Keep Looking and Thinking
By Danae Falliers
I'm intrigued by ideas of transience, transcendence, and impermanence. I'm a photographic artist who works in the American West. I work in composite-based imagery that explores the boundaries between art and design, photography and drawing, realism and abstraction, pop and conceptual, metaphor and representation. My work explores the coexistence of movement and stillness, a cohabitation of contemplation and restlessness, a formal plane of both flatness and depth. A particular focus is the evolution of the perceived landscape, created in part by the pervasive acceleration of images in modern life, which in turn has exponentially intensified and dulled our cognitive understanding of our environments. The fleeting nature of transition — sometimes difficult to intellectually and emotionally grasp — is recognizable in a state of stillness.
I think of my work as subversively political — you have to work a little for it. By rejecting theory on the surface, it's my hope that the deeper political and spiritual content finds a broad audience. I work with ideas that include the extinction of the environment as codependent with the pervasive mythology and romance of the American West. Or in the case of my "library" work, the materialism of collecting objects that reflect personal biography and desire is a concept and behavior that's fading with the pervasiveness of digital culture. As a political choice, I deliberately make work that's easy to enjoy on a variety of levels and that is reproducible.
I've always been someone who has lived by choice and by force outside the cultural norm, socially, politically, and personally. From the early beginnings of Adobe graphics software and the Mac, I felt free to use new media in conjunction with photography in an intensely malleable way. I began to develop my current body of work with awareness that it was not considered acceptable within the confines of the medium of photography at the time.
I attended California College of the Arts on a scholarship for drawing and painting, and took my first photography course at the beginning of my second year — and immediately changed majors. From that moment on I've spent uncountable hours in the wet darkroom and then mastering software and fine digital printing in collaboration with master printers
That began a lifelong practice of both going to galleries, museums, and photography bookstores to study the medium and collecting prints and books. I love photography for both the immediacy of its language and the work ethic involved in producing fine prints.
There were some moments I think really changed my direction: Seeing the Kenneth Clark Civilization Film series at the Denver Art Museum as an early teenager. I would always attend many, many openings at Fraenkel Gallery and other dedicated photography spaces in the city in the '80s — when photography was just being accepted in the greater art world.
When I moved to Los Angeles I absorbed the modern design aesthetic of the city that works codependently with the light and energy specific to it. And seeing the Lewis Baltz, Anselm Kiefer, and Christian Boltanski exhibitions in Los Angeles was incredibly moving.
During my time in the Bay Area, knowing the photographer Catherine Wagner at Mills College in Oakland and working at Zuni Café in San Francisco, were really formative in the development of my personal aesthetic.
I’m always fulfilled when my work functions in public spaces. One of my favorite placements was a public art award I got in Colorado for a competition that was a "wildflower" print on metal at 48 inches by 95 inches. It was placed in a new criminal forensics lab in a bleak suburb of Denver. I just imagined people going from home to work in their cubicle all day long in criminal forensics, and it made me really happy that the visual language I'd created might bring moments of peace or emotional relief.
There's the literal and then there is the conceptual. I have had great teachers and photographers teach me conceptual thinking, and luckily my teachers were masters at both. I have that conceptual approach, but I also feel like something that has driven me is to put out a more peaceful message or provide a little bit of relief, which is why I don't work theoretically and I don't work politically.
People say to me all the time, "How do you do it? How do you live as an artist?" or, "How does it feel to be able to make art for a living?" and I just don't think of it that way. And I never have. One day, I just decided that I am going to try this. I was going to work in photography and digital imaging combined with design and drawing to see what I could make of it. I just do it.
Of course, there are always moments of self-doubt, which is when I come back to very simple things in the natural world and try to stop and pay attention without regard to time. I get in the car and find a long straight stretch of empty highway. I do my best thinking and resting when I walk my dog in the open arroyos of New Mexico, regularly attending Upaya Zen Center's dharma talks, and looking at art. I'm a fairly voracious reader and can count on Donna Tartt, Michael Chabon, and assorted European mysteries to cheer, distract, divert, entertain, and scare me at the same time.
I admire Julia Child and Michelle Obama for how they used their self-knowledge, creativity, intelligence, style, criticality, humor, and compassion in public life. Modern female artists that I always look to for inspiration include Helen Frankenthaler, Jay De Feo, Joan Mitchell, Zaha Hadid, Mona Hatoum, and Shirin Neshat.
I want to say this to other women: Don't quit. Keep looking and thinking and acting with kindness. Aspire to excellence, consistent compassion, and self-awareness. Don't give gender roles power.
Danae was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, and has lived at length in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Houston. Currently, she lives and works in New Mexico, Colorado, and California. Her work is about loss — things that were and that are no longer — but loss without despair. For beyond loss is energy in a constant state of change. This energy, translated by us into the material — form, time, space, and color — never ends. It is her hope that her imagery can be read conceptually or formally, metaphorically or literally, in the abstract or representational. Images are reductive — altered, composited, composed, and manipulated. One way to describe them is as post-photography. Another is photographic drawing. She takes a popular and emotional approach to her imagery. Her color work is specifically influenced by design theory and neuroscience. She currently has a show in Oakland, CA, running from March 2-April 28. You can follow Danae at @dfalliers. Read more about her work here.
Words: Danae Falliers