Dan Walsh: “I have a major commitment to my brushes”

As Jerry Saltz blogged last week, silkscreening, stenciling, assemblage, collage, spray painting and scraping all play a major role in contemporary painting. To his list, I’d add masking and pouring. These are all techniques that privilege the accidental and intuitive over the intentional brushstroke. At Paula Cooper, Dan Walsh’s new geometric paintings embrace traditional brushwork, each slowly built with careful, purposeful application of paint.

[Image above: Dan Walsh, Press, 2013; pencil and acrylic on canvas; 55 x 55 inches]
In a May 2013 interview with George Stolz, Walsh addresses the visual language he has developed: 

I always say that the painting I am working on now was taken from my last painting. I famously don�t do drawings and it�s not out of any great principle. I�d rather just see it on the canvas.

 Dan Walsh, detail of a painting.

How do I work? What you wouldn�t know about me is that I�m not exactly a brush fetishist, but I have a major commitment to my brushes. My ability with the brushes is key to how these paintings look.

How did I end up painting like this, with these little elemental kind of building blocks? How that happened is because years ago I was so � not embarrassed but I was really kind of feeling awkward about how I can put the paint on canvas. Everyone, every painter likes put paint on canvas, but there was this time � and we�re talking about the 80s or earlier � when everyone was living under the guise or the theater of another movement, like abstract expressionism. You had to adjust somebody else�s gesture. No authorship, no authority.

  Dan Walsh, detail of a painting.

I can accept that, but it�s not particularly something I wanted. It just didn�t feel right. I�d rather be earnest and a little bit clumsy and get it right and at least say, not necessarily that I did it, but that I didn�t have to go through someone else�s theater to do it, to tape it out. Peter Halle would be the model of the time, to either tape it out or use a certain kind of gesture.

  Dan Walsh, detail of a painting.

So my joke early on about how to describe myself was �Phillp Guston paints an Agnes Martin.� A kind of a clumsy, flat-footedness, although looking at more transcendental subjects.So what do I do in a studio? I make small movements, discreet movements, and perfect movements, and I build a painting that way. They are very simple gestures. You could say I am marking time. That I am existing gracefully…. Read more at Contemporary Art Daily

Perhaps more painters will begin to consider the traditional notion of intentional mark-making in addition to strategies like spray painting, scraping, collage and pouring that favor the accidental. In a recent series that explores overworking the canvases, I find myself surprised that the return to brushes and a commitment to spending months on each canvas (as opposed to hours) has unleashed an interest in depicting objects, detail and pattern at the expense of the sketchbook-like immediacy of unprimed, uncluttered canvases. Stay tuned for more details.

Dan Walsh: Cycle (2013),” Paula Cooper Gallery, Chelsea, New York, NY. Through November 16, 2013. 

Related posts:
Questions for Casualists (2013)
 Dan Walsh: “Just enough humanity to keep formalist ossification at bay” (2010)

One Comment

  1. Though I've been painting for many years I've never felt contrained by someone else's 'theatre'….didn't know enough perhaps, but I sure love what you are saying. Finally I 'took' a 5 day workshop and found myself so longing for just brushes, just MY gestures, abhoring the alcohol, spraying, printing and scraping…endless layers. I loved some of the work others turned out but I'm pretty well wallowing, even stuck, perhaps in my own gestures which are broad and expressive…but also intentional. Thank you for saying what you did and I hope it is widely read and reprinted for consideration today.

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