Rendering every pimple and wiry pubic hair with immaculate detail, Brendan Danielsson takes a painstaking approach to his portraits. The Atlanta-based artist recently had his first solo show, “Diarrhainbow,” at CoproGallery in Santa Monica, where he shared his grotesque, often humorous drawing and paintings. Brendan took some time to chat with Nastia Voynovskaya about his creative process and just why zits exploding with puss should be drawn on 150 year old paper.
What is your artistic background? Have you always focused on portraits?
My background is in illustration. I went to school for it but didn’t actually pursue it much after graduating. I tried freelancing a little, but quickly lost interest. I took a hiatus from art for several years, but knew the entire time that I would eventually get back into it somehow. Sometime around 2002 or 2003, I painted a portrait of a lady I worked with. I guess that was the beginning of what I’m doing now. But yes, since my reboot, I have primarily focused on portrait-like art. They’re sort of fake portraits of imaginary characters.
Your work tackles very typical subject matter—the female nude—in a very atypical way. Is there a particular reason why you portray the body and sexuality so grotesquely?
No particular reason, I don’t think, other than I find it humerous and generally more interesting. A lot of the full body characters were probably based around my gut that I had for several years, but have now since lost. I guess I saw disgust in myself and it was reflected in the characters. But probably the main reason is simply that the characters are more interesting to me a grotesquely and overtly sexual creatures. I think I generally find the typical norm to be boring.
You seem to use a very tightly controlled and refined technique. The works are beautifully executed but the subject matter is strikingly ugly. Can you talk a little bit about this contrast?
Well thanks for saying that. I think early on I really wanted to make my pieces feel special. Something that I would cherish if I found it somewhere. I started my initial series of drawings on 150-year-old paper and that helped to fill the want to make it special. So I took time and care to not be too sloppy. Later, when I started drawing larger, I also starting trying to tighten up my technique. I do recall a point where I was drawing an ugly character’s tits, and the idea that she would have a jacked up face and beautiful, nearly perfect, breasts was something that I really wanted to have happen. I think a nice balance of beauty and ugly feels better than one of the two extremes.
Can you talk about your shift from the more surrealist compositions of your older pieces to your more straight-forward approach in your new work?
I guess you’re referring to my paintings…. I think the change is due to the absence of actually painting for a couple years. I became more focused on drawing for a period and when I returned to painting, I simply wanted to try and focus more on my technique and the character and less on what was around him/her. I’m sure I will eventually return to a more involved painting as I continue to develop my characters and become more confident in my painting technique. I can see larger paintings with multiple characters happening down the road, but for now I’m keeping it simple and am generally happy with that.
Are the characters based on your view of humans in general? There seems to be a very satirical undertone to your work, in the actual drawings and paintings as well as in their titles.
Maybe. I guess that’s possible. I don’t think a whole lot about it actually. Sometimes I like to try and give my pieces a title that will crack a smile, but not always. I don’t really take my art too seriously and am just having fun doing what I’m doing.
The characters in your works each seem to have distinct personalities, despite all coming from the same world of blemishes and wiry pubic hair. How do you go about inventing the subjects of your portraits?
I just start sketching them out without much forethought. If I see that it’s going in a direction that I like, then I continue on. If not, it gets trashed. Mostly the characters develop as I go along. I typically don’t have much of an idea behind anything, but sometimes I have a small notion of something I want to do. That’s not to say I don’t have any ideas, I have a lot of things I want to do when I have the time. Right now it’s easiest on my to just sit down, crank up the music, and let it flow out on it’s own.
What is a typical work day for you in your studio?
When I have shows coming up and need to do art, I try and get in there 4-6 days a week. Usually it’s only for a few hours. Sometimes more, a lot of times less. I actually find it really difficult to find the time to work art into my life at times. But for now I’m doing what I can. Did I answer that right? I dunno.
Do you have any upcoming projects or plans we should be on the look-out for?
I’m working on a handful of pieces for a group show coming up in Germany. I’ll probably have another solo show or two in the next year or so… I’m still working on locking down dates. Other than that, nothing major to announce. There are lots of things I’d like to try and do but don’t know when I’ll ever get to them.