Ronan Day-Lewis That moment of separation and that ambivalence of that... the excitement of being separate, and the fear of that separation.
By Mary Truong November 15th, 2020
At first, the stuttering straight lines that Ronan Day-Lewis paints with seems to be a visual shorthand— it’s much easier to paint pastoral fields as a plane of color hatched with marks than to meticulously consider foliage and individual blades of grass; in the hands of an artist who paints abstracted scenery and figures, lines are a useful tool. But the frenetic, anxious quality of these marks gives the impression of someone scratching against the wall to count time. Day-Lewis suspects that the marks are an obsessive manifestation of his repeated examinations of his childhood memories and emotions. In the work that he makes (primarily paintings and film), he explores the way that he mythologizes his past, creating art that reflects the passage of time.
“I’m interested in how we mythologize our own past and how we actually create our own past after the fact.”
Day-Lewis says that he views his childhood with “rose-colored glasses,” mythologizing it into an eden. It follows that adolescence becomes a period of transformation where the child falls from innocence and becomes corrupted. Likewise, the stories that he references within his art involve loss: the fall of man, Dante’s descent into Hell in the Divine Comedy. “There’s something that really resounded me in this sense of paradise lost and this lost eden in how I thought about childhood.” Like most people with happy childhoods, Day-Lewis notes that having to come of age means separating from an eden, and through this process, he found ambivalence in “the excitement of being separate and the fear of that separation.”
“There never was an eden. There was no such thing as corruption.”
But Day-Lewis believes that there is an artificiality to this narrative because the sharp duality between eden and hell is constructed by false memories. The landscapes that he paints are contrived; they’re simply images of what he thinks a landscape might look like (and in a way, not even that, considering how abstracted they look). “All of that’s a lie— eden lost, hell, heaven, at least as they pertain to my past.” That being said, the feelings he attributes to that coming of age period feel real, and attempts to coalesce those emotions and that time into art.
Day-Lewis mentions that the current film he is working on will be horror. He notes that his paintings don’t directly relate to the horror genre, but he does intend them to conjure a “foreboding” atmosphere— “In my paintings, I try to create this feeling that’s a push and pull between the foreboding and something that’s sublime or beautiful. In art, that’s something I respond to.” Horror is a response to an external fear; the locus of terror originates on the outside, whether it be some monster or disaster. Day-Lewis’ paintings involve a separate, internal kind of fear: the childhood anxiety of an impending future of loneliness. But there’s also an artificiality in this distinction between external and internal sources of fear: “we project our emotions onto landscapes.” At least in the context of Day-Lewis’ art, there is no hell; the external becomes fearsome because of the internal.
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