Artist of the Week

Dan Gunn

June 27, 2011

Dan Gunn lives and works in Chicago.  He received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2007.  His work has been exhibited in Texas, Mexico and throughout the Midwest.

If you had to explain your work to a stranger, what would you say? Hopefully I wouldn’t have to.  Part of my interest in art objects is as a physical phenomena, things that are looked at and looked into. The best experiences are when people look at my work and we have this kind of conversation about our shared physical experience with the work.  Of course there is more to it than that, but that physical experience of the work is primary.  But that kind of language also makes it sound like pure formalism. It’s also about the social symbolism of those kinds of phenomena, like shiny materials or transparency. Also about forms such as signage, furniture, staging. All of these have a history of associations that I like to play on and against.

What materials do you use in your work and what is your process like? I use a lot of wood. I think I’m still in the mental frame of ‘building’ an image/object. So that is easier for me to think about the form of making.  Consequently I’ve started incorporating different parts of woodworking’s vernacular into my practice including weaving cane.  Honestly I keep a lot of things around my studio that don’t work. Eventually they can get incorporated into a work, but not until the conditions are right. There is a lot of physical experimentation with materials, and usually mistakes produce a process that I can then use or purpose to create something more intentional. It’s that process of discovery that drives my practice.

How has living in Chicago affected your art practice? It’s so hard to say for sure.  I think wherever people are they pick up things from their environment. I spent a year working for Lookingglass Theatre building sets for them. While I wasn’t terribly good at it, I enjoyed the way theatre sets assemble themselves into a picture.  A picture that isn’t that convincing from up close, but from 50 feet away from where you’re sitting.   I was really drawn to that kind of provisional reality, a portable whole whose believability is effected by context (lighting, audience expectations, narrative). So that really influenced my thinking / making. Every painter is faced with the same terrifying problem of what to paint. That experience helped me answer that question for myself.

How has your work developed within the past year? Processes and ideas get used up. At a certain point I understand how they work and it becomes a lot less fun for me to use them. The things that looked good to you six months ago start to not be good enough anymore. But this process is encouraging to me. As long as that happens I imagine I’m progressing in my visual language, going somewhere. Plus it’s the discovery that’s the fun part anyway.

What are some upcoming projects you are working on? I’m working on two things at the moment, both for September.  I’m making a project for the MCA’s 12 x 12 program and I’ll be having my first solo show with Monique Meloche Gallery.  The structure for the MCA piece is slowly coming together. It’s a lot of planning and then trial and error after your plans were wrong. But this is the part that I like. The part where you can just work in kind of concentration and lose time engrossed in a problem.

What is one the bigger challenges you and/or other artists are struggling with these days and how do you see it developing? Finding an ethic from which to work. The multiplicity of viable practices at the moment is both liberating and exasperating. It’s hard to say what makes one path more valid than another. And it’s that kind of progression that drives culture, that embodies societal values. But it’s hard to see what those might be at the moment.

How did your interest in art begin? I had always done art, from grade school on. Silly kinds of wildlife art in acrylic and slip cast ceramics that I painted afterwards. I just had never met anyone that took it seriously until college. Once I met people who used it to investigate life, their choices and society it became much more interesting to me as a tool. I’ve always loved experimenting, that moment where “I wonder what happens when I…”

What was the last exhibition you saw that stuck out to you? I’ve been thinking a lot about Mindy Rose Schwartz’s work since her show at Threewalls and also Besty Odom’s show there as well. There is something refreshing in their material choices and usage that feels familiar and dislocating at the same time.

Top 3 favorite or most visited websites and why? Tryharder: Just pictures from openings in LA. You get to see the art and be an openings voyeur.  Contemporary Art Daily: more art.  Archdaily: architecture is so interesting and this is a good place to see a lot in a condensed way.

Favorite music? I get streaky with my studio music. Last summer it was Crystal Castles on repeat. Nothing makes me get to work like that. This summer is the summer of the Tune-Yards. Different vibe but equally good.