THE DAN UPSON INTERVIEW
Peter Herbert introduces our Artist of the Month
"Dan Upson has enjoyed an enduring relationship with The Arts Project after he first exhibited in our South Wing Gallery on 30th March 2011 with a solo show called Imaginarium. We recognised an inspired self-taught outsider artist committed to exploring visionary and sometimes disturbing dark art works. The exhibition felt as if it heralded strange elements that would not be out of place in the world of Terry Gilliam and Dan would reveal over time the seeds for the next periods of his work. He has since regularly exhibited with us 11 times in a range of group shows. Our latest exhibition, the Loudest Whispers Summer Show, showcases four of his most recent works. We thought it was time to focus on an extraordinary talent that has blossomed Into a recognisable style with themes and ideas that we explore in our spotlight."
Poster Artwork from original 2011 Exhibition
HOW DID YOU FIRST BECOME INVOLVED WITH THE ARTS PROJECT?
"I first displayed work in a roadside cafe in Romford when an artist cancelled and I was offered the chance to exhibit my work. At this point I never even knew what outsider art was but I was lucky to have my work spotted by the well-known outsider artist Sue Kreitzman, She knew of the work of The Arts Project and recommended me as a new fledgling artist. Both Sue and Peter have encouraged and allowed me to grow and I have never looked back."
ARE THERE CREATIVE SOURCES THAT HAVE INSPIRED YOU AND HOW HAVE THESE HELPED DEVELOP YOUR WORK?
"My earliest memory with art was at primary school. As I was a bit slow in reading and writing (and would constantly look out the window and not pay attention to much that was going on in the classroom) they quickly decided that leaving me at the back of the class to just draw seemed to make everyone happy. I used to steal paper from the stockroom to take home and draw, so that is where I would lay down on the floor of the living room listening to music and drawing while everyone watched the television. Little did I know that this would become a type of meditative pursuit and this personal space would always release me from day-to-day stresses even to this day."
HOW WOULD YOU INTERPRET THEMES IN YOUR WORK?
"I have always seen endless connotations in the human face and just find this so beautiful, fascinating, with the eyes being the windows to the soul which are deeply engaging. I use naked forms a lot in my work because I find the timeless aspect of the face coupled with the human body more rewarding than giving the viewer too many other distractions. I even take out the hair on the head and blur male and female gender to give an extra dimension, as if you can't really grasp on to anything. I have also started using old empty houses as extensions of the human form, locating emptiness and alienation as if they are also a type of shell."
WHAT IS THE WORK OF YOURS THAT IS MOST SPECIAL AND FOR WHAT REASON?
"My most heartfelt work is the piece created in memory of Ben Hell. He always loved the moon and we would have very late night / early morning chats around the full moons. My work conveys the rising of the full moon and Ben's spirit with flowers all around him. Some had fully flowered and others were still in bud. I put a light behind the eyes and mouth to represent the eternal and made the face covered in chalk and ash, symbolising death of their worldly life. I also used a grey background as Ben had a wonderful neutrality. The painting was created deep in grief."
CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THE TECHNIQUE YOU USE THAT APPEARS TO MIX MEDIAS AS IF TO CREATE AN ILLUSION OF ONE MEDIA WHEN IT IS ACTUALLY ANOTHER?
"Yes I love mixed media including sheets of clear acetate to build up the layers of the piece and give the viewer a 3-D effect involving acrylic paint ,spray paints over the original backgrounds. I really have no idea what my pieces are going to turn out like as everything is one-offs and what eventually goes with what. I know when elements do work because they just fit together like cogs. For a painting that I submitted to the National Portrait Gallery I chose this piece that looks like cut up photography, although it isn't actually at all."
CAN YOU TELL US WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT READ YOU HAVE HAD DURING THE PANDEMIC?
"The most inspiring book I have read is 'Autobiography of a Yogi' by Paramahansa Yyogananda. I saw an image of him on a program and just had an uncontrollable urge to find out more about him. I discovered that he had written a book and bought it immediately from eBay. Genuine and deeply heartfelt, it tells the real story of a man who, when young, finds his guru and eventually (after being in an ashram for many years) gets called to go to America. Taking yoga from the east to the west coast through a discipline called kriya yoga he meets saints and sages on his way. An amazing illuminating book."
WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN CREATING DURING THE LOCKDOWN?
"With not seeing people I became fascinated by empty houses in my art because of the relationship we have with homes and our bodies. They often correlate and this fascinates me. For the Loudest Whispers Summer Show I am displaying one of these new works."
Thanks Dan for sharing with us some of the ideas, techniques and sources of your inspiration. We are pleased to include an image of Tracey Barnes and the pleasure your artwork provides...
"Dan’s work made me feel provoked with emotions when I first gazed on this particular piece. I couldn’t take my eyes off it and kept going back to it when it was exhibited in an exhibition at St. Pancras, 5 years ago. As I stood staring into the eyes of the person in the painting I felt that I was looking into their soul, the colours that swished around their head were almost halo-like that I felt changed in different lights, a little like moods. It had a calming effect yet I could feel there was a hidden depth to it.
I have kept a close eye on Dan’s work through the years and he remains one of my favourite artists, humble about his talents yet I long for success for him because his artworks are truly good for the soul."
You can follow Dan Upson on:
You can also see Dan's work in our current Loudest Whispers online gallery
The Summer Exhibition at St Pancras Gallery, 4 St Pancras Way, NW1 0PE
Monday - Friday, 9am - 5pm
Dan, thank you for being our Artist of the Month.