I don’t have much to add from our conversation because Dennis was wonderfully thorough in his answers. We were mostly just chatting about art (which I know very little about) and the area (we both grew up in the Valley).
So without further ado…the interview!
While doing background research, I came across some interesting quotes about your artistic philosophy and I was hoping you’d expand on them and add any additional thoughts you have. The first was that you like your paintings to “display sincerity, honesty and pure human feeling.” And the second is that you see what you can “do with disembodied figures, with life that does not yet have form to it.”
It’s been a large wish of mine for years that when someone looks at a painting, they would just leave whatever they have at home and just look at the painting and take it for what it is. If the honesty and sincerity is evident in a work, it will elicit a natural reaction within a viewer. A reaction to a piece of art is where a viewer shows exactly who they are and what they’re about.
I just find too much in art that the artist will dictate their own terms of what art is about to them and what you get in the end is pretentious, preachy, where it doesn’t become about the art anymore but about the artist showing how clever he or she or they are. I’m certain that’s not their intention but that’s what a larger number of art viewers come away with.
There’s avant garde work out there that’s very successful with its message or conveyance but is ignored by the elite and there’s a large amount of avant garde work that’s bad but people leave believing this is what’s supposed to be happening in art today. This way, a social and philosophical gap is widening between the tastemakers of today telling everyone what art is supposed to be versus what the average art lover and the artist are making. It’s why people don’t really pay attention to art today except when a Hirst sells for 100 million or a piece greatly offends religious groups.
If people were to be honest about their art, I believe the world would care more about modern art today and realize that there are some amazing things going on that no one is currently paying any attention to.
And as to the second question, it goes back my own process of working to where my art has a Promethean quality. I shut my head off and the painting tells me where to go. There’s life everywhere you see but it doesn’t necessarily have a form to it. Life is in oxygen but you don’t see that. But it sustains life forms.
And as far as the disembodied figures, it takes a little bit of a bleaker outlook on things. A lot of people these days seem to be disembodied today by thinking so one-dimensionally and forgoing the other parts that leads a greater richness of life. Whether they’re so focused on success and getting ahead at work, having tight abs, working for the weekend, what have you. People are capable of so much, that if I could comment on anything with my work it would be let the world know of our potential that goes largely unused anymore.
How about the actual physical process of creating? I know that you’ve worked with acrylic, chalk, powdered charcoal and spray paint – what other materials have you used and what is the importance of color in your work?
I prefer oils mostly but that mostly depends on what I have to work with and/or a look I want to end up with. I get the most success with oils however because, to me, paintings with oils look more alive to me. But I am aware that’s merely a personal bias for me. The materials I’ve worked with – the mark making materials that is- are pretty much are all I’ve wanted to work with.
What I want to work upon is a completely different story however. My dream is one day be able to get into large Plexiglas or masonite installations and the like. The search for surfaces to work on will be fun because I’ll know it when I see it. I like the possibility of walking around and finding some great surface that just screams “work on me” – a thing that will feel like I’ve just accidentally rediscovered penicillin.
I’ve studied color theory for so long – the physical values, mood and symbolism of color and how they react to each other- that it’s pretty much academic what colors I use over, through and around each other and to work on instinct.
Now the creative process – how do you work? Shut up in the dark or out in the open? Does creativity just “strike” you or do you plan? Do you paint multiple pieces at once or take long breaks between series? I think you know where I’m going…you don’t have to answer these specific questions, they’re just sorta a guideline.
When I work, I keep a rather base idea or concept in my head of what it is and from then on it’s action/reaction with the painting- a communicative variable. I talk then the painting talks and I talk back and so forth. And when it’s done, it’s done. There’s never been a time line. It could be 2 hours, could be 2 years, who knows. Pretty simplistic but then again there’s no reason to have a set series of things that NEED to be done. I plan drawings and illustrations and do studies for such things. But the paintings get very little planning.
I work like that because of all the wonderful things you can find while working. It’s akin to working on a crossword puzzle. There’s no plan to completing, you just go and do it. But I really can only try to work on one piece at a time. More than three is monumentally exhausting.
As for creativity, it kind of either has to strike or you can just work until some glorious event happens while you work. Mostly I just write down concepts, words, stuff like that and go back to it and work from there with an image of a concept seeped into my consciousness.
Who are some of your favorite artists and are there any artists that inspire you? What, in general, inspires your artwork and/or motivates you?
A huge influence on me is Jasper Johns and, I hate to use a clichéd influence, Pollock mostly because of how they approached their work, like I said, earlier, shutting their head off and letting work go where it wants. It’s a practice that always appealed to me.
I’ve always enjoyed Egon Schiele because of the psychological bent of his figures. Currently I’m real big on Ian Francis and Tara McPherson because of how they portray their figures and the narrative aspect of their work. Plus their work is real pretty and retinally attractive to me.
Duchamp is another influence on me because of how he talks and addresses his art and art in general, but he always scored merely retinal work whereas I don’t see an issue with it one bit.
The aspects that draw to me to a painting or art in general, is not whether really it’s pretty or not really, or even whether it’s good or bad art either, but if it has some linguistic, structural or deep hue depth to it, you’ll grab my attention. Really I just possess a fetish for any kind of image, good or bad.
You’ve been an artist for a number of years now. How has your work evolved over the years and what has contributed to this evolution (education, life experiences, etc)?
It’s evolved mostly in depth and being able to communicate more efficiently I feel. My main philosophy in art, my dealings with people or life itself comes direct from a Duchamp quote where he says to “look into the essence of thing.”
That isn’t always an easy thing to do but one must always try anyway. Sometimes I’m able to. Sometimes the way isn’t always clear. The main contributions are very simply maturation and putting occurrences in life into their proper context and this is something that we as people will never fully succeed at because information is constantly streaming into our brains. But of course, people never stop learning, do they?
Do you have any pieces that have special meaning to you, ones that you’d never sell?
Have quite a few that have special meaning, yes. But I have no problem sending them off into the world. I’m not here saying that I can be bought, not at all. I’m alluding to the fact that you can’t keep your kids in their room for the rest of their lives. That would be cruel.
You recently joined King Street Art Gallery in Strasburg and I’ve seen your name associated with “ArtSee Boxes.” Can you tell me a little bit more about this campaign?
The ArtSee Box is a fun little thing we do there to introduce people around to public art and to make ourselves known, an advertisement of sorts for the gallery. Two artists once a month work together on a newspaper kiosk to make it exciting and to grab attention, as what art is supposed to do. I’m rather proud of the fact the box me and local artist Cary Sober did for last month has been asked to be displayed in Edinburg. So who knows, the box could travel down all the way down Interstate 81 before it’s all said and done.
You lived and worked as an artist in Richmond and now you’re back in the Valley – how does the art scene (or creative scene, in general) differ between the two areas and what sort of scene would you like to see develop in the Valley?
Very easy. Two VASTLY different mindsets. In Richmond, there’s more of a current modern slant on art and it really a small, marvelous scene that’s growing but we’re definitely way behind the bigger markets. I love Richmond to death but I always felt that there was a glass ceiling there that you can only go high if you work in that city.
And this area, I feel like I’m something like an oddity to many. People here like to see it, digest it and onto the next thing. It seems like a lot of professed art lovers in the area do not want to be bothered with deeper questions, to see something and say “oh isn’t that pretty.” They really would simply rather enjoy themselves and the friends and not have anyone ruin their buzz, which is a very southern attitude.
I assure you, it’s not a knock at on this area or the people at all. I just know my work is primarily appreciated here by other artists, younger folks that enjoy color and a minority that enjoys thinking beyond the surface. I’m fine with that. I’m more interested in being able to make work anyway. I’m always appreciative of commentary on my work, whether they love it or hate it. But any indifference to it is something I have trouble with sometimes.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Really, I’m just here to paint and enjoy it to the fullest. I try to keep the work as simple as possible. I’d rather let everyone else make it complicated. In truth, it’s way more fun and interesting for me that way.
What is Dennis up to? (Revamped the original question so it would make more sense to the reader)
A new series is upcoming, in the halfway stages of completion. I’ve been talking with a few galleries in Baltimore and Philly for the possibility of show there in the next 12 months. I’m currently working on also showing in DC before year’s end.
Recently, I’ve just been published in a literary book of poems and short stories called “Convergence Review” where I illustrated a few poems by John Guzlowski, a Pulitzer nominated poet and was given the cover design for the book.
I’m also currently at work on album art for a band that’s gaining a following in North Carolina. I’ve also have DC mural and commission painting work for a business opening there that I’m doing studies for.
And I’ve got a fantastic concept for a YouTube channel centered around my work and the general weirdness that accompanies my life and my art.
But the body of my work of upcoming series is going to deal primarily in figures which is something I greatly enjoy doing. Plus I’ve said all I’ve wanted to say in abstraction for the time being. Late last year, I got some great feedback from some NYC galleries that told me I was onto something special that I’ve taken to heart, that I just need to keep working and my world will blow up soon. I just feel that in the new series, there are stories, concepts, advice, allegories, what have you, which need to be told. It’s really, right now, about making my statements a lot solid and cohesive.
Check out Dennis’ work: