Dan Attoe’s newest paintings are set against the northwestern Pacific landscape. It is a place where winding streams run into surfing beaches. The sand skinny dips into dark water that is laced with rolling white foam. The foamy tidal beaches are framed by rocky cliffs, and all those rocks, and that moving water, is surrounded by antediluvian forest. The trees in Washington State can make you feel very small because they are preposterously tall. Some varieties grow to be over 200 feet, pushing outside of the boundaries of a normal tree into something that feels supernatural, or maybe übernatürlich. The forest has the fairy tale effect of making you feel very small in comparison. The beaches, rocky cliffs, streams, and over-sized forests in Attoe’s paintings create spaces that are reminiscent of David Lynch’s television masterpiece Twin Peaks; both literally, because of geographical overlap, and psychologically, because the natural world, by bubbling with life, moving water, and impossible trees, begins to take on symbolic resonance. If you were an explorer on a quest for an enchanted forest, Northern Oregon and southern Washington State are very strong candidates for any enterprising search parties you are leading. When you go you may run into Dan climbing rocks or taking pictures of the moon through his telescope. Dan grew up in the woods, his father was a forest ranger. He is at home there. These paintings seem to take place at dusk, when the sun is just over the horizon. Like that quiet time of evening, there is something quieter in this new group of paintings. The miniature figures in Dan’s paintings seem to be dealing with mistakes of love, faulty desires, friendship, and being part of the natural world with its drumbeat of sun and tides.
You can see Dan Attoe’s new paintings in his show Landscapes with Water at Peres Projects on Karl-Marx-Allee 82 in Berlin. The show is up from March 1st to April 19th 2014. The photos in this interview are courtesy of Peres Projects.
Dan Attoe makes paintings that slip right pass the guard at our front door and walk into the whirling, clicking abacus of our deep thoughts, that engine room that is us but is also a kind of insect intelligence that lives at top of our spine. Attoe’s world reminds me of old Raymond Carver writing about blind drunks, or the uneasy charisma of David Lynch’s lady in the radiator and her seductive song. These art works feel real and unreal, drawn from experience in part, but reconstituted by an artist who understands how to tap into something psychological that us makes reflect on our own experience.
Dan Attoe has a new show up in Berlin at Peres Projects. The places in Attoe’s new work are psychologically pregnant. Some feature groups of people doing a focused activity together, like camping or going to a dirt track demolition derby. There’s enough detail that we can put ourselves into the places, and hear the moon crickets, or smell the b.o., beer, and car exhaust mixing into a sort of glorious perfume. Many artists are concerned with myth making, and that’s because we live on the Earth, but in a world. A world isn’t a physical thing – it’s a story we tell ourselves to make sense of our experience. Attoe’s newest work conjures places in order to get at the heart of that human story, and he’s weaving a spell of world-making as much as image-making here. All the images in this post are courtesy of Peres Projects. Dan’s show is up until November 5th.
When I met Dan Attoe we were both starting the MFA program at the University of Iowa. I’ve known him for eight years now, and even though Dan lives in Washington State and I live in New York we have maintained our friendship through collaborations, especially with the art group Paintallica.
While at school we became friends – I’ve noticed Dan sort of collects weirdos like me. Before coming to grad school Dan had created a studio practice that involved making a painting a day, and was already working on paintings that have a relationship to his current work. While in school Dan wasn’t stuck on some notion of an ideal practice, he just worked while everyone else was talking about how to work, he wasn’t terribly concerned with theories; he has a background in psychology and knew to trust his own creative faculties.
While everyone else was screwing around with their identities, Dan had already settled into a kind of self-knowledge. I don’t know if his gnosis came from growing up in the deep woods with a forest ranger for a father, or from one of the experiences he had growing up that caused him to study psychology and art.
Being alive you meet a lot of bull shitters and have to play a lot of stupid games, but rarely do you meet someone as genuine and considerate as Dan.
Combine the variety of Hieronymus Bosch and the weirdness of David Lynch; add a pinch of skateboarding and two d-cups of death metal and you’ve got a good recipe for taking in Dan Attoe’s newest painting, “Accretion 40.” Placing multiple small scenes over an end-of-days landscape, he touches on everything from a drawing monkey (self-portrait?), to strippers, Christmas, and going to Hell. Dan put the finishing touches on this yesterday, and he’s about to move and have a kid, so this is going to be the last big painting for a little while.