Interview with Hugo Dalton

By Kira Milligan

Hugo Dalton’s work starts with drawings made directly from life. Each project is an attempt to open up and extend the space of specific location, both physically and conceptually. At its heart Dalton’s work is intended to add to the enjoyment and understanding of contemporary existence. He is committed to working in collaboration with other disciplines. An empathy for existing visual relations sets Dalton’s work apart. Critic Edward Lucie-Smith terms his work “… a rebellion towards elegance.”

Biography from


During a study abroad program in Lacoste, France, Painting BFA Kira Milligan initiated a studio visit and interview with visiting British artist Hugo Dalton. Dalton spent two weeks developing and creating light installations that were projected on the evening of October 29th, when hundreds of visitors flooded the small village of Lacoste for their annual Halloween celebration. In the following interview, Dalton discusses his art practice and drawing.

Kira Milligan: Welcome to Southern France! Although, you are probably more familiar with the area than we are, because you are from Europe- have you done anything art-related in this area before?

Hugo Dalton: No, I mean, it’s all new. I’m familiar with, let’s say, the history- that’s something you learn about. And I’ve obviously been to France on quite a few occasions. I did an installation about a month and a half ago over towards Lyon, so that was a really nice little taste of the fact that the weather’s really great, and the buildings are really beautiful. The stone is good for projecting onto, because it’s so pale, so that’s nice.

KM: Did that give you an itch to want to come do something here?

HD: Definitely, I mean, I knew that I was going to be doing something and it was just happenstance that I got a commission, because this was for someone’s private house, so when they said, “Well, can you do one in our chateau in France?” And I said, “Great, yeah.” Because the walls, and even the cement in between the brick, are more or less the same colour, so that’s super helpful. When you project something on a building and it has loads of lines between the bricks, I mean it’s interesting, but… yeah, it’s a wonderful area.

KM: Seeing that you do work and install/exhibit in site-specific places all over the world, I’m curious how you’ve made your practice more mobile.

HD: I would say part of it- practicality, and then also, the things that I’m interested in sort of move me in that direction. Primarily, I paint murals, which are very difficult to…move… (laughs). I project them onto the wall and then paint them, so in a sense, it’s just part of that process, that I’ve stripped out and just used on it’s own.

KM: So you were doing the murals, and then saw another part of it that could be more of the artistic expression?

HD: Yeah, and that allows me to exhibit in temporary spaces, where maybe the time, the scale or the parameters don’t allow me to paint directly onto the wall. For example, at the V&A Museum, you can’t walk up there and just start painting on the walls. Or you can, but you’d need a lot of planning.

KM: In your talk on Thursday, you said that your work starts with the drawings made directly from life, and while you were talking about other projects, it’s apparent that there’s a lot of research that goes into the sites that you’ll be installing in, so I was wondering if you have a specific progression that you usually follow. Do you do the sketches, and then have the conception of an idea and then do research, or does it vary depending on the project?

HD: I would say it is a real yin-yang kind of thing- it’s all about the site, so until I’ve got to wherever it is, be it, if I’m making the drawings somewhere and then painting them somewhere else, it’s all about where I make the drawings. And then there’s a dialogue with the site, where here, it’s great, although it’s relatively compressed. I can make the drawings and then do the site at the same time, but fundamentally, I think the research is ongoing. You kind of inform the research by going to different places and seeing how those concepts or ideas that you have already play out in a different location, how you look at them differently. My concerns are how we relate to our environment, how we relate to the history of places, and then, on a more specific level, I’m really interested in the difference between structure- architecture- and its ornamentation. That usually plays when I’m out on site, whereas the conceptual side is more when you’re drawing in the field, as it were.

For me, it sounds like this is really an obvious difference: something structural is something that holds something up, and ornamentation is something that’s imposed after that and it’s sort of ancillary and you could take it away and the thing would still [stand]- but then you start looking into it and it has so many different sorts of permutations and there’s a historian who’s well-quoted, called Adolf Luise, who wrote a book called “Crime and Ornament.” He said basically all ornament is a crime and should all be totally reduced, but ironically when you look at his work, it’s all quite classically ornamented, so even when you pear something back and it looks like it has no ornament, like modernist architecture, that in itself is ornament. To make those super white spaces, they’re actually super complicated to make, because you have to hide everything, so in a sense, the absence of ornament is an actual fact, you notice its absence, right? So it’s there. That’s why the Pompidou is such an amazing building, relating it to what you all have been up to here in France. The first time you see that building, you never forget.

KM: To tangent a bit, drawing is clearly fundamental to your practice, were you interested in drawing when you were younger?

HD: Yeah, that’s all I did, I wasn’t very good at reading. It turned out okay, and I picked up my reading a bit, but it was always a struggle (laughs).

KM: Now knowing how integral it is to your process, have you gotten to draw from life while here in Lacoste?

HD: The one thing that I find the most… reliable, let’s say, is if I always return to drawing from life, then things happen.

KM: After having done projected drawings of dancers and of musical accompaniments, do you plan or hope to do more of those kind of drawing sessions that are projected to a live audience?

HD: Yeah, We just did one in London and then we’re looking at working with this museum in Cambridge, in March. I try and do them about once every six months, because it’s just finding that balance- how much time you have- you usually get it funded, but it takes a lot of time, because you have to find a grand piano, then find a room.

KM: Anything specific that you would want to draw in that context that you haven’t before?

HD: I’m really interested, at the moment, in drawing music, which is really challenging. I’ve been drawing classical music, and I’d like to do a lot more of that. It opens it up to, I think, younger audiences, because the concerts we make are in a dark environment, and it’s a much more immersive space than those sort of stiff antiquated classical affairs that are great, but not for everyone.

KM: What is the best piece of advice you would give to your younger self after finishing your undergraduate degree?

HD: I would say… ignore your better judgment.

KM: Thank you so much for your time! 


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