Current Issue Highlights More Readings DA Home About Direct ArtDARK ON DARK
Six artists interviewed by DAKOTA LANE
Theres nothing terribly deep about laughter. Laughter doesnt teach you something. But suffering, thats deep. If Im doing something dark, I dont think of it as dark, I sometimes find it to be beautiful, because it reflects myself. With all my work I feel like I am a spectator, just like you, only I happen to see it first. When you make a line, you really dont know how its going to come out, unless you have a ruler. And how this fits with whatever follows it and whatever preceded it, is an accident. Your hand is directed by your head. When you condition it to do strange things, sometimes tempting that devil too much, it can get out of control. Its Faustian and I owe to it everything Ive ever done.
Ivan Kustura, Untitled, oil on canvas, 60" x 50"
Once in a while I feel I might be depressed. When Im happy I dont give a damn about painting. I had a girlfriend last winter. She was much younger than me. She was 22. She would sit on my lap and she would pull up her T-shirt and it would cross my mind: "Fuck painting!" Maybe painting is cathartic. In the end you do come to a place of clarity.
On war: I went down to see the smoke coming out. I was really transfixed by the images when it happened. The plane is not supposed to do that. People defied the life-preserving instinct.
A lot of people think my work is really scary and frightening and stuff. (A figure in one of his pieces) came from a reoccurring dream I had about a creature living upstairs. It was an incredibly macabre dream. I was lead to this attic and eventually encountered this being who had been eating children ... When I woke up I was almost more scared about not being scared than I was actually scared by the dream. It was kind of disturbing that I woke up not being scared.
Tom McKee, Willie at The Crossroads, ink and prismacolor, 20" x 22"
I like supernatural horror movies; I like older films that dont deal with the mutilation aspect. I guess the work is therapeutic, necessary to maintain sanity. I also work 40 hours a week in a machine shop and teach an art class. Ive been working on these black and white drawings for 15 years. I draw in a really strange way and I find inspiration from some really squirrelly places. Like as a kid, I stared at watermarks on the ceilings and tried to interpret them.
Ive always had this feeling like I was born out of time or in the wrong place, like I generally didnt belong. My work is like trying to create my own world to escape to.
I dont really think of it as dark. When people call it dark, it surprises me. When I first started painting about 10 years ago, I had an awful lot to say. I think because its strong people will say its dark. I make a big thing to avoid melodrama. I want to cut that and subvert that, maybe with details, maybe with humor sometimes.
Jane Andrews, Some Days it Does, oil on canvas, 178 x 130cm
I havent been horrified by my own work, but if the painting doesnt make me stop when I see it, its not working. It has to have a presence. To be honest, its just a way of expressing, of interpreting. Its a language that comes naturally to me. Its the way it comes out. If its right, its right and thats the way it is.
To a certain extent, the painting does take over. Im working on something new and the painting doesnt have a life. Theres a point when it goes on its own. A dialogue happens. Once a dialogue begins, Im so absorbed.
Its certainly not a deliberate direction. I dont think okay, this is good and dark. I dont go, oh, thisll really put people on edge or this will really contrast with the standard bowl of fruit.
The worst thing I hear, and I hear it so often, is "its disturbing." In that sort of dismissive tone. It seems to me to be really closed-minded. It always strikes me that people have a very different idea about what art is than I do; when Im thinking about art Im never thinking of an expressive landscape of the Hamptons. Im always shocked when people think my art is horrifying: theres no gore, theres no violence, theres no John the Baptist head on the plates.
Tristan Shane, Teleautomata: Evolution, oil on aluminum panel, 48" x 48"
I dont try and analyze my paintings. Im not good at that. I cant interpret my own dreams, for example. When I paint it, I know if it makes sense. I know if Ive succeeded if its not just a meaningless assemblage of images.
The only time I was shocked by my own work is when I was doing a commissioned illustration job for (horror writer) Clive Barkers "The Book of Blood." One of the paintings was a haunted house where some terrible crime had been committed. They didnt tell me what the crime was. I had this shot of this floor with naked bodies of children all covered in blood and a man standing there with his pants pulled down to his ankles. After I painted it I was really shaken up by it. They used it. They didnt care.
My mother loves my stuff. Shes one of my favorite people to show paintings to and one of the few I show paintings to in different stages. She gets what Im doing. I get the most productive feedback from her.
Yeah, theyre dark, but not on purpose. No ones getting killed in them. Theyre mysterious, thats a better word. Its not a practiced darkness; it came naturally. Ive been doing them since I was a kid, 16, 17.
Geoff Parker, Night Train, pen and ink wash, 8.5" x 11
I take walks at night and you just see all these houses lit up at night. You kind of want to float over to them to get to that place of warmth. Some houses I invent. Ill invent houses and then have them lit up. There arent any messages in my work, just images I like to see.
I always see myself as getting further and further into the country. You can be alone up here, its nice.
If Im not doing my work, it starts getting depressing. I end up having to twist my own arm to do it, but once I get started again, Im fine.
I consider my work to be truthful, but other people see it as dark because reality is very grim. My current paintings deal with social and political commentary so when people see it they think its all dark and depressing but its just the truth.
This painting Im working on now, for example, is about health care and the insurance guy is this greedy demonic pig trying to extract money from a sick person.
Surprisingly, the people who buy them have occupations that are being depicted in the paintings. Ill sell paintings to doctors, stock brokers, real estate developers. Theres a comic element to it and it helps raise them above their profession because they can see the absurdity of it.
Slowinski, Crunchy Brains Cereal, oil on canvas, 36" x 38"
Many people have told me that I should paint less depressing pictures, more uplifting, especially my mother. They dont understand that a true artist doesnt choose what they paint. The choice is made for them, they paint what they feel they have to or need to.
Ill get an idea, kind of suddenly, and Ill do a little sketch of it. I make everything up. Im not inspired by images in the world, just in my head.
The world needs a lot of work. It could be a good place.
Painting sustains me. At different periods in my life I was pushed into a very dark place and only by painting could I get out of it. If I dont paint, I get very depressed and anxiety-ridden. It happens. Its hard for some people to understand.
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