Paul Dash

Talking Music


Not on display

Paul Dash born 1946
Oil paint on hardboard
Support: 762 × 763 mm
Purchased with funds provided by the Nicholas Themans Trust 2022


Talking Music 1963 is a square-format oil painting on hardboard that depicts the interior of a home in vibrant shades of blue, purple and green. The room is populated by six figures: the artist, his father, three brothers and a family friend. At the centre of the painting, the artist’s father, seated with a guitar in his lap, is seen ‘arguing his point about a musical matter – chord progression’ with his friend Bob Reid, who is seated opposite him, also holding a guitar, while the four brothers seem enraptured by the discussion (Paul Dash ‘Talking Music’, n.d., artist’s website,, accessed 10 July 2021.). Behind them a French door and two windows frame the wintry setting in the garden. The artist has painted the scene so that the viewer is positioned inside the space that appears to be lit just by the warm glow of the fire and fading natural light.

Talking Music was painted in Oxford, when Dash was a student at the Oxford College of Education, and shows his family home in Oxford: the ‘front-back-room’, the well-used heart of the home, the ‘family’s living room, dining room, rehearsal room’ situated at the back of the house, away from the prying eyes of neighbours and passers-by (Paul Dash in conversation with Tate curator Daniella Rose King, 16 June 2021.) The domestic interior scene of family life shown in Talking Music exists as an important representation of Caribbean diasporic experience – Dash’s father, who had been a choir master in Barbados, continued the tradition of making and talking music as a form of cultural production and preservation. The picture’s title also refers to the idea of musical instruments ‘speaking’ to the listener. The date of the work appears inconsistently and is sometimes given as 1964. However, Dash has confirmed the date of 1963, explaining that he did not date the work at the time of completion, but retrospectively:

Unfortunately, I didn’t date and sign my work then not feeling qualified to do so and fearing the derision of close friends who might have regarded my gesture as pretentious. However, knowing it was painted in the early days of the formation of Carib Six and knowing too that the room in which the scene was played out was the backroom of our home in Cowley, the penultimate home we lived in before I left home for Chelsea Art College in 1965, I feel sure it was painted late 1963. The family moved into another home in Blackbird Leys – a 1950s property – the year a few months after the piece was completed. I wouldn’t have made the painting retrospectively. It was definitely made in Cowley – the fireplace is confirmation of that, we didn’t have a traditional fireplace in Blackbird Leys nor was there a garden shed there so I feel sure this is the year it was painted.
(Paul Dash, email correspondence with Tate curator Daniella Rose King, 2 July 2021.)

In 1965 Dash painted Dance at Reading Town Hall (private collection), which depicts a scene he witnessed while onstage performing in the Carib Six, a family band formed in the same back living room depicted in Talking Music. Music runs through Dash’s work and life; he toured the country with the band and others after it disbanded, before settling into a full-time teaching and art practice in the late 1970s and early 1980s (Paul Dash in conversation with Tate curator Daniella Rose King, 16 June 2021).

Dash has painted consistently throughout his life. Part of the Windrush generation, he moved to Oxford from Barbados at eleven years old to join his family; aged nineteen, in 1965, he went to London to attend Chelsea College of Art, later becoming a member of the Caribbean Artists Movement. He was a teacher of art and education for two decades, first at secondary schools then at the Institute of Education and Goldsmiths, where he received a PhD in 2008. Dash has described his experience of racism during his childhood and teenage years, referring to the ‘cesspool of racist secondary school under-education’ when he was at school and his feeling like he ‘was the only black schoolboy in the whole of Oxford’ (Paul Dash, ‘Artist Statement’, in Lifeline: A Retrospective of Works by Paul Dash, 198 Contemporary Art, 2019; and Paul Dash, in conversation with Tate curator Daniella Rose King, 16 June 2021.)

Further reading
Beverley Mason and Margaret Busby (eds.), No Colour Bar: Black British Art in Action 1960–1990, exhibition catalogue, Friends of the Huntley Archives at London Metropolitan Archives (FHALMA), London 2018, pp.58, 95.
Paul Dash, ‘Artist Statement’, Arrivants: Making Exhibitions in the Caribbean, 13 November 2018,, accessed 20 June 2021.
‘Artist Statement’, Lifeline: A Retrospective of Works by Paul Dash, exhibition pamphlet, 198 Contemporary Art, London 2019.

Daniella Rose King
July 2021

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