INTERVIEW: DAN LYDERSEN

The Never Never Land Of Dan Lydersen

In the world of Dan Lydersen, the beautiful and the gory, the pop and the Neoclassical,  the fictional and the real all come to interplay - somewhat forming a utopia where all these elements live in harmony. His paintings are more like a visceral moment or a dream that you don't have a recollection of: that playdate you had with Ronald McDonald, that never-ending stroll through the park, or that time you built a sand castle on the beach.

 

Anything has the potential to be grotesque or beautiful depending on its context or how its depicted. Part of what I do is about exploring those turning points where beauty becomes garish or cloying and the grotesque can become dignified or even majestic.

At first glance, your paintings seem like a visual feast, an eye candy. On observation, one starts to decipher the connotations and sarcasm that could be sometimes alarming. How does the obscene or grotesque inspire you to create something so beautiful?

A lot of it has to do with maintaining a tonal balance. I like the contrast and interplay between the beautiful and the grotesque. But I also think there’s a huge gray area between the two and anything has the potential to be grotesque or beautiful depending on its context or how its depicted. Part of what I do is about exploring those turning points where beauty becomes garish or cloying and the grotesque can become dignified or even majestic.

 

A lot of your paintings seem to subtly subvert elements from history. What is the message behind that? And what periods or art schools influenced you the most?

I have a particular fondness for Renaissance, Baroque, and Neoclassical art. I love the theatricality and the grandeur of those works. Even though my intent is vastly different, my whole approach to narrative painting is informed by those movements. The historical references in my work are both an acknowledgement of that artistic heritage and a critique of the ideals those movements espoused.

 

Your style is on par with other great American pop surrealists like Joe Coleman, Alex Gross, Mark Ryden etc. Do you consider yourself a Lowdown artist? Or are you part of a newer school of pop surrealism that only time will define?

I don’t associate myself with any particular school or movement. I just focus on pursuing my own interests and developing my own voice. There’s no denying the resurgence of narrative and figurative painting in recent years, which artists like the ones you mentioned have helped legitimize, so I can see why critics would want to define that trend. That’s up to them though. I’m interested in what makes painters different from each other, not what makes them the same.

 

There are a lot of nods to Americana in your artworks, Ronald McDonald, Big Boy, serene suburbia. Is the purpose to taunt, alarm, or celebrate the American culture?

All of those things. American culture is complicated and multifaceted. It’s simultaneously banal and bizarre, endearing and repulsive, inspiring and terrifying, highly intellectual and completely idiotic. It’s perfectly tragicomic. When I portray elements of Americana I’m doing so critically but also with great sympathy. Except for Ronald McDonald. He’s just an evil bastard.

 

How do you think this language translates in the Eastern world?

It’s hard to say. I think a viewer’s reading of an image is based as much on their personal experience as on their culture. I’m consistently surprised by how people in my own cultural sphere react to my work, but that’s partly what makes painting so interesting to me. You have a limited amount of control over the meaning of your work so it’s best to embrace ambiguity rather than try to pummel a viewer with some specific message.

 

Having lived and grown up in California, a place that is wholesomely far from everywhere, how does the rest of the world seem to you and what impact did it have on your art?

Compared to the rest of the world the US has such a short history, and California even more so. That’s something I always find striking when I travel abroad, the sense of history that seems to permeate everything. The interesting thing about the history of California and the American West is that it became mythologized almost as soon as it happened. That’s something I’m always exploring in my work, the disconnect between reality and the myth of the West.

 

You talk about the rectangle as a window, and it is a recurring subject in most of your paintings. Is it an escape to a new dimension?

It’s mostly just a formal conceit that I find useful. It’s a visual trope that we all inherently recognize so it allows me to set aside certain formal questions and focus on presenting a narrative. That being said, a lot of my work is about looking at and being looked at, so the window metaphor comes into play there as well.

 

What do you see when you look outside your window?

Literally or figuratively? There are some old tree branches that grew around the telephone lines and were never removed after the tree was cut down. Literally and figuratively.

 

How do you escape in reality? What films, books or activities inspire you to unwind?

Nothing beats travel. Cycling is great too. It’s the best way to experience the world around you but it’s also very meditative. 

 

Your latest exhibition takes place in POW!WOW! Gallery in Honolulu. What will you be showcasing? What new projects are you working on?

The POW! WOW! show was the last in a series of group exhibitions I’ve been busy with since my last solo show at Jack Fischer Gallery, who represents me in San Francisco. Now I finally have some time to regroup my creative efforts and start putting together a new body of work. Painting will always be at the core of my practice but recently I’ve been exploring new ways to incorporate sculptural and kinetic elements into my work. It’s still in the early stages, but I’m developing some work that involves multi-layered paintings on clear acrylic panels and sculpted wood with moving parts, lights, the whole shebang. Sort of a carnival midway meets Renaissance history painting aesthetic.

 

How do you imagine your ideal wonderland , and who would inhabit it?

I think it would look pretty similar to our own world except that everything would be hand-made and built to one half scale. Not very practical but totally adorable. Transportation would consist solely of little canal boats and winding footpaths. Oh yeah, and there wouldn’t be war, famine, disease, religious fanaticism, bigotry, pollution, mosquitoes, or corn syrup. That would be nice.

When I portray elements of Americana I’m doing so critically but also with great sympathy. Except for Ronald McDonald. He’s just an evil bastard.

At first glance, your paintings seem like a visual feast, an eye candy. On observation, one starts to decipher the connotations and sarcasm that could be sometimes alarming. How does the obscene or grotesque inspire you to create something so beautiful?

A lot of it has to do with maintaining a tonal balance. I like the contrast and interplay between the beautiful and the grotesque. But I also think there’s a huge gray area between the two and anything has the potential to be grotesque or beautiful depending on its context or how its depicted. Part of what I do is about exploring those turning points where beauty becomes garish or cloying and the grotesque can become dignified or even majestic.

 

A lot of your paintings seem to subtly subvert elements from history. What is the message behind that? And what periods or art schools influenced you the most?

I have a particular fondness for Renaissance, Baroque, and Neoclassical art. I love the theatricality and the grandeur of those works. Even though my intent is vastly different, my whole approach to narrative painting is informed by those movements. The historical references in my work are both an acknowledgement of that artistic heritage and a critique of the ideals those movements espoused.

 

Your style is on par with other great American pop surrealists like Joe Coleman, Alex Gross, Mark Ryden etc. Do you consider yourself a Lowdown artist? Or are you part of a newer school of pop surrealism that only time will define?

I don’t associate myself with any particular school or movement. I just focus on pursuing my own interests and developing my own voice. There’s no denying the resurgence of narrative and figurative painting in recent years, which artists like the ones you mentioned have helped legitimize, so I can see why critics would want to define that trend. That’s up to them though. I’m interested in what makes painters different from each other, not what makes them the same.

 

There are a lot of nods to Americana in your artworks, Ronald McDonald, Big Boy, serene suburbia. Is the purpose to taunt, alarm, or celebrate the American culture?

All of those things. American culture is complicated and multifaceted. It’s simultaneously banal and bizarre, endearing and repulsive, inspiring and terrifying, highly intellectual and completely idiotic. It’s perfectly tragicomic. When I portray elements of Americana I’m doing so critically but also with great sympathy. Except for Ronald McDonald. He’s just an evil bastard.

 

How do you think this language translates in the Eastern world?

It’s hard to say. I think a viewer’s reading of an image is based as much on their personal experience as on their culture. I’m consistently surprised by how people in my own cultural sphere react to my work, but that’s partly what makes painting so interesting to me. You have a limited amount of control over the meaning of your work so it’s best to embrace ambiguity rather than try to pummel a viewer with some specific message.

 

Having lived and grown up in California, a place that is wholesomely far from everywhere, how does the rest of the world seem to you and what impact did it have on your art?

Compared to the rest of the world the US has such a short history, and California even more so. That’s something I always find striking when I travel abroad, the sense of history that seems to permeate everything. The interesting thing about the history of California and the American West is that it became mythologized almost as soon as it happened. That’s something I’m always exploring in my work, the disconnect between reality and the myth of the West.

 

You talk about the rectangle as a window, and it is a recurring subject in most of your paintings. Is it an escape to a new dimension?

It’s mostly just a formal conceit that I find useful. It’s a visual trope that we all inherently recognize so it allows me to set aside certain formal questions and focus on presenting a narrative. That being said, a lot of my work is about looking at and being looked at, so the window metaphor comes into play there as well.

 

What do you see when you look outside your window?

Literally or figuratively? There are some old tree branches that grew around the telephone lines and were never removed after the tree was cut down. Literally and figuratively.

 

How do you escape in reality? What films, books or activities inspire you to unwind?

Nothing beats travel. Cycling is great too. It’s the best way to experience the world around you but it’s also very meditative. 

 

Your latest exhibition takes place in POW!WOW! Gallery in Honolulu. What will you be showcasing? What new projects are you working on?

The POW! WOW! show was the last in a series of group exhibitions I’ve been busy with since my last solo show at Jack Fischer Gallery, who represents me in San Francisco. Now I finally have some time to regroup my creative efforts and start putting together a new body of work. Painting will always be at the core of my practice but recently I’ve been exploring new ways to incorporate sculptural and kinetic elements into my work. It’s still in the early stages, but I’m developing some work that involves multi-layered paintings on clear acrylic panels and sculpted wood with moving parts, lights, the whole shebang. Sort of a carnival midway meets Renaissance history painting aesthetic.

 

How do you imagine your ideal wonderland , and who would inhabit it?

I think it would look pretty similar to our own world except that everything would be hand-made and built to one half scale. Not very practical but totally adorable. Transportation would consist solely of little canal boats and winding footpaths. Oh yeah, and there wouldn’t be war, famine, disease, religious fanaticism, bigotry, pollution, mosquitoes, or corn syrup. That would be nice.

 

ArtELI REZKALLAH