismiss these images as being weird or insignificant. Rather than remembering things that we deem worthwhile, sometimes things emerge that defy our sense of logic.
Instead of visualizing the “Norman Rockwell” dinner scene we might want to see, the subconscious mind might represent that moment with the image of an empty corner of that room or a once familiar gravy ladle. It may also be the recurring image of a simple plastic chair, instead of the Sistine Chapel that makes us feel like we’re still in Rome.
My unsolicited memories not only look like the dreams I have, they serve the same larger purpose. Everything from the subconscious mind is an affirmation that we are seeing more of our true reality than we think.
Using my subconscious view as a guide, I take photographs of things that strike me in a similar way. Then, I use these images and my drawings to create my paintings. If a man from France would fit well in a New York field, I’ll put him there. If a distortion or mistake suits its’ space, it could be left uncorrected or it may even be enhanced.
Both in the mechanics of what I do, and in my thoughts, I do my best to let openness direct my actions instead of intellect. I don’t want the shallowness that comes from trying to be deep. But I’m also not waiting for a Zen-like trance or inspiration. Being open, I am free to think while the painting follows its’ own direction.
I enjoy trying to analyze why I liked my composition to begin with, or why the significance of a simple object changes when it’s painted. I am intrigued by other things that almost can’t be changed, like the odd stillness of something that should be moving or a certain likeness that looks like someone else.
Often, unexpected elements become important symbols while I’m painting while preconceived ideas just disappear. But for all of my thoughts and the different meanings I discover while I’m painting, just as in the best of dreams, I know I’ve done my best work when my painting’s final message is a mystery to me.
Although I still can’t find an acceptable label or description for myself, I do have a good idea of what I want my work to be. I have no interest in painting a “charming frozen moment,” I want each painting to be like a living moment, with a past, a present, and a future that moves on unresolved, saying something indistinct. Rather than trying to paint reality just the way it looks or painting my impression of it, I would like my paintings to say something of its essence. I would like my work to haunt.