In the Studio: Dan Flanagan

Red hands on black (pinching)
Image courtesy of Dan Flanagan

Dan Flanagan sits down with Erik Sommer to talk about the Prado Museum, knocking on wood, political cartoons, and meeting Susan Rothenberg.

I am heavily influenced by New York City.

(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.

Grinning face (pointing)
Image courtesy of Dan Flanagan

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.

Blue arms on white (hugging / pushing)
Image courtesy of Dan Flanagan

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.

No title
Image courtesy of Dan Flanagan

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.

To see more of Dan Flanagan’s work visit his website and Instagram page.