Sunday, December 30, 2007

Truth Observed or Perceived... Equal Lies?

I’m reading a biography of the pseudo-bear-idiot from Alaska-via-California, Timothy Treadwell. You may recall a few years back, the “Grizzly Man” living amongst the brown bears of southwestern Alaska that was mauled by his “friends”. Despite how much I disagree with his naïve approach to dealing with the local wildlife, I can’t help but understand his dismay with the standards of the academic experts/authorities on the subject of bear habitat and relationships. While this fool may have gotten himself served-up as breakfast to a couple annoyed browns, he was also one of the only people that has ever been able to recognize and document the unique characteristics and personalities/family dynamics of such a large collective of bears - firsthand.

I have a similar conflict with anthropology and the manner in which it takes an “outside-observer-only” approach to society. The essence of my paintings is held together by the manner in which I incorporate symbolic representations of experiences from my interaction with unique communities at the “artist-in-resident” level.

“Your standing so close, I’m not sure if those are my toes I’m feeling or yours.” – I believe that line is from the Tom Hanks film, Nothing in Common

Close proximity is not only the best way to know what motivates someone’s actions; it is the only way to nearly guarantee some measure of truth… particularly in art… but that’s another question entirely isn’t it? Is art ever really true? Is that what makes an image art… the artist’s own bit of manipulation as the representation travels from the eye, to the mind and out the hand. – DN

Now, Never, Whatever... Life Always Brings Richness in the Details

I wonder how marriage has changed me. Its been so long I question if I recall the former-self, whom I may have been. Now its your turn and I wonder the same of you.

Your story of caravaning middle-aged friends motorcycling across western Africa was inspiring because it made me believe that some things... some future travel opportunities with my friend will not disappear; but it also made me sad to stop and consider that those unattained moments could just as easily dissolve into nothingness. I adore my wife and children, but also am kept alive by the infrequent travel jaunts I take with the childhood friend I've known since I was five. With your spring marriage galloping into view, maybe you won't be able to skip away this July to help me scrape and paint my home in Glacier County, as we had once discussed (including allowing enough time to run the gamut of Banff, Yoho and Jasper Parks, north of the border- you have yet to see them and I have been a dozen times already). Perhaps, in a few years, your availability will diminish and I'll have to venture to Denali's interior, alone, if I actually ever find myself rewarded with one of their few early-summer artist residencies. Maybe the secrets of British Columbia's Stikine Valley, my other nearby goal, will only flow from one of the two artists... the travel painter, rather than the travel writer. Then again, I've put-off these last two life-changing journey's longer than my pride can admit... for something as simple as my own perceived family obligations.

I know you will experience great things in marriage. I am one of the fortunate few that can still feel the newness of marriage to my own bride after twelve years. When one finds that they've gotten the crucial detail of a good marriage before them... its like blushing. The sudden rush of warmth in satisfaction. The pang of guilt and pride, knowing your secret perfection is exposed. These are innumerable beauties that a few more days on the road, with me, will never match. I am so glad for you in your new found happiness and I hope it does little to domesticate either one of you. -DN

Sunday, December 23, 2007


I found the above picture on the latest update of the PostSecret blog. Life may often feel lonely, but we're never alone in our feelings. - DN

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


A few years ago, notorious art critic Dave Hickey was a guest lecturer at California State University, San Bernardino. This is an excerpt from a review of the talk:

In his lecture, “Art and Democracy”, Dave Hickey observed that democracy is run for average people and those "special" people (artists) are a big pain in the ass. Even when accepted by the establishment, any artist worth his/her salt can't mollify normative ideas, for to do so makes art invisible. Only art that challenges established ideas has a life, which makes it harder for artists to fit in, and that's as it should be. Unlike Europe where artists are "protected" from society, here it is society that needs protection. Good artists, in Hickey's view, are basically pissing in society's punch bowl and he chastised us to come to terms with this, stop trying to be normal, and start acting like great artists.

Hickey emphasized that our obsessive mobility is a great thing. Artists leave home to find places where they fit in and places that embrace chaos and change, because art cannot survive in an environment where change and excitement are not privileged. Our country is clearly divided between those places that resist and hate change and those places that embrace it: the red states versus the blue states. This makes art an almost exclusively cosmopolitan practice and separates it from provincial art, which confirms the assumptions of mainstream culture. – Afterimage, Thomas McGovern, Nov-Dec 2003

Click here to read the entire article. - DN

Monday, December 17, 2007

Obligations to Prove Merit

I watched the “Sunday Morning Show” on CBS, yesterday, with disgust. The feature that left my early morning disposition in tatters focused on “Writers Who Paint”. Over and over it was the same story… “writing is such hard work, writing can be such a difficult art form… that’s why I’m so relieved to have my painting to run to when writing gets too difficult, because painting is just easy fun”. Of course due to their renown as writers, they had no trouble, what so ever, getting their half-assed painting attempts exhibited in recognized galleries. It was insulting… but probably no less contemptuous than the hoards of “artists” that wait to create until retirement. There were roughly 20,000+ “artists” in Santa Fe that were so enamored by the “artist friends”, that they had made while living in the region, that they too awoke one day to the sound of trumpets and smell of pre-packaged Grumbacher oil paint. My wife asked me just the other day, “why is it that everyone seems to think they can paint, if they can’t do anything else?” Is this the true legacy my beloved modernists and abstract expressionists have left in their wake?

The above complaints bring me full-circle to the technical prowess of drawing. That telltale art form that separates the men from the boys. A former teacher, Mrs. Clark, was in attendance at my last opening at the Harwell Museum. She brought a small gift. A Derwent Sketching Pencil Tin. I was at once reliving my once forgotten love for simply drawing. I sketch for paintings, I sketch to workout ideas… but I couldn’t recall the last time I sketched for the sake of drawing. Now here I am, a few weeks later. I’ve once again picked-up my search for that perfect contour line. Reliving the blending of base mediums such as charcoal, graphite and terra cotta-colored chalks. – DN

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Perfect Line

Movement, space, transition… they can all be defined with pure contour line; but how do we determine the specifics of a perfect line? While my search for flawless line has lasted over a decade, my explicit reach for a particular type of motion to create such a line in the figure has been at the forefront of my mind for exactly three weeks in a row, now. I eat and watch the movement of my daughters jaw-line flex in and out of view, hidden and exposed with the actions of drinking and chewing. The reach of my sons’ outstretched arms pandering for the last morsels of food from centrally located serving dishes. The shifts of the curve in my wife’s neck as she turns her gaze from child to child and at last myself. Gathering and consuming… the revealed motions of nature’s easily exposed sense of pure contour line? - DN

Saturday, December 15, 2007

More Watts

“The future is unknown. Prophecy contaminates it with the past, which is why liberated people do not bother with fortunetelling or astrology, and why the happy traveler wanders and does not let himself be the slave of maps, guidebooks, and schedules, using them but not being used by them.” – Alan Watts

Friday, December 14, 2007

Watts' Words

“To be human is precisely to have that extra circuit of consciousness which enables us to know that we know, and thus to take an attitude towards all that we experience. The mistake that we have made – and this, if anything, is the fall of man – is to suppose that that extra circuit, that ability to take an attitude toward the rest of life as a whole, is the same as actually standing aside and separate from what we see.” – Alan Watts

Monday, December 10, 2007

Painting Offers the Permanence We Seek

Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed. But here a small boy says: "It snowed last year, too. I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea." – Dylan Thomas (for whom my youngest was named)

As we enter yet another holiday season when our government boasts consumerism and promotes fighting the terrorists by importing more crap from cheap Chinese labor; I lament at the loss of our humanity to a plastic age. Now more than ever, the world and the things that fill it are disposable. I, personally, cannot recall anyone I know that lives in the same home his or her grandparents owned. My own parents have owned and lived in four different homes, in one town, since my youth. The famous back-to-the-earth Englishman, John Seymour, once said – “If houses were well-built and the population was stable, everyone would inherit a good house.”

Creating an inheritance for my children. Maybe that is my underlying purpose in painting. Perhaps it feeds my enduring love for my solidly built 1939 English cottage on the prairie outside Glacier National Park - to have something permanent in the face of my own wandering nature. – DN

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Drifting Down, Drifting Home?

I'm in a down-cycle right now... and actually I'm still watching Netflix movies. I ran across some good Jackson Pollock documentaries and it was a relief to hear the famous art critic Clement Greenberg discuss how even Pollock would have a down time of weeks and sometimes months after a big show.

I have avoided booking any more shows for 2008. I have maybe 1-2 instead of my standard 6-8 solo ventures. I'm trying to think about how to approach the next 365 days. The past three years have been fantastic for my exhibition record and getting my name out there, but I have been painting so frantically that it has left little room to breathe. While it has been adventurous and always entertaining… I have suddenly had the time, with my last big show of the year now hung, to wonder where I actually prefer to live and how my painting style should best reflect that motivation. Like everything in life the simplest answer is the most courageous one. Consumerism for mass-produced goods, however seems to abound now more than ever. Family and friends can’t understand why someone would desire a place without easy access to the offerings of the global economy; while I want to run screaming from it each waking morning. As the evenings turn bitterly cold and the late nights grow increasingly silent, I drift more often into dreams of a distant heated studio, a forgiving model and freshly mixed oil pigments - all of which seem (in my fantasy) to be located in that far away Montana home on the corner of 1st Street and 6th Avenue.

How does the statement go… “I looked into the abyss and the abyss looked back at me”, or something like that. – DN

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Netflix for one, please...

I’ve become quite addicted to my Netflix subscription. I have always had the most obscure taste in films at the oddest moments in my life. Netflix has a fantastic selection, I go online, put in my request and a day or two later, there it is… much cheaper than buying a DVD for that once every-five year film urge and good luck finding classics like “Metropolis” or “Nosferatu” at the local Movie Gallery store.

Typically, at this time of year the popular choice is one of the fifty versions of Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol”, for me however, this season is different. Yesterday, with the last museum opening of the year now past (though the show is still up through December 30th); I was feeling a bit of the fatalist sneak upon me and sat down to watch Ingmar Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries”. Although they are very similar films, I always find Bergman is (depressingly) more fulfilling.

I spent much of Sunday browsing the most authoritative portrait painters’ web sites that I could find. I can’t give much reason why, except that the first work I started when I returned home from Saturday’s opening was a life-size figure painting on rice paper. Literally, I walked in the front door at 10:30pm on Saturday, took off my jacket and walked out the back door towards the studio.

… but back to those portrait painters… I was unimpressed, which I realize isn’t necessarily saying much, because so little that people do artistically does “wow” me. Maybe it comes from knowing when I’m seeing a trick, looking directly at a painting that only seems to work because of a slight of the brush to shortcut to a cliché. After all these years, I’ve seen and reproduced all the deceptions that “make” a painting easily popular… and 99% of the deceit revolves around ultra-realism. The most common point of repeated pride on these portrait painters’ web sites was the acceptance of a gold medal from one society or another that in-turn recognized them as a master of their craft. Here were artists that had mastered technique to a mind-numbing consistency and all they had left at the end of a career was… consistency… and a gold medal.

I love realism when it is mixed with a healthy dose of contour line and loose full-body painterly motions – what some refer to as an abstraction of the form. In the end my relationship with realism is not unlike the difference between how Dickens and Bergman approached the presentation of moral lessons. A Christmas Carol slaps you in the face and says, “hey, change your ways or your gonna die and no one will miss you”. Wild Strawberries looks around at the life so far completed and says, “ya know… you only have a little while left wouldn’t everything be a bit more enjoyable if you forgave and asked for forgiveness”.

Life is the reward itself, what comes after is for something else. The same goes for painting. The act of creation is the carrot. If you can’t explore and have a little fun stepping outside the lines, why make art? There is no better compensation, and certainly not something as insignificant as a gold medal can replace the rush of painting when utilizing the motion and extent of one’s full-body. – DN

Monday, December 03, 2007

It ends and begins with a really nice stick... (or where would you like me to put that stick for you?)

On Saturday, the Harwell show opened with my 60 paintings and this morning I found myself wondering what new work to start on first.

The reception was well attended and everyone was complimentary of the work, but it never fails that there is always at least one detractor. Now I realize that for art to grow it requires a healthy dose of the occasional constructive criticism, but sometimes I wonder if the local flavor of critical art connoisseur isn’t motivated by a touch of spite. The exhibition was arranged so that the entire top floor of the museum features the collection of hanging scrolls and folding screen painting. I hadn’t been upstairs the entire evening, as I was primarily catching conversations with patrons as they trafficked through the main floor. Near the end of the reception I finally caught a break to move to the second floor and take-in my favorite part of the show. I wandered around the second floor gallery pleased with myself and the work presented, the only other person still upstairs was a man in his fifties standing in front of a scroll with an odd look on his face. I asked if he needed help with the symbolism and he replied, “Are you Daniel?” I nodded and then went on to explain the numerology and repetitive tracks and trails through the multi-perspective landscape. After a moment he said, “well you make real interesting work”. After enough years I’ve learned that interesting is code for “I still don’t get it” or “I get it but still don’t like it”. The conversation suddenly turned to his own life-long obsession with photography and how he finally opened a studio after retiring from a drudgery life of community college administration. He was starting to fade-out as I tried to think of a way to leave and then he piped-up and said (while pointing at one of my scrolls), “I’ve tried to show here, but have never been accepted. I don’t know what the problem is, it looks to me like they’ll hang anything on the walls and call it art if they have a couple extra sticks lying around”. Then he walked-out of the gallery and down the stairs… before I could give him a good shove, I suppose, but I could’ve sworn as he walked down the stairs I heard him mumble “real interesting”, one last time.

Like I said, I’ve had similar experiences before, I recall a show in Livingston, Montana where a man and woman were attempting to read my artist’s statement and finally (with me standing behind them) the man threw-up his arms and said... “If I have to think about it that much I don’t even want to look”, at which point they both walked away.

Maybe my perspective on art and the process of creation is a bit skewed. I just can’t justify taking the time to create work without purpose. My thoughts and impressions are often inseparable, combining as one to serve as both my demon and my muse. I suppose some people just can't get past their desire for a pretty picture for the sake of a pretty picture. – DN