In the Studio with Dan Perkins

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The works have the slick precision of a digital rendering, though there is certainly more than meets the eye. The paintings of Brooklyn-based artist Dan Perkins, in pastels worthy of a Miami sunset, bend and gleam in alien ways, seemingly void of a human hand. But there’s always a tell, however nearly imperceptible or slight, that an artist, not a computer, is behind each piece. The images take on a defiant quality, a stubborn refusal to succumb to the path of least resistance.

Perkins’s works start out the old fashioned way: pencil sketches in notebooks annotated with measurements you might need an engineering degree to understand. From there, the pieces are scaled as desired, then painted, often with an airbrushed look and with colors and textures borrowed from the natural world. Perkins’s rigid geometric shapes conflict with the fluidity of his paint choices, creating a surreal tension between the natural and the manmade. It feels a wholly modern paradox, a reflection of our current binary existence–one that alters between apps/smartphones/computers and the real world.

Since earning his MFA in Studio Art at American University in Washington, DC, Perkins has shown at galleries across the country, from Hashimoto Contemporary in San Francisco to Brilliant Champions in New York City. Below, Perkins let us into his studio to talk Neoclassical architecture, childhood G.I. Joes, and the trick to smooth transitions between forms.

dan perkins artist

Former occupation and your most notable memory there:

I have worked as summer camp counselor, busboy, landscaper, adjunct professor/art instructor, and currently as freelance art handler, in addition to artist. Each job has given me a deep appreciation for most people who work full-time jobs they find boring.

Drunkenly turfing the summer camp fields on golf carts with other camp counselors on the last night of camp is a definite highlight in my mind.

Your first experience with art as a child:

The first experience that comes to mind would be drawing. As a young child in kindergarten, my mother encouraged me to draw, particularly when I complained of being bored. I had a small red table that I would sit at and draw doodles such as copies of baseball cards, motorcycles, and G.I. Joe commandos, etc…

dan perkins artist

What did your parents do for work? Were they interested in the arts or design?

My father was a career-long high school Spanish teacher, after picking up Spanish during his graduate studies in education in California. He supports me and my brothers in pursuing our own specific interests.

My mother has had a life-long interest in photography and photojournalism. She was a staff photographer for the Philadelphia Inquirer in late-‘80s and early-‘90s when we were living in Southern New Jersey (my father was teaching at a small Friends school there). She later left the newspaper and began teaching high school art history and photography. My mom definitely encouraged my interest in the arts and I remember several trips to the Philadelphia Museum as a child, being blown away by the grandiose scale of the Neoclassical architecture.

Can you describe how a work typically gets made? 

I keep several small sketchbooks where I explore a variety of compositional ideas. These sketchbooks are a space to experiment and play. From there, I pick particular compositions that I think are spatially engaging and interesting, and scale them up into larger drawings.

These drawings are for transferring the composition to the panels that I paint on. The drawings are made at either half scale or 1-to-1 scale of the final paintings. This allows me to work out the complexities of the piece before transferring to paint. Then the composition gets mapped out on the panel where I focus almost solely on color, form, and light. I use oils throughout my painting process, and there is a lot of careful stenciling and blending to achieve smooth yet crisp transitions between forms.

dan perkins artist

Was math something you excelled in during school?

I was an adequate student when it came to math. I enjoyed geometry and proofs, but never quite grasped calculus, to be honest. My interest in geometry is largely inspired by the philosophical constructs that are explored through it, perhaps more so than the literal mathematics involved.

Where/when did you develop an interest in the airbrushed quality your pieces take on?

My interest in smoothly gradated fields comes largely from an interest in the perception of color. I often attempt to mimic the odd material quality of atmosphere that is apparent in one’s vision, even if it is not something we can directly touch. When it comes to the techniques used in my paintings, I use oil paint and smooth synthetic brushes to carefully blend and transition carefully mixed colors. A literal airbrush is not involved, but, in a way, it is something I think about.

dan perkins artist

How do you think growing up during digital revolution inspired you as an artist, if at all?

I think coming of age in the early- and mid-’90s, when the internet was starting to enter the suburban home, greatly influences how I view and understand the world. I have a fascination with how digital reproduction has greatly flattened time and space in a sense. Something that happens across the globe is instantly viewable in your palm and so on. It is interesting to ponder that perhaps we are experiencing multiple dimensions of time and space simultaneously. In the back of my mind, I am interested in making that seem like a powerful sensorially rich experience, rather than depressing one.

How did you find your current workspace and where is it?

My current space is located in Ridgewood, New York–essentially on the border between Brooklyn and Queens. The space was listed publicly but after meeting the owners, who are also painters, we quickly realized that we had many mutual friends, including my own girlfriend, Giordanne Salley, who is also an artist.

Daytime worker or nighttime worker?

I don’t do the 3 a.m. crap I used to pull in grad school anymore, but I would be lying if some part of me doesn’t miss it. Daytime for sure.

dan perkins artist

What do you eat for breakfast?

Either oatmeal or eggs and toast, or yogurt and granola if I have to be out the door.

What’s a day typically look like for you, from start to finish?

On a typical studio day, I usually get up around 8 a.m., make breakfast, get to the studio before 11 a.m., settle in, maybe draw, look at what I did yesterday, and think about what I am going to work on for the day… get going on that, mix color, etc, and work to about 3 or 4 p.m., eat a late lunch then work for another two to three hours and wrap things up by 7 or 8 p.m.

dan perkins artist

Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?

I listen almost exclusively to music while working, or work quietly. I don’t do podcasts or narrative things. Currently what I am listening to jumps around a lot depending on mood, anything from ambient electronic, like Aphex Twin, to Johnny Cash, Black Flag, or James Brown.

Least favorite question people ask you as an artist:

“How do you make money?”

dan perkins artist

What are you currently working on?

Currently, I am working on some small, square-format pieces for a fun upcoming summer group show at Geoffrey Young Gallery in Great Barrington, MA. The show opens July 7th.

What material do you go through the most of?

Either Frisket masking film or titanium white paint.

dan perkins

What medium/ tool/ color are you most interested in presently and why?

My brand new compass and OLFA circle cutter is making my life a lot easier!

What book/ film/ work of art most recently captured your attention and why?

I’ve been rereading Goethe’s Theory of Colors. It is a collection of observations and experiments that Goethe undertook to better understand the subjective experience of color. It is the kind of book one might read an excerpt or two in an undergrad color theory/design course, but rereading it now, it is fascinating to picture a 19th-century person contriving of these experiments with candles, prisms, mirrors, and darkened rooms. It is really inspiring to think about the general patience and diligence that kind of exploration takes, as well as the odd sort of headspace one must enter, even if some his “science” is known to be off today.

dan perkins artist

What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?

“Make the work you want to see in the world.”– Wise words from my high school painting teacher, Karl Connolly.

Photos by Atisha Paulson for SIXTY Hotels

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