In 1989, the following profile appeared in ORANGE MAGAZINE*
not the same Orange Magazine as the publication which currently bears that name. - JT 2008

Collage of Conscience

Warwick artist Jonathan Talbot strives to make sense of our chaotic society in his work.

“Communities which are undergoing change, like Orange County, have a certain vitality,” artist Jonathan Talbot replies when asked why he chose to settle in Warwick 12 years ago. That vitality is an inspiration for his work.

He says that many county residents don't realize that there are a large number of artists living in the area. That's because many of them do not exhibit their work here.


"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 Talbot.

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 pleasing collages.

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 art."

He 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.

So 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 available.

"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 too prominent.

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.


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