Interview with Jonathan Dawson

| Michael Fralich |

For Jonathan Dawson, a painter living in Pownal, art is about the emotions that a piece of art can evoke. In the past five or so years, Jonathan has taken that thought to its artistic conclusion in his colorful abstract paintings. While this current period in his artistic journey is fairly recent, Jonathan characterized himself as having always been artistically inclined.

Julie and I had the pleasure of visiting Jonathan at his homestead in Pownal recently. Our visit began with a tour of his plot. Three sheep grazed to the left of where we parked. In front of us was a small barn, board corral and a yard populated with an assortment of fruit trees and bushes and other native trees that Jonathan has planted since moving here in the 90’s. It became clear from the onset that Jonathan’s art was deeply connected to the natural world.

After our tour of his farm and garden, Jonathan invited us to see his studio and showed us his most recent artwork. 

Jonathan Dawson’s studio | Photo: Julie Fralich

As we looked around the room, my eye was drawn first to Jonathan’s daily journal, open on his painting table. In it I spied daily handwritten entries but also an assortment of small sketches in the margins.

Jonathan with his journal | Photo: Julie Fralich

In our conversation with Jonathan we learned that this is how his art starts, in small bursts that spring from his life living with his family in rural Maine. He takes the colors of the natural world and transforms them into bold statements of shape and color.

The genesis of a new piece | Photo: Julie Fralich

 A new piece could start its journey in the margins of his day-book, make it onto a small piece of painter’s board, then larger and larger still until its final representation ends up being an eye-popping 60 x 60 inch swirl of movement, color and sinuous shapes. Having moved away from representational painting to abstract forms, Jonathan’s wish is that he be able to take the inspiration that he receives every day from the natural world and condense those experiences into a more purely emotional representation.

Standing listening to Jonathan speak of his journey as an artist, my eyes were drawn to one of his 60 x 60 paintings three feet in front of me.  As Jonathan explained the artistic process that goes into the piece’s trip from thumbnail sketch to finished work, the work in front of me caught and held my eyes. Primary colors in shapes that appeared to move as I looked at them transfixed me. I was having an emotional response to this image in a very basic way. It was quite powerful.

Photo: Julie Fralich

Jonathan has never mounted a show and only recently began public display of his work. It can be found on the walls of the Vestry of the New Gloucester Congregational Church in the Lower Village. We asked him what was his reaction to seeing his work on the walls of a church. He explained it this way. “I like a place that needs color. The church is a perfect place for it because it is so New Englandy. And you’re not going to paint yellow, green, red, blue trim in the church vestry, but you can put a painting there that makes the place so different and changes the emotion of the space.”

The church vestry space was a neutral palette onto which his art works could effectively shift the emotional affect of the room through bold color and shapes filled with inner motion. We have been in this room at church many times and I agree completely with his assessment. The room did come alive with the hanging of his pieces.

Jonathan’s work displayed in the Congregational Church Vestry | Photos: Julie Fralich

Our visit ended with ice water under one of Jonathan’s trees. We came away with a feeling of having been granted access to a very personal part of Jonathan’s life. Jonathan is a longtime friend of ours and this visit deepened our gratitude at knowing this talented man.