In the studio with Daniel Dias, whose practice turns toward the neo-surreal, where familiar images and stories are warped into a psychological portrait of our times and experiences. We met with Daniel to tell us more about growing up in São Paulo, what inspired them to first pursue their artistic journey, and unexpected sources of inspiration.
When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?
I started drawing from a young age and always had an affinity for Art. I was fortunate to have parents who supported my creative pursuits when it came time for me to go to college. After trying oil paint for the first time, I knew it was something I would love for the rest of my life. I see myself as a painter first and foremost.
Where are you from and what was your upbringing like?
I was born in São Paulo, Brazil in 1987. We lived in a small apartment within a large complex where we were very close to our neighbors and people in the community. We often visited my grandparents and extended family in Santos as well, so I have very happy memories of my childhood in Brazil. At the age of 10, my family immigrated to South Florida and the move had a big impact in defining who I am today. Being uprooted and landing in a new country where I didn’t speak the language, with only my immediate family for comfort, was scary for 10 year old me. I now embrace the challenges of moving to a new country and trying to find a familiarity in it. This led me to China, where I currently live and work. I believe the time I spent in Brazil, USA and China have afforded me diversity in inspiration, life experience and memories which I draw from in my work.
Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. What inspired you to first pursue, and then continue to practice artistic work?
There is joy and satisfaction that comes from pursuing artistic work and that is still what motivates me to continue my practice. As long as I am placing myself in situations that allow me to change, adapt and grow, I feel as if I am on the right track; as the work will reflect my own alteration.
What’s the message of your work? Where do they come from?
I spend a lot of time thinking about identity, relationships and perspective. I am curious about people that have split their time between two (or more) countries/cultures and how their perspective changes. In the paintings We Will Become and We Will Become Silhouettes, one moment is painted from two different perspectives. Besides the challenge of composing these works from different points of view as different “characters,” I also allow time to play a part in creating a perspective shift. I give myself at least 2-3 years before attempting a new painting in the series.
This interest stems from my experience living in 3 different countries, but also in Brazilian spiritualism, introduced to me as a child in Brazil. The American in me is skeptical, but the belief emphasizes the evolution of the soul through reincarnation. As only by assuming varying identities in diverse situations can one learn empathy and love. The Chinese in me might be reminded of Buddhism…
Who & what are your greatest influences?
I am influenced by some amazing painters like Adrian Ghenie, Nicole Eisenmann, Tala Madani, Sanya Kantarovsky, Norbert Schwontkowski, Jennifer Packer, Ken Kiff, Wu Guanzhong, etc… traveling greatly influences my work as well.
An unexpected source of inspiration?
Not so unexpected for anyone that finds themselves in a classroom once in a while, but I find inspiration in my students’ works. In how they handle paint, how things might happen unexpectedly and how they perceive the world.
What do you want people to take from your work when they view it?
I do not have the audience consciously in mind at the beginning and middle stages of creation. I start to think about the audience as my work gets closer to completion, and it is only to imagine what can be seen in the work if I were to see it again for the first time. I hope the audience can spend time with the work and be curious about the relationship between the subject matter and the physical qualities of paint. I hope the audience can find their own interpretation, and perhaps even relate, to the stories that arise.
What events in your life have mobilised change in your practise/aesthetic?
After having spent 6 years in China, a country which was originally shrouded in mystery to me, it had become a very comfortable home. I had adapted. And that’s when I decided to return to the USA.
The reverse culture shock I experienced caused me to reassess my practice. At that time, the aesthetic of my work closely resembled collage as I sought to distinctly include sections of my personal history. But it was only in the second year of my MFA program that I sought a different approach. I started painting intuitively, drawing from memories and allowing my decision making to reflect my identity at that specific point in time. I did not need to make my personal history known in my work, it would inevitably be revealed in a more authentic manner through the paint itself.
What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?
A difficult question as a starting point and time to wonder, experiment and develop an artwork.
Tell us about the inspiration behind one of your works?
Deep Down Voices, is a pseudo-self-portrait based on past-life regressions, a spiritual practice which I grew up hearing stories about from family members and acquaintances. The visions that people experienced always seemed to poetically explain hardships, grievances, predispositions and relationship troubles in their current life. In my imagined past-life regression, I am lying on the floor with candles and a guide around me. A spirit, memory or vision from a past life conjoins with my body, melding with and reimagining my visage, blurring my identity. In the process of creating this painting, I debated who I could have been previously. Was I drawn to China because of a memory long forgotten? Or could my interest in, and similarity in style, to a particular artist represent a bond from the past? I do not need an answer, I just need to wonder.
Something in the future you hope to explore?
I have spent a long time living in China, and I would like that be reflected in my work to a greater extent. In the next few months, I plan to attend Art residencies in Beijing, Chongqing and Shanghai with the goal of expanding my understanding of Chinese painting. I will focus on 2 distinct approaches in Chinese painting, known as GongBi (工笔) and XieYi (寫意). I believe through the practice of these traditional Chinese painting techniques, and in the development of my ability to employ these visual languages, they will inevitably and organically seep into my work.