Touching, Pointing, Painting, Gardening

(2016)   Back

'Touching, Pointing, Painting, Gardening' is a publication that documented a period of my artmaking, after I fell out of touch with painting and looked to more conceptual ideas. It was a time of change in my life - moving into a new house, with new responsibilities, concerns and a new job to boot - and the art I made reflected that. The well of inspiration that had lead me through the past few years had finally run dry and I had to work hard to find the next stage of my creative life.

I spent some time clearing out my garden, which was a disgusting mess. I decided the best use of my time would be to collect all the rocks, maybe to use in a rock garden or pebble path. I also enjoyed taking moody walks along the forest path that ran behind the house, which used to be a part of some long-forgotten section of the Northern Line. It’s flat in the middle and has steep slopes with trees on either side.

Something then came together. I painted the rocks white, added unhappy faces, and distributed them along the forest path. I hid them behind trees on the sides of the path, in clusters. Like shrines, or little families of two, three or four pitiful rocks.

It was a therapeutic experience, starting at one end of the path with a heavy bag of sadness (and rocks), and reaching the end with my sadness carefully distributed. But what if people found these rocks? What if people’s children found these rocks? Would I get found out for painting rocks and leaving them in a public area? I was scared of seeing a poster on the noticeboard: ‘Whoever is leaving sad rocks behind the trees - STOP. You are frightening our children’. But nothing so far.

I wouldn’t have put them in a public place if I could just throw them in my garden. I wanted rid of them; I wanted to share them. Maybe there’s an old lady who has collected them all and has them on a shelf in her house. Maybe all the paint has washed off in the rain and they’re just rocks again, and nature has reclaimed them. I’ll go back someday and find out.

It all started with a very important video. In it, I'm wandering alone in the countryside and see a very tall tree. I am fascinated by how tall the tree is, and go on a quest to touch it. Once I achieve that, and gaze up at it, I discover other tall trees and set out to touch them all. To me the tree was a power - it was of a scale greater than me, and by touching it I was connecting its scale and my scale. It seemed strange that something so large and something so small could exist in the same world, and make physical contact. The tree was was big and strong - it had a basic power that interested me.
I set out to touch other tall things, documenting the action with a photograph of my hand touching it (making contact, and in a way conquering its size by reminding it that it is in a world of smaller scales), and another looking up at its peak from the point of touching. I went on several adventures around the city to touch its tallest buildings - from Bank to Canary Wharf and Crystal Palace to Elephant and Castle, I touched them all. Now when I look across the skyline, I can point to them and say, I’ve touched that. Even to the red blinking light of the Crystal Palace transmitter, far off in the distance - I've touched the fence around that.
I like pointing - it’s a very strong and directional. It’s graphical. A point implies movement and it implies importance, singling one thing out from a crowd. And to point in a photograph, you act like an outsider, like a printed arrow on a diagram, but in fact you are part of the world you are pointing into. Your hand is affected by the same light and the same weather as the object at the end of it.

Throughout this period I made work - often inspired by 70s conceptual art - based around simple objects and actions. Throughout, there is an awareness of a photo being taken. Who is taking the photo? And what are the limits of the photo?

Playing Acoustic Guitar

Touching the ceiling of my room at my parents' house / at my house

Gardening Mantras

The ladder is a simple graphic icon that everyone can understand. Like an arrow, it implies movement, usually upwards. A ladder unites what is at its bottom and what is at its top, and creates the opportunity of travel from one to another, along a series of rungs. A ladder can unite any two levels if it is long enough. I made a painting of a ladder that had all the potential of a real ladder but was impossible to use.

I also made a series of small zines that explored the relationship between hand-drawing something or using a computer to draw it. 'Lines that are 5cm long' is a futile attempt at mathematical accuracy, and 'Fortnight' is a slow calendar written day by day. Like the ladders and my painting series the year before, there is always the presence of the 'real' form of something, and how I have failed to replicate it through my methods.

Lines that are 5cm long / Fortnight


Will Dalton is an artist and writer based in London. He uses the materials of everyday life to explore how our personal experiences are shaped by the objects, places and spaces around us.