Q&A: Daniel McFarlane
Toasted Wheat II, 2010 | Acrylic on panel, 75 x 48 inches
With the 2010 MFA Annual Competition well under way (apply online!), we're pleased to feature a Q&A with a selected artist from the 2009 MFA competition, Daniel McFarlane of edition #87, currently an artist-in-residence at the [awesome] Lawndale Art Center in Houston, TX. McFarlane's colorful work, despite appearing seemingly chaotic, retains an incredible amount of control. Back in Houston after earning his MFA at the University of Florida in Gainesville, McFarlane talks to New American Paintings about his work and why there's nothing wrong with being a control freak. (Current MFA candidates: the deadline to apply to the current MFA Annual Competition is October 31! Juror: Randi Hopkins, Associate Curator, Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston.) —Evan J. Garza
EJG: Let's talk chaos.
What I previously would have termed chaos in my work, I now better define as improvisation. In my paintings, I like to highlight the relationship between improvisation and control. I’m looking to push that limit and create dynamic tension and balance. I pour paint directly onto the surface of the piece and create paint forms that seem to be wild, free, or in movement. In contrast, I do a lot of planning and make several controlled decisions within a painting. For example, the wooden shapes serve as focal/structural support.
Dark Matter, 2010 | Acrylic on panel, 49 x 80 inches
EJG: In your works, much of the composition is left to colorful negative space, revealing part of the wooden panel, which is then painted into a seemingly dimensional plank of wood surrounded by painterly effects. Tell me about how you approach both dimension and your compositions.
I want the paintings to exist on many levels and multiple dimensions. I am trying to form a more physical 3D plane of illusion within the 2D picture. The rich color fields establish ground—but an undefined, sort of limitless space—which I find an interesting landscape to explore.
...The wooden shapes are composed of what I call 'pass-throughs' and cut-outs. Both shapes look similar and they both function as figures against ground, but their placement and variation further enhances the depth of the painting. The pass-throughs result from painting around the negative area of a shape, whereas the cut-outs are made from veneer and are attached on top of the panel.
Back to the idea of improvisation and control—the wooden shapes serve as stability or an anchor point within the painting. The paint attaches to these shapes within the space. By painting them in, the pass-throughs are locked into position. This is usually a very calculated and planned part of the painting. But then comes the improvisation, when I attach and pour paint and other shapes on top of the planned background and locked in pass-through. It all goes back to that tension and balance.
(detail) Toasted Wheat II, 2010 | Acrylic on panel, 75 x 48 inches
EJG: The use of acrylic in your work is very fluid, yet the pools of color are highly contained and manipulated. Tell me about this.
For the painting process I employ, I prefer acrylics. It pools nicely on the surface of the painting in thick, slick forms. In addition to pouring paint directly on the panel, I also collage paint. I dispense paint onto another surface, allow it to dry, then I peel it off and attach it to the painting. The viewer has difficulty discerning which paint is poured versus which is collaged. At one point, my paintings and collage materials relied on found objects, but I realized that paint had more possibilities. Paint is plentiful, mobile, and plastic, in terms of its ability to take on countless colors and shapes.
EJG: What is it about bright colors that you enjoy? Your palette is often quite sweet, but constantly moving, like melting ice cream.
Yes! That’s exactly what I’m going for—a blend of serious with a scoop of silly. I think the color is exciting, delicious, and inviting. I want people to be drawn to the work instantly—and I think the color does that. It's inherently attractive, but maybe not quite as obvious, by design. The color space and color interactions are actually quite complex and luminous. Once the eye-pleasing color has grabbed [a viewer's] attention, the deeper illusions of the painting can be discovered.
EJG: Even in your mixed media works there's a tension between textures, dimensionality, and space.
For me, that’s what painting is—all my paintings develop those relationships. Examining forms in space translates to the possibility of painting expansion.
Aqua Quartz, 2010 | Acrylic on panel, 65x 48 inches
EJG: You're currently an artist in residence at the Lawndale Art Center in Houston. What have you been working on in the studio?
The residence is a wonderful opportunity. It's been a smooth transition from grad school, helping me to continue to produce work and meet people in the city. I jumped right in and have already made a few new paintings. I'm continuing the series that I showed in my thesis exhibition; color studies based on movement. I'm experimenting with different painting techniques, which I dub 'blobetry' or pouring and creating paint blob forms, different colors—whereas I was only working in hyper colors, I’m now also using monochromatics—and different sizes. I’ve always loved going big, but I've realized there's a place for variation.
EJG: How is it to be back in Houston?
It’s great. I’m glad to be home. Florida was good to me, though. I met some lifelong friends and mentors. Graduate school was a learning experience and gave me the opportunity to develop my practice. By the time I graduated, I felt like a professional artist. But I love Houston, and this is where I want to live and work. I think the city has a strong art community and a lot of prospect for young painters. With current technology, the Internet, easy shipping, etc., I also know I can make work here while still remaining connected and showing all over.
Daniel McFarlane was featured in edition #87, the 2009 MFA Annual Competition, of New American Paintings. His work is currently on view in the Baum MFA Biennial at the University of Central Arkansas through October 28. McFarlane will also be included in the group exhibition The Triumph of Now at Volume Black Gallery, New York, opening October 22.