Neal Baer Collection

David Cannon Dashiell

A Lover’s Discourse Study – Expenditure


Pastel on paper

12 x 19 in; 30.48 x 48.26 cm

Courtesy of the Estate of David Cannon Dashiell

David Cannon Dashiell (b. 1952, Tokyo; d. 1993, San Francisco) spent his early childhood living in East Asia where his father, a cartographer for the US government, was stationed. Dashiell’s family moved back to the US in 1968 and Dashiell attended the California Institute of Arts (CalArts), where he studied with John Baldessari and received his undergraduate and graduate degrees in fine arts. After working in Los Angeles as a graphic and industrial designer Dashiell moved to San Francisco in the early 1980s and resumed his art practice.

This study is of a painting that was part of Dashiell’s A Lover’s Discourse, his first major installation. The drawing illustrates “Expenditure”, one of the 80 chapters in Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse (1977), a philosophical investigation of love. Goethe’s novel The Sorrow of Young Werther (1774), a tale of unrequited and obsessive love that ends in the narrator’s suicide, was an inspiration for Barthes and figures prominently in Dashiell’s installation. Dashiell installed the 80 paintings in A Lover’s Discourse suspended from the ceiling in a large, cylindrical form meant to resemble a panopticon:

The relationship of meanings between image and title in each panel is often apparently nonsensical, contradictory and jarring, but the mind abhors a vacuum, so viewers often read multiple meanings into the panels, meanings that often have little to do with the intention of the artist or Barthes, but certainly in keeping with the obsessive practice of Werther.

The installation was originally intended as a model of a panopticon (a type of prison that could be controlled by a single guardhouse placed in the center of a cylinder). The individual panels in their random array symbolically represent a crazy-quilt with holes, an arrangement of bogus ideas that provide only partial protection from the outside world.

At the center of the circle sat a table lit by a red and green light bulb, symbol of the falseness of 3-D visual effects. The table contained a copy of the book (in it’s[sic] original French) bolted text side down, representing the denial of analysis, a rotating pair of obsessive state[sic], and a hidden tape player that repeatedly played a recording of Werther’s suicide note (in German) followed by the sound of an unloaded gun going off.

Excerpts of wall text from the Adeline Kent Award Exhibition, San Francisco Art Institute (1993)


The Estate of David Cannon Dashiell

Other works by David Cannon Dashiell

Fragments of Autobiography – Panel #5 (1985)

See also

The Estate of David Cannon Dashiell

Dashiell in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Dashiell in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art

Maria Porges, Reviews: San Francisco, “David Cannon Dashiell” at the SFAI Walter and McBean Galleries, Artforum, Vol. 32, No. 2 (October 1993)

Nayland Blake, Interview with David Cannon Dashiell, Shift Magazine, Vol. 4, No. 2 (1990), 46

Gina Prat Lilly, “Myth-Making and Shaking: the Subversive Art of David Cannon Dashiell,” Visual AIDS (January 12, 2023)

David Cannon Dashiell papers at the GLBT Historical Society, San Francisco