Experimentation is a key element for any artist. By constantly tweaking and adjusting one’s methodology, you can arrive at different results through various processes. Brooklyn based artist Dan Perkins is no different. Through constant trial and error, he’s able to tackle what he finds most interesting, the eternal contrast between the man-made and natural world. Simple in form and design, his paintings look almost digitally created, but upon closer inspection, the artist’s hand becomes more apparent.
Through minimal geometric design and calculated line work, Perkins’s abstract paintings are mathematically conceived via protractors and arithmetic. This strategic approach to painting is contrasted by his choice in color. Using familiar sunset palettes and soft, airbrushed effects, his work then becomes the antithesis between the natural and the artificial. Supple in texture, yet unyielding in composition, the combination results in an illusionary and challenging piece for the viewer.
We recently swung by his studio in Brooklyn to talk about the logistical planning of a canvas, the difficulties of sharing work online, and the ever-constant need to explore and shift in your own practice. Check out our interview with him below.
Jessica Ross: How would you describe the shapes in your work? Do they hold any personal significance or is it more about experimentation with form and color?
Dan Perkins: For me, the forms in the paintings arise out of play and experimentation with various geometries. I like the compositions to strike a balance between the organic and the geometric. In my mind, they are playful hybrids that are both structured and fluid. The final compositions obviously have personal associations, but for me they are really about the play and experimentation that arises from the process.
Walk us through your process a bit, looking at all the protractors and mathematics in your sketchbooks I can imagine it takes a-lot of planning to get it just right. What are some challenges you face in your methodology?
The paintings start with quick drawings in small sketchbooks, often just thinking of forms turning or moving in space. From these, I select compositions to scale up to a particular format, making a more finished drawing, usually at 1/2 scale. For example, I might make a finished 8’’ x 10’’ drawing, for a 16’’ x 20’’ painting. In this drawing process, there is a fair amount of trial and error to get that initial quick sketchbook idea to fit and work within the proportions of a particular painting format. This includes a lot of close altering, adjusting, and reworking of measurements and radii in order to arrive at the desired form.
There is a clear interplay between the natural world (ie. sunset colors, trees, texture etc. ) and crisp man-made geometric forms. What is it about the tension between these two concepts that drives your work?
For me trying to bridge this supposed binary has always been an interesting and problematic concept. Being of nature while thinking of oneself as mentally and physically separate is an odd paradox. Highlighting and exploring the tension of that relationship is rich ground for making work. More than that, the work also gives me a space to reflect on my relationship and understanding of the natural, reflecting on the sublime, and how nature often encompasses so many things at once.
What are some of your all-time favorite artists, musicians, books, foods, etc?
In terms of painting traditions, and art history, I have been a long time fan of Romanticism. 19th century painters such as Caspar David Friedrich, JMW Turner, and Frederic Edwin Church are some of my favorites in terms of how the handle and describe atmosphere, luminosity, and color. Beyond their formal qualities, I find the symbolic and narrative content of these painters both inspiring and problematic. This classical divide between the human and the natural is often highlighted. Reinforcing a false binary, placing humanity as both separate and sovereign over nature, while also attempting to create a space for reverence by illustrating our relative smallness in relationship to nature.
In my mind, I draw an odd parallel between these painter’s reverence for the land and respect for the sublime experience, and the light and space movement that is often associated with American Minimalism. Artists like James Turrell, Dan Flavin, and Anne Truitt, channel this reverence, while exploring the perceptual oddities of the human mind and body. In my mind, this collapses this false binary bringing us back to the real, the natural.
In terms of music, I often favor expansive instrumental music in the studio. People like Com Truise, Flying Lotus, Boards of Canada come to mind. Their use of the sample definitely informs my work with images: cutting, chopping, and recombining to create odd new wholes that are both artificial and natural.
You recently released a series of fine art prints via Tempe Digital, how was it making work for a print edition? Did it affect your process at all?
Working with Tempe Digital was a great experience, and it pushed me to explore different facets of my process. I made a series of five original works on paper, which were used to create a limited print edition. Creating finished paintings on paper was a new experience for me. I generally work on panels with oil paint, so switching to working with acrylics on paper pushed me in several ways. I had a few technical wrinkles to work out, but this also gave me space to explore color and shape in slightly different ways. It also sped up my process and introduced me to new ways of thinking about surface and realizing a finished image. (Prints are available for sale via Tempe Digital here.)
Stylistically, you seem to oscillate between smooth, airbrushed surfaces to a more textured, rough aesthetic. How has your work evolved over the past few years? What has changed, what has stayed the same?
Surface quality has always been really important to me. Recently I have been thinking a lot about the screen as an interface, the way it flattens, smooths, and reflects image. So the surface of the paintings often reflect the mechanics of the screen-something that is smooth, flat, glossy when functioning properly and irregular, fractured, and noisy when broken.
I have been refining my current body of work over the last two years or so, honing in on specific ways of chopping up and recombining my source images and stretching them over perceptually engaging geometries. This fascination with the mechanics and description of the sublime experience that I mentioned earlier has been a constant in the work for many years, but the idea that geometry can be a vehicle for exploring that relationship, and a way to play with image and color is a newer wrinkle in the work.
Your paintings are at the same time incredibly pleasing yet visually challenging due to their illusionary, op-art nature. Do you ever get tripped up by your own work? Do you have to take breaks so as to not make mistakes?
Execution is something that is very important, and occasionally problematic for me. There are definitely moments where things do not necessarily go to plan, and something unintended or unexpected happens. This can be both gratifying and/or infuriating depending on the outcome. But these surprises often open the door to new ideas about form and color that may not have arisen otherwise.
In terms of the physical logistics of making the work, I often have specific stages of my process that allow for deep concentration on particular steps. This can be a very gratifying, meditative experience when things are going to plan. I think building steps into one’s process is a healthy process-everyone needs a break every now and then.
Have you experimented with other mediums or thought about working in other creative fields? What did you want to be when you were a kid?
During undergrad when I was studying foundations, I tried out a lot of different mediums and approaches to working- screen-printing, plaster-casting, making sculpture in traditional materials like stone and wood, but I always kind of landed back at painting. It is where I am most comfortable and most mentally engaged. When I was kid, I’m pretty sure comic book artist was the number one choice for a while. I was hugely obsessed with Batman after the Michael Keaton one came out. Guess I got a little side-tracked along the way and landed on painting.
Any cool shows or projects coming up in 2018? Where can we follow you?!
Check out my website here to see new work, and follow me @danperkinsart on Instagram to stay up to date with upcoming projects and shows!
In-studio photos and interview by Jessica Ross