Figurative Painting from imagination can be both liberating and terrifying. The common need to achieve ‘a likeness’ goes out of the window and is replaced with a desire to tell a story which, when done well, is imbued with feeling. When I saw Dana Mallon’s painting on the longlist of the Jackson’s Painting Prize I felt it was a breath of fresh air. ‘A Boy’s Dream’ depicts Mallon’s son gliding through the air above red fields towards the sun with his 2 cats. The painting reminded me of ‘The Absentee Pig’ by Julian Trevelyan and the magical whimsy of a Marc Chagall. Dana Mallon has captured a sense of exhilaration using warm harmonious colour and charming illustration-like drawing to create a work that celebrates the limitlessness of dreaming.
Lisa: Your work ‘A Boy’s Dream’ is just that; your interpretation of your son’s dream. When working from the imagination or simply using the words of another as your starting point it must be quite daunting. Did you spend a long time trying to get the composition just right, or is it just a case of trusting your gut instinct and just going for it with the paint brush?
Dana: I’ve only really started painting like this about a year ago. I went to see the Royal Watercolour exhibition last year and was amazed by Rosa Sepple’s work, it made me smile and react emotionally. So the penny dropped and I thought: Why paint from photos? Anything is possible if you move away from that. I’ve researched naïve painting styles, but mostly I just got going trying to find my own style. The painting of my son’s dream happened after I asked him, I had already painted his brother. The only planned action was a photo of him pretending to fly to get the right proportions, but otherwise it was just his idea and me going for it. No reference photo or realism can give you that.
Lisa: For how long have you been painting, and have you always worked from your imagination?
Dana: I have been painting for over 5 years, but I used to draw and paint as a child. I only stopped because I started writing creatively as a student. After moving to England life took over. I had a tendency to like drawing animals or people all my life and until last year this was my main subject. I’ve tried lots of different techniques over the years, but I’ve always been quite loose in my interpretation; my main aim has not changed and it’s to create an emotion in the viewer. The move to a naïve style was a conscious decision after working realistically for a long time; it’s given me a newfound freedom.
Lisa: You often work with mixed media. What is the greatest appeal of working with multiple mediums for you?
Dana: My original love was watercolour – I fell for it big time. The options it offers, the unexpected ‘accidents’ – I still love that. But for a long time I did not realise that you do not have to stick to one medium, when I realised this is not a requirement, it opened doors to me to play and find new ways of portraying what I wanted. I use what I see fit for purpose: collage, inks, gouache, pens, gold leaf; there are some media I never use and some options I have not explored yet, but I feel it opened up new opportunities and ways of expressing myself. I do like to play and see what happens, not always successfully, but always enjoyably. And which artist doesn’t like new toys!
Lisa: Where do you find inspiration for your work?
Dana: My inspiration comes from the life around me – my family…I also have chickens and cats which have featured a lot in my work over the years. There is beauty in so many little moments in our lives if you keep your eyes peeled. Often an idea pops in my head, but I don’t always follow them through. Or I play with paint and something takes shape all by itself and the narrative follows. A big driver is the need to be unique and have a recognisable style. One example is ‘Memories and Wallpaper’. We had a door where we measured the height of our boys over the years. We decided to renovate the whole area including the door. Painting over the measurements felt heartbreaking, like we were erasing all that time. So this inspired two things – we moved the measurements to another door and I painted the emotions it stirred in me.
Lisa: How often do you get to paint?
Dana: I have a full-time job and family, so painting always had to fit in somehow in the evening or at weekends. Working from imagination has slowed me down somewhat, but I did use to paint daily.
Lisa: Can you describe where you do the majority of your work?
Dana: My studio is also my office. I have a space in that room that is dedicated to art. But I might wander into the garden or to the kitchen table depending on light and conditions. One day I hope I have a dedicated painting studio in the garden – it would be nice to not have to tidy my art materials away all the time and just walk in the next time and all is ready to go.
Lisa: What art materials could you not do without?
Dana: Wow, there are a few that I absolutely love. Tombow Dual Brush pens were a delightful find, they even join me on my holidays. SuperTooth Colourfix pastel ground was an accidental discovery which I now use for texture. My favourite paper is Two Rivers watercolour paper which I now use exclusively. And of course FW acrylic inks – their vibrant colours are wonderful.
Lisa: What advice would you give to anyone who’d like to become an artist?
Dana: Draw every day, anything! Don’t listen too much to discouraging people, but keep your eyes and ears open for constructive encouragement. Do workshops, courses even if they seem not for you – you will learn something each time. Visit galleries and exhibitions to get inspiration. And keep going! Above all: what’s the worst that can happen? The joy I got out of art over the years has only enriched my life and keeps on doing so.
Lisa: What are you working on at the moment?
Dana: I’m currently working on 2 pieces – one is an adaptation of a photo a friend of mine took (Friends for Life) and one is again from imagination. The first one struck me as such a lovely picture of innocence that I felt the need to paint it. The second is either about flying away or holding on, not quite decided yet.
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we see your work?
Dana: I have a website danamallonart.com and I also sell work on Artfinder. I will have some pieces in a local exhibition in June http://www.ayotstlawrence.com/the-ayot-st-lawrence-art-show-2017.html