AA: Tamara, I saw your painting "Anaglypta, Woodchip, Eggshell" last week and it stuck in my mind because it reminds me of a low budget guest house or cheap restaurant. I look at that painting and I think, yeah, I know that place. I wondered if the paintings are based on places you actually visit.
TD: Yes, sometimes they are but sometimes not. I collect imagery but often it is some kind of trivial memory of a place. With "Anaglypta, Woodchip, Eggshell" I'm thinking about the decor of the room and the passing of time. This one here is called "50s Swing Plaid Coat, 70s Rainbow Jacket" and I'm thinking of the people checking their coats in and out and the different fashions. So its that kind of thing about the passing of time.
AA: Do you take your own photographs or do you find images of things that might trigger memories?
TD: Actually, I do have an archive of hundreds of photos that I have taken. I always take my camera around with me and often take pictures of places that are quite well known, like the Bowery Ballroom in New York, and other entertainment spaces. So they do have personal memories but they're quite generic as well, yeah.
AA: I looked at some images of your earlier work and your seaside paintings look like light and happy places. Some of these later paintings are quite dark and sinister by comparison.
TD: Yes, I did a whole tour of the British coast and that's where I collected a lot of images. Even though there were quite grey skies when I took the photos, I would transcribe them into painting and put blue skies on them. I kind of shifted my view from that way of thinking and that kind of hope and it naturally shifted into a darker space.
AA: Were you interested in Britishness? Is that something you think about?
TD: Yes it is. I mean I've done this whole kind of tour and it's about what I know of Britain. I didn't go on holiday as a child so I don't know where my passion for these places is coming from. It's some kind of faded nostalgia of something but I don't quite know what.
AA: It doesn't appear to be a very grand notion that might sit with traditional stately homes, cricket or green and pleasant lands.
TD: It's quite a down to earth view of Britain. I grew up in a steel town in Lincolnshire. This painting here is called "Steel Town". The steel works was the backdrop to my hometown. I could always hear the grinding of the erm ...
TD: (laugh) yeah, the machinery, and the chemical air was orange in the sky. It's a strange thing that Britishness because a lot of the imagery that you see from the seaside has originally come from the US. Similarly with music, I remember thinking that I don't want to like any American bands. I always followed British bands and was very like, I'm not going to like that; I'm going to like this, and I was quite strict with myself about it. But I realise that a lot of the things that I celebrate in the British seaside actually come from US 30s and 50s architecture.
AA: And your paintings are devoid of people. Are you trying to capture a particular atmosphere?
TD: I suppose that allows people to remember something for themselves. Subconsciously, I didn't realise that the paintings didn't have people in them and then people kept mentioning that fact but I thought they were about people so ...
AA: You mentioned nostalgia earlier. Your paintings make a connection with the past and an idea of memory. The term "nostalgia" can be derogatory in art and I wondered how you felt about that.
TD: I suppose as time goes by I like to think of seeing soul in something. Something that was "proper". Say, cars on the road for instance. I used to love seeing old cars and now you don't see them often. It does seem strange to look back but I think I'm searching for some kind of character or soul.
AA: Now, I'm looking over your shoulder at the painting of a half-submerged submarine. How does it fit with the other paintings?
TD: This is the last painting I made for this show. We had been thinking for a long time about the show "Skyscrapers Under the Sea". Water and light seem to be themes that come up in my work. I've recently started to read about divers and their explorations underwater with diving bells and diving equipment. Jacques Cousteau actually writes really beautifully about his explorations. It's amazing; the way he describes things. And I try to go to some kind of imaginary place and think about those things as starting points for painting.
AA: There is something quite theatrical about the work too.
TD: Yes, it varies within the work. They often seem staged because they're made of different components. My work is about many things, some abstract, some spiritual. There are a lot of paintings that are not here which are varied. I've also made some paintings of dresses.
AA: Yes, the 50s ballroom dress, I've seen that painting. What is it called?
TD: "There Ought To Be More Dancing".
AA: Your titles are interesting.
TD: The titles are something I think about a lot. Sometimes they are collected phrases, something I've seen somewhere. Sometimes the titles add humour or suggest the passing of time or something. They vary. When they come they are right and they stick. The skirt imagery keeps coming back, as well as the underwater and the kind of light and place and theatre. There is a piece that I haven't made that I would like to make which is a corridor of crinoline skirts to walk through. Often there is a feeling of suffocation in some of the pieces, like the bell jars.
Skyscrapers Under The Sea is at Madame Lillies, 10 Cazenove Road, Stoke Newington, London N16 6BD from 6-15 March 2009.