Artists on Art: Heather MacRae on Leah Dalton

It was pouring rain, the shirt drenching kind. The kind that makes Savannah frenzied and the Spanish moss glisten with that supernatural grey-green color.  This was the tail end of Tropical Storm Julia, before all the chaos of Hurricane Matthew.

I took a wrong turn and ended up behind a school letting out. I was trapped in front of a Hyundai and behind a minivan sporting the delightful window decals that represent all the members of the family, including their three cats. After that frustrating delay, the arrival to the Dalton home was a relief. Tucked back off the road with a little stone path that leads up to the front steps, I was greeted at the front door by Leah Dalton.

Walking back through her tidy home while her son sat quietly playing in the living room, she led me to her studio. The rain made the warmly lit room with all its large glass windows feel cozy. I was eager to see the paintings Leah had been working on.

 

Leah Dalton in her studio

Leah Dalton in her studio

 

After selecting her as our Fall 2016 Fellowship winner in July, Kayla Goggin (Art Rise’s Managing Director) and I headed to Dalton’s studio in August to look at what she had in storage, talk about her workshop and see what she would be putting in the exhibition. Dalton’s beautiful use of color, connection to the practice of narrative, folk art, community, and textile work began to all build a deep excitement for her upcoming exhibition and we promised to come back in September to check in. This rainy morning was that final studio visit before the October opening reception on the 28th.

She told us about the women she had interviewed and showed us her portraits of them, all based on their lives and experiences. She explained that her idea for the October 29th workshop and these portraits stemmed from her experiences at her artist residency in Oaxaca, Mexico this past year, where she learned traditional hand weaving techniques and lived with three other women artists from Pakistan and Ireland.

 

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Dalton’s works were beautiful and bright and intimate. Filled with color and complexity and symbolism, they spoke to their subjects as individuals with complex stories and lives.

There is something intensely personal and simultaneously timeless surrounding this idea of storytelling and weaving. When that practice turns into painting, a transformation takes place in the artist and the way work is produced. The resulting object delivers a complex statement.

These personal stories that Dalton pulls out from her subjects, the interpretation of their lives and the symbols she uses to reflect these elements of their lives, become small visual synecdoche for an element of their entire life story. These colors and forms and patterns represent complex women and powerful histories.

 

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These works are truly a joy to look at; the surfaces are smooth and the subjects feel familiar.  There is a part of that search in Dalton’s paintings, a search for something pure or honest, like Gauguin and his pursuit of the essence of humanity. There is much more of a domestic feel, however. Domestic not in the sense of that dirty word which is often applied to craft- or female-driven work but domestic in the sense of familiarity, human-connection, tenderness.

There is a subtle relationship developed between this idea of “femininity” and textiles, the industrial side of production and the origins of a tradition passed on through generations and developed. Dalton has experienced these traditional forms of making and has understood the corporate side too, having been a designer in a corporate setting after graduating with her BFA from SCAD Atlanta. These complexities and understandings of family, motherhood, storytelling, personal narrative, and the sharing of others’ narratives weave themselves together in Dalton’s work through color, form, and a unique vibrancy.


 

See Leah Dalton’s exhibition, Triumph & Struggle, at Non-Fiction Gallery during the opening reception on Friday, October 28 from 6 – 9pm. Dalton will also host a free painting workshop on Saturday, October 29 at 2pm.

Heather MacRae

Author: Heather MacRae

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