Interview: Dan Gluibizzi on Massive Attack, Collecting and the Art of Scrolling
Portland based artist Dan Gluibizzi collects things. Whether it be perfectly color-coordinated ceramics, or the hundreds of images used for his own work, he has perfected the art of constructing a collection. The artist scours the web for visual threads, and then slowly but surely, pieces them together to create beautiful portrait groupings, bringing greater meaning to his individual subjects.
A zealous observer and surveyor of human nature, Gluibizzi seeks visual connections through a plethora of online sources. He then establishes relationships between subjects via different themes. Some are ordinary, like the way we embrace each other in hugs, or the way we hold beer bottles, or even the awkward way we dress and undress. Others are more specific and explore the multifaceted aspects of human sexuality. Taking inspiration from amateur porn blogs, Gluibizzi is able to examine these relationships in his own unique style. Through balanced, grouped compositions, sloping gradients and masterfully chosen colors, he transforms his unknown subjects into aesthetic bliss, an attractive congregation of expertly coordinated figures.
Gluibizzi raises honest questions about how we portray ourselves in photos and subsequently online. Through his voyeuristic lens, he examines human nature through commonalities in physicality and how we shape our identities through curated online profiles. We recently swung by his Portland studio to talk about his work, get real about sexuality (in all its forms) and see what’s cooking for 2018. Check out our interview with him below.
Jessica Ross: When you are on the hunt for a new subject or thematic thread that links your figures together, how do you know when you’ve got something good? Is there a moment when you start to link the visual pieces together or is it a more drawn out affair? How do you absorb so much imagery without losing sight of your objective?
Dan Gluibizzi: It all starts with collection binges. I often begin with favorite themes and work out from there, and sometimes I have a clear search idea: recent works had multiple figures creating triangles with their elbows. I scrolled through thousands of images looking for figures with hands on hips. I am attracted to all the subtle variations in similar poses. While clicking around, I came across a fantastic image of a man shoveling in the nude. That image found its way into a composition that was hanging around on the desktop for months.
There is a perfect pose that will create a compelling composition. If a pose is going to work, it is the loudest thing on the screen. That pose or portrait becomes an anchor image; I build a collage around it. Aimless sorting, sifting and clicking around is part of the fun. However, in the studio, searching is over. I only bring finished collages ready to paint.
I really respect your openness to portraying a wide range of bodies, identities and orientations within the sexual realm. Being sex positive and depicting real people in various relationships has got to be rewarding, how did it become an important rule in your work?
I am omnivorous. I grew up surrounded by art books and art magazines providing early exposure to a wide range of images of the body. After discovering the wonders and horrors of pornography, it made sense to me that art making and sexual expression are thoroughly entangled. It just seems totally obvious that tastes and desires are fluid. I want to capture this spectrum as much as possible.
What initially drew you to watercolor? Why has it remained your medium of choice all these years and are there any other materials you’d like to experiment with?
When looking at works on paper, I feel the most real and direct connection with artists. While working in museums and galleries I was able to spend time with rarely seen drawings by countless artists. It always felt like I was seeing something extra special, an intimate connection.
Watching paint absorb and dry on watercolor paper is a favorite past time. For years, I had very small studios and paper is easily stacked and stored. I make many paintings on canvas, collages, low relief wood carvings, and observational drawings. This essential studio play and experimentation creates unexpected outcomes and gets folded in to works on paper. I am looking forward to working with laser cut paper and 3D printing.
Obviously, culturally speaking, people are likely to share images of themselves online more and more these days. How do you think our online portrayals affect the way we exist and act in real life? Do you think the confluence of social media and selfie culture has informed our way of living for better or worse, or perhaps both?
This is a giant question. I imagine it is a like anything else. If someone is genuine in their feed I will probably dig them in real life, but who knows, maybe many of the artists I follow are bots.
That said, I feel more connected to my artist colleagues now because of Instagram. That is very positive. However, overall it appears to be heading in a solidly dystopian direction. We are trading a lot for a little. Social media is a thin and incomplete world. My art looks great backlit on a tiny screen, much of art looks very good in this format but art must be looked at and experienced in person to be fully evaluated, appreciated and understood.
Collecting seems to be an important part of your process. Obviously within your work but also just in your studio! Can you give me a little background into your extensive ceramics collection? How did it start and do you think you’ll ever stop?
My collecting habit began in childhood. I created cabinets of curiosities in my room as a kid before I understood it was a real thing. I love junk shops of all kinds.
In art school I saw Claes Oldenburg’s Mouse Museum. I found it dazzling and I wanted that space to be my studio. For over a decade, I have been populating my studio with wonky ugly-pretty objects. They become a cast of characters that I interact with while I paint. During downtime I enjoy arranging and rearranging them, often finding unexpected relationships of shape, color, and so on.
The ceramic collection is the real hands-on version of the amateur posted images I collect online. Both are often made with joy and love and are discarded or lost. I hope to bring them all a new life in my studio.
You’ve mentioned that your wife and daughter are two people you paint a lot. Considering most of your other subjects are anonymous, found images online, do you find that your process changes when you paint familiar faces?
I fold in many people I know into my paintings. It does not change the process but it does provide a special spark for me, drawing the shape of someone I know. I am looking for that perfect blend of the general and the specific. Drawing and painting family is one of the great pleasures of being a visual artist.
What are you listening to in the studio right now? What are your go-to musical artists to get the creative juices flowing?
I am listening to Neil deGrasse Tyson read his book Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. NdGT is an antidote for these ridiculous times. I listen to a Massive Attack DJ set on BBC essential mix, recorded on my birthday December 1994. It’s a perfect two hour studio session. I have also been listening over and over to Adult’s recent set at The Lot Radio. I love them!
Personally, when I’ve spent a lot of time on Instagram or Facebook, I tend to feel pretty deflated and creatively insecure (a common feeling amongst my friends and peers as well), do you ever have to take breaks from scouring the web to just re-charge and reset a bit?
Yes, it is important to make time to exhale after so much visual inhaling. But, collecting images for art works is different than time on social media. It’s more like wandering library stacks; there is always something new and inspiring.
I live for scrolling through images of art, artist studios, tattoos, erotica and fuzzy animals on Instagram but it is essential to take breaks. If I sense that I am comparing myself to images I see on my phone, which I know is counter productive, it’s time to turn it off. Instagram has a special power to give me the negs. I will even take Instagram off of my phone, just temporarily of course! I am not crazy.
I would say you’re pretty much an expert at Tumblr at this point, did you notice a shift or drop in porn or erotica on the site after it was acquired by Yahoo? Do you use any other amateur sites to look for source material?
Tumblr is still a vast resource for collage material but I have noticed more clicks that turn into distracting virus warnings. I’m not sure I notice a decrease in content but it’s frustrating and sad when an entire blog that has provided bountiful harvests vanishes. If I find one that has perfect studio material, I attempt to save everything.
I look at many sites that feature amateur posted content but I am increasingly sensitive about what images I draw. Tumblr by nature provides some distance. I feel like once an image find its way onto Tumblr it’s fair game.
What do you have coming up on the horizon? Any new projects or shows we should keep an eye out for?
I am making paintings for a solo show at Russo Lee Gallery, Portland, Oregon that will open March 2018. A group show at the Wassaic Project, Wassaic, New York and a group show at Hashimoto Contemporary, San Francisco curated by FMLY, opening March 2018.
Photos and Interview by Jessica Ross