The modern movement has sold many people on the concept that painters should be difficult, egotistical and socially maladjusted. In contrast to this notion, the realist painter David Dalton is warm, easygoing and modest. However, when you met him, his confidence in his abilities is clear, as is the joy he derives from painting his depictions of the beautiful inland valleys and coastline of California. He is a happy and appreciative man, and decades into his career, he is still thrilled to be able to make his living doing something he loves to do - to paint places that are special to him and share them with his audience.
Dalton was born in the Detroit suburb of Pontiac, Michigan in 1952. Like most painters, he was always interested in art, but because his father Lee T. Dalton was an artist and his first teacher, his artistic pursuits were encouraged rather than proscribed. In an interview held early in the artist's career, he fondly recalled his father's influence: "My memories of art lessons are clear. My father would sit me at the kitchen table and teach me to draw and draw and draw."
Dave Dalton is the eldest of eight children - a large family by any standards, but typical of the Mormon faith in which he grew up. Two of his younger sisters share the family artistic talent and became painters. Dalton moved to the beautiful California coastal town of Santa Cruz to attend college. He pursued art at the university, where he continued drawing and learned the basics of working in oils, graduating in 1977 with a Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts. By the end of his college years, he began painting murals professionally.
Dalton was always drawn to the water, and became a passionate surfer in Santa Cruz. After college graduation, he moved from the moody climes of Santa Cruz to sunny southern California, where he began working as a substitute teacher to support his young family while painting. Surfing in southern California inspired the artistic impulse in Dalton, and he began assembling a small body of the ocean works he had been painting to show galleries. The early influences the artist cited were the great American marine painters Frederick Waugh (1861 - 1940) and Winslow Homer (1836 - 1910). These works usually depicted crisp, clear days at Malibu, Rincon, San Onofre or Huntington Beach, all popular surfing spots along the southern and central California coast. Dalton loved to paint the perfectly curled waves he enjoyed riding and even included surfers in some of his first marine paintings.
In 1979, he brought in a group of his seascapes to show the well-known art dealer Howard E. Morseburg (b. 1924) and his gallery director Godfrey O. Gaston (1928 - 2002). While these two dealers thought that Dalton's work needed some refinement, they recognized that he was a natural talent who possessed the drive and dedication that would make him an exceptional realist painter. The young artist's works began selling immediately, and because of his passion for the sea and his tremendous work ethic, the paintings improved rapidly; soon he was traveling up and down the coast from Oregon to the surfing spots on the rugged coast of Baja California in search of subjects to paint.
Dalton's choice of galleries was fortuitous, for Morseburg's Los Angeles gallery was a haven for marine painters and collectors of marine works. The art dealer had spent five years at sea during and after WWII, and because of his own love of the sea, he represented many well-known marine painters, among them Eugene Garin (1922 - 1994), Alexander Dzigurski (1911 - 1995) and Stephen Mirich (b. 1954). Morseburg had his own gallery on Wilshire Boulevard but also purchased Dalton's paintings to sell to other galleries in California and as far away as the Midwest. Through the gallery's promotion and the quality of Dalton's work, the painter soon gained a national reputation and a long list of dedicated collectors.
What set Dalton's paintings apart from other artists of that era was the clarity of his subjects. While he paints with a high degree of detail, he retains a wonderful quality of natural light. Dalton likes to say that painters should never "stick to one pat formula." As an emerging painter he attempted to paint the sea and coast in all its moods - the morning overcast burning off the warming southern California coast, a storm surf pounding Santa Cruz, Point Lobos in the fog that haunts that rugged coastline or a brilliant sunset in Baja California - and he was equally adept at doing small paintings or major works. As his career advanced, Dalton began painting more of the coastline and less ocean, gradually making the transition to being a landscape painter as well as a marine artist. In the mid-1980s, he moved his family to central California, where he could find and paint both less-inhabited stretches of coastline as well as landscape subjects.
In 1985, as Howard Morseburg moved to Solvang and opened a gallery there, Dalton took on other gallery representation.
As the years progressed, he came to admire the landscape painter James Fetherolf (1925 - 1994) and began to add the rolling hills and live oak of inland California that the older artist was known for to his artistic repertoire. Gradually, he began to paint more landscapes and fewer marine works and now, as a mature artist with thirty years behid the easel, David Dalton is as well known for his scenes of the pristine California landscape as the marine paintings that got his career off to such a rapid start.
Dalton intends his luminous images of the pounding California surf and the spirited motion of the Pacific Ocean to be crisp, forceful and captivating. He layers color applications of blended oils to impart depth and perspective to his paintings which can be a California sunset, a landscape with oak shaded barns nestled into surrounding hills or the haunting moodiness of a silver-cast moon reflecting off ice-blue waters.