Dan Flanagan sits down with Erik Sommer to talk about the Prado Museum, knocking on wood, political cartoons, and meeting Susan Rothenberg.
(ES) Describe your work for us.
(DF) I would describe it simply as big drawings.
Tell us a bit about your background. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, part of a large family. Both of my parents were lawyers for the state. I was always doing art and my family supported that. I would make videos and draw and paint early on. Also my aunt is an artist so I always had an idea in my head that was what I wanted to be.
Where do you live and work now?
How do you think this has influenced your work?
I am heavily influenced by New York City. I am surrounded by great artists, and great people, so it always keeps me motivated and inspired.
Do you remember any artists as a child that captured your attention?
I was really into all kinds of cartoons, even political cartoons, and was always drawing them and trying to copy them. I looked up a lot to older kids that did graffiti. There was a big graffiti scene and lots of places to paint, so that was something that really captured my attention.
When I was a bit older I got to go to the Prado Museum in Madrid where I saw Goya, and that changed my perspective on art. But the best was Rogier van der Weyden’s huge masterpiece of Christ descending from the cross. I was completely in awe of that.
Any artists today you are looking at?
Susan Rothenberg, because she recently passed away. I have a reproduction of her painting up on the wall in my studio so I look at it every day. I had the the chance to meet her at her show earlier this year and I am grateful for that.
Also my 3 year old niece Chloe has been someone I am seriously looking at. When she draws everything is firing on all cylinders. It has been a challenge for me to compete with her.
Do you consider your work to be figurative or abstract, or are you not concerned with these labels?
I think it is both. I want to work on both of those levels.
Any interest in working three dimensional?
Not really at the moment but definitely someday. I have always been much more geared towards that two dimensional illusory space of painting.
What is your normal studio practice like? Any routines or superstitions?
I wake up and just start to draw. Lots of random, stream of consciousness stuff. That could be in the studio or outside or at a cafe. Then I like to clean up a bit from the previous day. I don’t have much of a routine other than that.
I am a bit superstitious, in general. I knock on wood a lot.
What about your working technique? Walk us through how you start and then develop a piece.
With a painting I just have to start. There isn’t much use in thinking about it or planning too much. I will always change it later anyway. I just do whatever comes to mind and brings good energy. De Kooning has a quote about painting: “You take a brush full of paint, get paint on the picture, and you have faith.”
Are you more focussed on the process or the end result?
I focus on the process, and the end result has to sneak up on me. I try to not have expectations of what the end result should look like. I more think about what it should feel like, in a general sense. If something can surprise me, or make me laugh, that is a sign that I should leave it be.
What current themes do you see in today’s art world?
I see a lot of people breaking away from the past ways of doing things, ready for something new.
What excites you the most about the current art world?
I am excited about people I know, seeing them again. I am excited about going to shows and exhibitions after the pandemic ends. Just seeing other people and having that collective experience.
Finally, what is your favorite color?
Black, if I have to choose. Black is the most powerful color.