Tumblr Monday 64 - Tumblr Artist
Daniel Danger | on Tumblr (USA)
Wet Teeth In the Darkness. Acrylic (2011)
All Around the Ground We’ll See a Flashlight Metronome That Skips To Sleep In Leaps. Ink on clayboard (2009)
With a background in printmaking, Daniel utilizes both traditional and digital media, exploring methods of implementation in each new piece. Transitioning from multi-layered digital panoramas to singular, meticulous clayboard illustrations, he reformats the landscape and architecture that composed his upbringing. Naked trees arch into night skies, ghosts wander through sleeping towns. Centennial houses bare light into coalblack forests. Mansions fracture and unravel under invisible force, like the heart murmurs at the recollection of a burdensome memory.
Daniel answered a few questions for ARTchipel about how his work is progressing, the tools at his disposal for innovation, and what he finds most inspiring:
JVL: As your work has progressed over the years, there has been an evident increase in technicality, as well as a steady proposal of more complex narratives.
DD: If my work is getting more narrative, it probably just means I’m figuring out the rules for the world I’m trying to exist in, and how my own personal experiences are laid out in that world. It’s also simply a notion of deciding “well, what happens next?” and going from there. For so long I explored these dead abandoned settings, the juxtaposition of this title alluding to this rich complex backstory between people into a place devoid of life, and how those spoken words came to find themselves there. Then came ghosts that represented the good things about a person, small figures glowing with light. Then I had to counter that with what my brain told me was the opposite of that, a spirit that represents the worst things about a person; a mammoth lumbering black mass that drips the shadows of wolves. Then I started thinking about the turn that occurs when life begins to creep back to a place decimated with loss and death and abandonment. I saw ghosts watching lush green foliage crawling through their windows, soon to engulf them and knowing their time is numbered. But all of these are parallels to real things and real thoughts I have, and I get to find a home for them within the images. And that is really fun.
While the larger aspect of what I do is the creative narrative and artistic side, which dictates personal aesthetics and themes and ultimately what I’m trying to say to the viewer; printmaking and illustration is itself a craft, which requires its own attention. I occasionally get flak from people who look at pieces I’ve done that were years apart and say ‘surprise surprise, another blue print with trees.’ They’re ignoring the fact that the newer print is an infinitely more complicated illustration and screenprint than anything I’ve done before. If my ultimate goal is to always be moving forward with my work, its not always going to mean a new narrative or theme with every print. Not every story is a one-off. I might re-approach a similar idea to progress the technical side of the drawing and try something new. If I’ve made progress with the story I’m trying to tell, or made progress with how a 10% transparent white lays over a reductive hatch within a tonal gradation, I’m happy.
JVL: Your titles are typically elaborate, but much like your work, do not dictate the viewer to any universal conclusion about a piece. Have you always titled your work? Has the process of how you title a work changed over the years?
DD: I started focusing on titles pretty early on, because my work tended to involve fairly barren scenes with not a lot of traditional “action” to designate what was happening in these quiet moments. The titles are meant to give some interpretable context to the image. They are absolutely the product of being a musician and a lyricist and wanting to add that sort of lyrical element into a visual medium as I do a song, so I find myself sometimes overly concerned with the flow and cadence of how the title reads, that it has a very specific meaning to me, and that it leaves something open for the viewer to play upon and relate to. Rarely do I start a print with a title in mind, its almost always titled when I’m sitting back looking at the finished image and I’m thinking about what I put into it mentally. I’ve always said that I prefer the titles to be something someone has said to someone else just long enough ago that nobody remembers the beginning or end of the conversation, which once again plays into a larger narrative. Often, the title of a print becomes the launching line for lyrics in a song. Or vice versa.
JVL: The aesthetic of your personal work is regional, and taps into specific memories of your history in New England. However, you are able to work under art direction in a commercial setting while maintaining a very similar stylistic approach. What kind of advantages or drawbacks has that presented?
DD: At this point I’m lucky enough to be asked to do projects specifically because people like the styles and aesthetics and approaches I’ve created for myself and my work already. So I don’t find myself in a lot of situations where clients are looking for something that isn’t something I would do myself. That’s actually fun, to find a balance between my own aesthetics and themes and someone else’s narrative or concepts. It’s a strange little puzzle. I also simply avoid projects where I don’t think it would be a good mix; so you don’t see me drawing a lot of robots or sexy ladies or beer cans or sports cars because I’d probably never put a robot or a sexy sports beer in one of my own prints. So why would I do it for someone else? I’m also lucky in that commercial work isn’t what pays my bills, my personal work does, so if a project doesn’t seem fun and a good mix and challenge, I can always just sit down and start working on a new print of my own.
JVL: How important has diversifying your technical background within drawing, painting and printmaking been to your capacity as a visual artist? What else do you cultivate that benefits your work?
DD: It’s nice to have a choice on how you will start a piece. What’s right for the project, what’s right for the feel of the image, what is the method of printing the final piece will be, and specifically “how do I want this to actually look?”. I’m still uncomfortable as a painter, and I will be for years, but 90% of that is because painting is an additive method of making marks, and my brain is more comfortable with a reductive method akin to the clayboard/hatching style of most of my prints (since I tend to visualize light rather than shadow in an images construction). But I’m forcing myself to keep at it because of my interest in turning full tonal paintings into technical screenprints, because that’s a methodology that gets some wide eyes from people. The more options for approach I have, the farther I can bring the entire body of my work in the long run.
Arguably, the best thing I’ve been lucky to cultivate is a huge community of fellow artists and illustrators and designers, because the “group drive” that occurs in that world brings everyone to constant new levels and places with our work. We all sort of compete and share and challenge and support and I absolutely would not be where I am today had it not been for people who were just outright better than I am. We’re all looking at each others work and thinking “Holy shit. I need to work harder.” It’s an amazing dynamic that’s hard to explain, but it’s sort of a friendly competition amongst the people you trust all your trade secrets with. For example, I might share a process with you, because then you’re being challenged to do something cooler with it. Provided we think you’re worthy of that information and not some lazy hack, because if so, fuck off. We ain’t telling you shit about shit.
JVL: What are some of the more important lessons you learned outside of the academic bubble about being in business for yourself?
DD: I wish if you are in school for any sort of trade art field (illustration, graphic design, ID, whatever) your entire senior year is mock client work. No matter what, every single project is thrown a brutal curve ball by the instructor. Last minute complete redo, changing every bit of text, idiotic commentary from someone with no artistic background whatsoever, needless changes that violate your original intent, a complete color palette swap, mopping the floors because you don’t have a design job, and last but not least, you have to invoice for your grade and there’s a good chance you’re going to have to call a few times before you get that grade, if you get it at all.
If art schools want to equip their students with the tools to navigate the ‘real world’, they should stop pretending that you’re not going to get totally fucked at least 10 times your first year out. Your degree doesn’t mean you’re ready for anything; you won’t be ready for the shit people are going to pull on you. All it means is that you for the most part understand that years version of Adobe Whatever 666, and maybe you know your way around a coffee maker.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned from being in business for myself is that I can’t fill every position within my own company. By doing so, I was stretching myself way, way, way too thin. If I want to be an illustrator first and foremost, but I’m also the printer, the agent, the secretary, the salesman, and the shipping department, that means I’m only being an illustrator 1/4th of the time. That was a lesson I learned by consistently being 2 months late with peoples orders and having 3,000 unanswered emails while being weeks behind on the projects on my plate, not sleeping and being miserable because I did feel I needed to do it all. If you want to be an illustrator, do that. Simply hiring someone to handle my sales and mailorder frees up a tremendous amount of time to focus on my work. Trust me, everyone has a friend who will pack tubes for $10 an hour, your time is better spent drawing the next thing that person is going to pack. Freelance is a ball you need to keep rolling.
The universal rule is simply “don’t be lazy”. Freelance will always and eternally mean working 16 hours a day for yourself instead of 12 hours a day for someone else. Only occasionally does freelance mean “watching season 3 of Friday Night Lights in your pajamas all goddamned day like a pro”. If you can’t handle keeping yourself on task, go work in an office where it’s someone’s job to keep you on task.
JVL: Explain what it is about John Singer Sargent’s The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit that makes it one of your favorite paintings.
DD: If you haven’t stood in front of that piece, do yourself a favor and visit the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston [where it’s located]. The piece dominates you. It’s so much larger than you think it is, it’s so much more powerful and telling than any internet .jpg will allow. It’s such a quiet image at its core, four girls standing in a room with two massive vases. Two girls stand in the shadows, one of which is looking at the other while she looks directly at the viewer. Another has her hands folded behind her back, posing, but is staring over the left shoulder of the viewer. The youngest sits restless on the ground, staring behind the viewer. There is such looseness to the brushwork on the figures and room, but their eyes are tight and focused. Looking at this painting feels like being in a room, being ignored by everyone but a single stranger. It’s a piece that firmly places you within an environment and a moment. It’s insanely powerful.
Thank you to Daniel for taking the time to answer some questions for ARTchipel. Daniel is currently creating work for a few upcoming exhibitions, the next being in Tara McPherson’s Tiny Trifecta show at Brooklyn’s Cotton Candy Machine in July. He is also planning the release of his next editioned print, coming soon.
Daniel Danger can be found at Tiny Media Empire, Facebook, Tumblr (new), and maybe some places that aren’t the internet.
Also a sincere thanks to Jacob Van Loon for this Tumblr Monday and for conducting the interview.
[more Daniel Danger | Tumblr Monday with jacobvanloon]