California-based Danny McCaw works in varied mediums from large-scale paintings and sculptures to photography and installation, and utilizes a myriad of materials: sanders, floor scrapers, wax, and even tar. He often paints seated figures from memory with thick, highly impastoed paint strokes. Blending a figurative practice with abstraction, his subjects’ faces and forms are usually featureless, blurry and indistinct. His paintings can be interpreted as metaphors for the eventuality of memories: what was once so distinctly recalled, over time settles into vague recollections.
Danny’s work has been exhibited in over 15 solo exhibitions; most recently he was shown at the California Museum of Fine Art, and the Long Beach Museum. He was awarded the Wright Foundation Grant in 2002, and was chosen as a Top 30 Artist Under 30 by Southwest Art. His work can be found in both private and corporate collections worldwide.
Danny inside his studio.
What are the major themes you pursue in your work?
My latest body of work has involved interiors with figures that I paint from my memory and imagination. I paint single or multiple figures both seated and standing amongst tables and chairs. I usually paint women, yet I try to look past their physical similarities; I distort, simplify, and exaggerate their shapes in order to depict something closer to my true nature. Working from my memory allows me the freedom to search for the essence of a subject without being distracted by unnecessary details. I look for patterns that form harmonious abstractions, and I use women as a symbol of intimacy and vulnerability. Curiosity unlocks my imagination where the solutions can be anything, and I am invigorated by the freedom to make free associations and to search for what lays beyond the familiar.
My major theme is constantly changing, but the search always remains the same. I am constantly striving for an internal response. The images that I create come from working in a reactive manner; I respond by putting something down on the canvas, and then reacting to that. So, the real meaning of my work comes from the ‘doing’ of the work.
Prefer to work with music or in silence?
Music has always been a major part of my life, and it can set a tone, or change my mood. I have a wide taste, and I’m always listening to something different in my studio. Sometimes I’m in the mood for NPR (talk radio), whilst other times I’m listening to books on tape, or other times I just need silence. I have two kids, so sometimes silence gives me the chance to truly think.
Another look inside Danny’s studio space.
What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
I have been given a lot of great advice over the years. I’ve been exposed to art for all my life, but some of the best advice that I’ve gathered came from simply watching my father paint. I observed his extremely strong work ethic, and saw how even when he was frustrated, he was able to work through his problems on the canvas. When I was younger he told me that if I wanted to be a boxer, then I’d have to box; if I wanted to be a writer, then I’d have to write; and if I wanted to be an artist, then I would have to paint and draw. The only true way of becoming good at something is to just do it. Art is not some magical thing that just appears–it comes out of blood, sweat, and tears. I have made a lot of sacrifices in order to achieve what I want, and some of my best paintings came out of my worst days. Frustration is one of the greatest gifts that an artist has; it is the fuel that drives us to be better, and to take chances.
If you could only have one piece of art in your life, what would it be?
If I could only have one piece of art, then it would definitely be one of my sons’ paintings; they are pure and honest, and I have a strong attachment to them. If I had to pick a famous artist, then anything by Vuillard, Bonnard, Bacon, Klimt, or Diebenkorn. Or, I’d pick something by my father, Dan McCaw, or my brother, John McCaw–they’re both artists.
Works in progress and completed artworks inside Danny’s studio.
Who are your favorite writers?
Probably Dr. Seuss, as my son loves his books. I am constantly reading, and I enjoy artist’s biographies in particular. I love learning about their lives, and who and what influenced them. Some artists whom I have particularly enjoyed reading about are Antonio Tapies, Kurt Cobain, Patti Smith, and Vuillard. I also love to read poetry, and books concerning psychology, childhood behavior, history (particularly world, US, and Art History), and business. Some authors whom I like include Charles Bukowski, William S. Burrows, Carl G. Jung, and Anton Chekhov.