"I, as an artist,
have chosen not to isolate myself from the community, but to make
myself a part of the society. Not to respond only to a portion
of it, but to respond to society as a whole is my aim," says
This contemporary collage artist does not concentrate his efforts
on the peaceful farmlands which surround his home. Instead, he
is a man of conscience, one who cannot and does not forsake the
realities of today's world in his art. Instead, he uses them
as subjects for his pieces and incorporates them into aesthetically
In his studio, reminders of a nautical past abound. A guitar
hangs on the wall and rows of books line the shelves, as do philosophical
quotes given as gifts from friends. American flags have their
place as well. Filed neatly away are scraps of metal, wood, glass
and paper for which most people would have no use. But Talbot
does. He incorporates these "elements of society,"
as he calls them, into his collages.
"Most of the artwork I do, I start by taking dissimilar
elements and arranging them and trying to develop relationships
between them," Talbot says when asked why he has chosen
collage as his medium. "I feel that the responsibility of
the artist within a social context is to make some sense of the
chaos that we are all exposed to on a daily basis." The complexity of
the contemporary world is mirrored in much ofTalbot's work. In
most of his collages, he has chosen one theme and allowed it to
run throughout the piece, complementing it with everything
from scraps of maps and postage stamps to nautical charts and
metal pigs. At first, one might wonder what these items are doing
in the artist's work; yet it quickly becomes evident that
there is a message in his creations. The tall, graying, hazel-eyed
artist explains that each viewer can extract what he wants from
the works. One can find great depth in the collages or simple
enjoy them for pure aesthetics.
Having received his education by combining study at Brandeis
University, the San Francisco Academy of Art, and travel throughout
much of the world, Jonathan Talbot, at 48, is quite an intellectual.
He needs to satisfy more than an emotional side of his personality
when creating his artwork. He looks to balance it with an analytical
or intellectual angle.
This concept is often referred to as the left brain-right brain
notion. The left brain is the source of the analytical and intellectual,
while the right controls the emotional aspects of human nature.
Talbot feels that most contemporary art is lacking in the left
brain, or intellectual component.
"Consequently, I would like to have my artwork have a left
brain component as well as an emotional side, because there are
lots of people walking around with good left brains and they'd
like something to look at." So, along with creating a piece
which is enjoyable to view, Talbot likes to increase his viewer's
understanding of society and what he calls the "human condition."
In his collages, Talbot manages to create a balance between emotional
charge and societal analysis. Freighter, a piece which has just
returned from a nationwide tour as part of one of the Smithsonian
Institute's traveling exhibits, has this balance. Talbot describes
it is "a nautical setting for all the excess baggage that
we all carry around in us. We all have a psychological agenda;
so does Freighter." Several small and carefully wrapped packages,
set into recessed areas in the piece, are actually pictures
of Marilyn Monroe, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, the Mona Lisa, a
dollar bill, Hebraic letters and quotes from the Bible. They
are placed over a nautical newspaper and rest above a nautical
chart. Four compasses are set above this scene. What does this
mean? Talbot leaves the interpretation to his viewers, but
does mention that he has "externalized the pieces of
our culture and society" which make up our personae.
The nautical atmosphere which Talbot creates in many of his collages
is a direct reflection of his past life. Although his "vagabondish
career" as a seaman on private yachts lasted only about five
years, starting when he was 17, the sea has continued to serve
an important function in his artwork. A lover of the sea,
Talbot feels that he "traded a life at sea for a life in
continues: "I have traded a life of thoughtless but active
participation for one which mixes that with reflective observation."
The artist whom Jonathan Talbot most idolizes made the same sort
of trade, from active to reflective nautical participation. The
man is Herman Melville, the esteemed author of the classic nautical
novel Moby Dick. One collage which incorporates sea themes, Herman
Melville and today's social condition is called View from
the Customs House. In describing his motive in doing this small
piece, Talbot says, "I have sympathetically pictured
Melville. I adore his writing. Adore is a good word because it
comes from adoration and worship, and to some extent I worship
his writing. So I have collaged him here. I didn't draw him."
Pointing to Melville's picture, in View from the Customs House,
he says, "That's actually a postage stamp which I've modified."
Jonathan Talbot took a similar nautical approach
to the opening of his second show at the prestigious New York
City Gimpel and Weitzenhoffer Gallery at 724 Fifth Avenue. The
invitation to the show featured a collage/painting called Soundings.
The work featured a sail boat painted onto the edge of a nautical
chart, as if it were sailing along on it. "One did not expect
to see the boat on this chart. The two things really didn't go
together, but somehow they did. After I had done the piece,
I realized that it really was very simple."
He pauses, then describes the depth of his thoughts while creating
the invitation. "All of us are adrift on a technological
sea like this. I have visually depicted the context in which we
sail on this day and age. We no longer sail on a romantic, 19th
century sea anymore than we can walk down a quiet little lane
without a jet plane going overhead. I have pictured a technological
sea as a metaphor for the human condition because the human condition
is thoroughly technological at this time."
Talbot's work sells from $700 to $6,000 per collage. He has both
a national and an international following as a result of his presence
in highly regarded galleries and art shows. Don Gray, a critic
for Art World magazine, credited Talbot with having, 'The refinement
of a master watchmaker or jeweler." Art New England
said his collages give "a sense of journey to a haven, an
oasis for pleasure."
Jonathan Talbot sees the prospering town of Warwick as much more
than a pleasant oasis where he lives with wife Marsha, daughter
Loren, and son Garret. He is also very aware of what is going
on around him. "One of the things which I react to as an
artist is education," he says. Talbot feels that school systems
are in a state of turmoil. He believes that the high tax rates
will force them to come up with new responses to problems. That
newness stimulates him.
does being involved in the community. "I think the changes
in Orange County are marvelous because they have given me a great
chance to become involved in things which I never knew about before."
His involvement in fighting the proposed dumping of radium into
the Orange County watershed and his involvement in the Warwick
school system have widened the perspective he brings to his work.
Other artists' work broadens his awareness, as well. His broad
range of interests is reflected in his private art collection.
A short, well-worn path leads across the yard from his studio
to his house. Inside, paintings, drawings and etchings by a variety
of other artists cover the walls. Each has its own story. Talbot
only has a few of his own collages hanging in his home, only because
"the rest are either sold or showing."
"As I examine the artwork I do, and as I examine the society
in which I live in order to do the artwork, I examine myself."
Talbot laughingly mentions a word which has recently made its
way into his vocabulary. That word is "ruburb," and
he first saw it in Time magazine. A ruburb is a rural area which
is quickly becoming a suburb. "It is what I perceive for
Warwick in particular and Orange County in general."
He again stresses the importance of change and the vitality which
comes about from it. "We're experiencing a decentralization
in art," he says. "It used to be that art occurred at
its greatest in the urban centers: Paris, New York, Athens."
According to this artist, the world has changed. The communication
and transportation revolution has made it possible to be an artist
without living in those centers anymore. He feels that the same
excitement and stimulation found in urban areas is universally
"If it was dull here, my art wouldn't be in touch,"
Talbot says about Orange County. As his work addresses a wide
variety of aesthetic, social and philosophical concerns, it is
plain to see its relevance to the contemporary world. "I
don't want to paint people carrying Christmas trees with little
sleighs. Grandma Moses did a great job with that, but I don't
care to do that."
Talbot feels that Orange County should recognize that it can
still maintain some of its traditional values while in the midst
of its growth. "It is not that I want Orange County to look
rustic. I would love to see a greater degree of aesthetics here.
I feel that people should realize that aesthetics have a lot to
do with the quality of life and that there should be some effort
to aesthetically control the growth of Orange County." Particularly,
he mentions adding landscaping in places where blacktop is all
Jonathan Talbot was born in New York City and raised in Putnam
County. He has lived and worked all over the United States and
in many foreign countries including Spain, France, England, North
Africa and Mexico. He has worked as a taxi driver and musician,
performing on fretted string instruments with his Electric String
Ensemble in Carnegie Hall and recording for Columbia records.
He left the field of music in 1970 to avoid the hassle of drugs
and hype invading the music business.
In the past several years, Talbot has won numerous art awards,
and his work has been exhibited all over the United States and
abroad. Exhibitors include the Museum of Modern Art in New York,
The State Museum of New York in Albany, The Arkansas Arts Center
in Little Rock, The Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio, the National
Academy (where he won the coveted Ranger Fund Award), The Decordova
Museum in Boston, the Byer Museum in Evanston, IL and the South
Street Seaport Museum in New York.
Years ago, Talbot and two artist friends discussed their reasons
for pursuing a career in art. One said he hoped to make enough
money in art to be able to take a couple of hunting and fishing
trips a year. The other said he was in it just for the money.
Talbot sat back and said, "I want to carve a niche for myself
in posterity. After I die, I want people to remember me."
He describes the human condition as somewhat enclosed, and feels
that one of his roles as an artist is to point out that even within
the rigidity of the social structure we are in, there are new
freedoms and new ways of looking at things which will allow us
independence. This has become his trademark.
When one looks at the successes he has achieved, one might say
that his niche already exists. He carves it from compasses,
metal pigs, charts, postage stamps, quotes from the Bible, the
dictionary and newspapers, his original painting, scraps
of metal, and his own consciousness of the contemporary world.
He shares it with those both curious enough to learn new truths
by looking beyond the limits of traditional art, and those who
appreciate his collages for the sake of art itself.