WARWICK—Visual artist Jonathan Talbot considers his words carefully when discussing his art. The Orange County Council of the Arts honored the artist on Nov. 17 with a lifetime achievement award for exhibits of his work, his books on the artistic experience, as well as an earlier distinguished career as a musician and composer.
Talbot said the local media does not pay much attention to the arts. “They don’t understand that the arts contribute a minimum of $50 million a year to the Orange County economy. Since they don’t recognize that, they don’t pay attention.”
One wonders how anyone could miss the well-spoken, distinguished-looking man who commands attention wherever he goes. He describes himself as a wanderer, of sorts, searching the world for beauty. “I am an intellectual gypsy who wanders this world with an insatiable appetite for aesthetic experience,” he says.
Talbot has many techniques up his sleeve—collages, etchings, paintings—but collages have been a life-long endeavor. He did his first collage over 70 years ago. “I do them because I learn from them, because they teach me lessons.”
He said his works take on a life of their own, like having a child. “Once the child arrives, the child has a life of its own.” Once he has completed a work, Talbot sits with it. “It informs me about its journey and its intentions.”
A work of art could begin from something within or something without. His landscapes are a response to the world around him. A dream might inspire him to create a work. At times, his art comes from an emotional response to an event, such as the destruction of artifacts in a war-torn country.
Talbot puts in long days. “I work very hard. I work when I’m at my easel and also when I’m not at my easel. I see things in my mind. I’m working through them all the time.”
His usual schedule is 9:00 in the morning to 11:00 at night. His family keeps him grounded so this schedule has some flexibility. “I live in a real world with a real wife and real children and real neighbors and friends. Things happen. Somebody’s in the hospital and you have to go visit.”
His collages have gained an enthusiastic following. He wrote a book, “Collage: A New Approach” (2001: Thrift Books), on his techniques “because so many people wanted to learn them.”
He draws a sharp distinction between materials used in collage and painting. He says painting materials are “innocent.” Colors are straight forward. They are what they are. But materials, such as newspaper clippings, are not. “If I rip up a newspaper from September 11, 2001, it’s not innocent anymore. It’s full of a certain kind of power or history. It has import.”
He likes the power of the various parts of a collage. “I enjoy their historical, psychological, emotional, philosophical associations. They are not innocent like paint.”
Talbot has collected print materials in various languages going back a few hundred years to use in his collages. He noted how soft and supple some old newspapers were because they were made of cotton–not wood pulp–are acid-free, and tend to last.
People inspire Talbot. “I choose not to be focused on myself. I choose to focus on others.”
An Inspiring Mother
One person who guided Talbot to the arts was his mother. She made detailed anatomical drawings, paintings, and prints. Talbot’s mother was trained in the arts at a time when this was a rarity. Talbot said this all changed when she married. Although she continued to entertain artist friends, she gave up art to have children and run a household.
Even though she abandoned her own art, she encouraged her son to do art and gave him art supplies. “I started to do art before I could talk.” He drew, and did gouache and collages. Paradoxically, the example of his mother discouraged him from being an artist because she was so unhappy and unable to do art herself.
This has made Talbot sensitive to gifted women artists. “The many artists in art history who happen to be women are not given the attention they deserve because they are women.” He appreciates local artist Laura Brightman, because her work is “meticulous, thoughtful, and unique” and Leslie Fandrich because her work “is insightful, feminist, and up-to-date.”
Talbot composed and performed his own music for 12 years. He recorded for Columbia Records. Then with his wife’s encouragement he got into visual arts. He started to sell his work when he lived in San Francisco. He exhibited in galleries and art shows.
He generally does not sell his work online. “I feel you can’t really see enough online to make a decision about it.” He said the Internet has changed the world for both good and bad. He uses computers and the Internet as a marketing tool for himself but not for specific artworks.
He is in demand as a speaker and discusses visual language skills. “I talk about the interface between verbal and visual language. Sometimes I talk about how to sell artwork. They don’t have to be appreciated to sell.”
When honored by the Orange County Arts Council for lifetime achievement, Talbot was praised for excellence in several arts.
“Jonathan’s art has been recognized on an international level, with a long list of exhibits and he has recently published his fourth book that is a collection of his collage work.
“His earlier books shared his years’ experience in and out of the studio. He is also a musician and has recorded for Columbia records and performed at Carnegie Hall, Fillmore East, the Washington Coliseum, and numerous other venues.”
His art has been a way to the truth, beauty, and meaning of life. “The truth to me is like an onion.” He said this slightly tongue in cheek living near the Black Dirt region of Pine Island which grows enough onions to feed the country.
“You think you know it, and then you peel off a layer, then you know a new truth. It’s like an infinite onion.”
To contact this reporter, please email [email protected]