People & Places
BY: FELICITY CARTER
“I WANT MY ARTWORK TO BE INCLUSIVE BECAUSE IT BORROWS AND SHARES FROM EXPERIENCE, ERAS, LOCATIONS AND EVENTS THAT VIEWERS CAN APPRECIATE AND FLESH OUT WITH THEIR OWN LIFE EXPERIENCES AND MEMORIES.” - DF
Dan Ferguson is the London-born, Belfast-based painter who focuses on inclusivity, and perception. The result? A visual language that shares a rich narrative, and artwork that shines a light on all facets of life, from the political, to the romantic, and the surreal. The key element here, is that he invites the viewer to bring along their own memories and perceptions, and apply them to his art. By kick starting this process, he enables the viewer to draw out their own meanings, for artwork that truly resonates. And as his style evolves, he is holding just a little more back, to ramp up the connection, compel the viewer to dive deeper into his work, and to enhance the emotion between piece, painter, and person.
© Dan Ferguson
What is your first memory of art?
I grew up around art. My dad went to and taught at Hornsey College of Art in the ‘60s, and was/is a prolific and amazing painter (never professionally though). Being around art from a young age is like being around those speaking a second language at home. It opens you up to ask more questions and look beyond the surface.
How would you sum up your style?
I try to paint figurative scenes from movies that haven’t yet been shot, advertisements that haven’t been made, stories that haven’t been written. I try to use a visual language that is instantly recognisable, but the narrative is anything between political, historical, romantic, liminal, and surreal. Sometimes all of the above. I definitely try to tell a story in my work, and often the story is blatantly not mine. However, I try to do it justice by enticing a viewer to mix their memories and perceptions with my own.
How do you approach a painting? What mindset do you have to be in?
Making art is the best work, but it is work. There is the rush of excitement when an idea is worth taking forwards, only to be met with the proverbial ‘deep breath’ knowing it will take a while to get to the good bits. If it’s a larger piece, it’s about keeping the image and idea in my head fresh whilst I work my way through building up the structures and layers. If that holds its form in my head and on the canvas through the early stages, then I know it’s going to work out ok. If there is a disconnect in the early stages, the painting never makes it to completion.
© Dan Ferguson
What do you want to communicate via your artwork?
So much of it is about perception. The present is structurally unsound, be it because of how so many variable dogmas choose to frame it politically and ideologically, or how it is affected within the ‘self’ and the social and emotional horizons we bring to a situation when viewing art. As a middle-aged, middle-class, white British male artist, I try to acknowledge my societal and economic privilege by not forcing my sexuality, overtly political opinions, detachment from society and dominance into my work. I’ve never had to struggle to be myself, and my awareness of this grows daily. I want my artwork to be inclusive because it borrows and shares from experience, eras, locations and events that viewers can appreciate and flesh out with their own life experiences and memories.
Tell us about your colour palette and how that plays to your style and communication?
Big colour is of huge importance to me. I really try to appreciate the traditional rules of oil painting in order to know what I am breaking and why. Harmonious chroma is like painting umami, (which is why when it goes wrong it can look literally disgusting, if I’m honest).
When I’m trying to tell a story, or mix memories of my own with other people’s perceptions of the same events, I find that local or natural colour schemes don’t always cut it. And I start to colour by feeling which is risky, but much more fun.
People vs places which do you naturally gravitate to?
The egocentric answer is people. We make the memories and carry them around with us, often whether we like it or not. Cliched as it is, Foucault talked about the “game of invisibility” when looking at Manet’s painting. It became clear to Foucault that Manet was among the first artists to acknowledge the ‘picture-object’ of his paintings. As 21st century viewers, we are pretty accepting that we are looking at a bunch of marks, structured on a surface to create meaning or a message. As to the intentionality of the work, that is the billion dollar question. But people always use their own experience and empathy as a frame of reference, and very often I seem to use people to anchor a piece.
@ Dan Ferguson
You explore social and physical perception, and connection with your artwork - how has lockdown had an impact on that?
I think the lockdown has certainly brought those elements I tend to address further into focus. It is like another prism to view the art via. There is a need or sense of belonging, camaraderie, social and emotional bonding that seems all the more prescient as I make the work. I want to see my friends and family and hug with them.
Has it forced you to look elsewhere for inspiration, or have you dived deeper?
I am incredibly lucky to be in an international group of remarkable artists called Cane-Yo! We formed back in April 2019, have grown into thousands of artists and students communicating, sharing ideas and references, inspiring, critiquing, politicking, counselling and so much more. The group was founded and grown by Milo Hartnoll, Seppe De Meyere, Denis Dalesio, Hillary Butterworth, Alex Wilby, Thomas Golunksi, Mauro Martinez, Chris De La Guardia and myself. We have been able to inspire and motivate each other through the most fallow and challenging periods.
I must also say that Instagram has introduced me to some incredible artists and collectors in the last year. I have formed a great relationship with the incredible Portuguese artist Emmanuel De Souza, and we have weekly live sessions on Instagram that were born out of the lockdown and trying to remain connected with artists from home.
How has your work evolved?
In all honesty, I think in the last year I have focused on, and am learning to how to strip away unnecessary elements in my painting. I was given some very useful advice from the remarkable artist Nicolas Uribe. He basically advised me to withhold some information in my pieces, so as not to provide all of the answers in terms of the content and structure of a piece. Milo Hartnoll often makes similar recommendations when it comes to planes of tone in a face or shirt. So now I spend my time muttering to myself, “how much do I need to say” when I’m making a painting. It is funny, but it’s pretty serious too. Thanks to them for driving me mad.
Anything else that's in the pipeline…
Cane Yo shows. Real shows that you can visit in person, with your body and head. We are looking to publish a book and also zines, but also put on some quite peculiar installations that reflect what we are about. That’s very exciting. Individually, I hope to have a solo show in 2022 and get myself shown in London and the USA. That’s my burning desire now.
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