One to Watch: Danny McCaw

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

10 Comments

  1. Vladimir says:

    Impressive works and studio!! Love it!

    Reply
  2. Danny,
    I just read your interview. You are an artist, true and true.
    I am like you the son of an artist who painted all his life and had a work ethic. Everything you said I like. Words such as purity, the fact you chose one of your childrens drawings is a sign of this. My father passed away last year. Looking through his things I found a roll of pappers . I opened them and they were drawings I did when I was 6 or 7 (i was impressed … they were pretty good) he kept my kiddy drawings…
    Thanks

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  3. Hi Danny,

    I totally get what you are saying about frustration being the fuel to do better and take chances. I find it funny when people say to me, “it must be fun painting”, when I am usually often pulling my hair out in frustration and need a wee holiday after each work to relax. Funny but so true about blood, sweat and tears.
    I really love your Twins painting it is very amazing. All the best and thanks for your Q&As I am glad to hear I am not the only one feeling like painting is a wrestling match on canvas, it’s not for the faint hearted this business that’s for sure!* ( People have looked at me confused when I’ve said this about painting before, but it is an awesome challenge nothing else like it and the results speak for themselves in the end : )

    Reply
  4. Jim Harris says:

    Danny,
    Really nice body of work. Great looking studio also.

    Jim

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  5. Ute Rathmann says:

    I really love your work, Danny! Congratulations!!

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  6. Danny, a great and detailed interview, and I love the fact that there’s a deeper message behind the surface. And that you’re willing to talk about that all in a very clear way. Yes, there’s a history and a future in every painting, a message underneath. We lost and we will find, and that’s what I see in your paintings. This is life. Stay strong in your creativity. Great artworks!

    Reply
  7. domondo says:

    j’aime votre sensibilité et votre démarche. votre peinture me touche ;votre atelier me fait rêver.merci

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  8. Very inspiring work. I love the spacial compositions and the textural marks, as well as the balance of light and dark . Will be checking back on your work often!

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  9. Mark says:

    Nice work, a bit different !……Love your bench saw….Dewalt DW 745 I assume….I have the very same one, ha ha….good bit of kit!!

    Reply
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