Born in Pwllheli, North Wales, in 1960. Studied at the Chelsea School of Art (1984-87) and at the Royal College of Art, London (1987-89). Shortly after graduating, he became Lucian Freud’s studio assistant, staying with the painter until his death in 2011, during which time he took on the role of confidante, adviser, and often also the painter’s subject and muse: Dawson would be the model for seven paintings by Freud, including his last unfinished canvas. In 2000 Dawson started to take photographs in snatched moments of Freud at work in the studio, and these formed the subject of an exhibition and publication at the National Portrait Gallery, London, in 2004. While working for Freud, Dawson continued to paint in left-over hours, and since 2011 he has been able to return to painting full-time.
His subjects have been, early on, town views from his flat in London, and latterly, voyaging between his birthplace in Wales, London and New York, landscapes of the first, and broad panoramas of Central Park looking towards Midtown Manhattan. Dawson has not shied from large formats, as many of his Welsh landscapes measure 1½ by 2 metres, with their surfaces becoming, understandably, more boldly encrusted with paint, not unlike those of the painter whom he served for almost 20 years. His paintings, together with his photographs of Freud, were shown at Pallant House, Chichester, in 2012.