Artist Interview: Daniel Graham
I met Daniel while we both attended college at the University of Florida. Daniel was a Printmaking Major a few years ahead of me, and even then, his artwork was full of promise and talent. You could always count on Dan to be working hard in the studio long after his classes were over, and he was always willing to lend a helping hand to anyone who needed assistance. He graduated in 2002 and went on to get his master's degree at the Lamar Dodd School of Art at The University of Georgia, Athens. Passionate and dedicated to his art, Daniel currently brings his creative energy to his students and his studio practice while working as an Assistant Professor Of Art for Sculpture and Printmaking at Georgetown College in Georgetown, KY. Daniel now has two adorable kids with his wife Holly, and his family is often a source of creative energy and inspiration. Read about how storytelling plays into his creative work as well as his interactions with his kids, learn how to hand cut differential gear, and hear Daniel's insightful advice to those of us who are just starting out on a artistic path. If you'd like to learn more about Daniel and his work, please visit him online at jdgraham.net.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.
I am an Art Professor of Printmaking and Sculpture at Georgetown College in Kentucky. I grew up in a military family and moved around my whole life, so change is something that feels a bit like home. I also have the gift of a ADHD sample pack in my DNA so that has helped me greatly in my profession (most days). I grew up in a home filled with making and fixing things. My mother was a teacher, basket maker, craftswoman, and stay at home mom. While my dad was a man who taught me how to try and fix anything, and how to get blisters on my hands and dirt on my nice clothes. In my current studio practice I am combining traditional and non traditional woodworking with a variety of printmaking techniques to create comparative dialog based works.
How do you express yourself creatively?
I play hide and seek with my daughter and create chasing and wrestling games with her in the evenings. I also love story telling and injury stories. I think a lot of expression comes from conversation around creative works rather than the creation process. The creation seems, more often than not, to be documentation unless the dialog of creation and material is a major component of the work.
Where do you find your inspiration?
My inspiration comes from actively listening. It can be listening to an atmosphere before the sun comes up. It can be laughing with my wife as she impersonates Bill Cosby (that will inspire anyone). I am often inspired by history as well. Not only a life of different images but also of an ethic of creative objects that has been lost in our current culture. So inventions and the history behind everyday objects becomes inspirational but you have to be willing to listen to what these objects tell you to be able to use what they offer.
In your opinion, what is the difference between art and craft?
This is a complicated issue since after my BFA in Printmaking (a traditional craft/skill of sorts) and before my MFA in Printmaking I did an apprenticeship in woodworking and furniture making. So for me it all comes down to intention and usage. I think art can be craft and I most definitely think craft can be art. I also am a big believer in the AN word so I think painting, printmaking, drawing is AN art but whether it is art or not is a different debate.
One of Daniel's woodworking and furniture making projects, "Furrowed Brow."
What are some of your creative goals and aspirations for the future?
I really want to explore a large body of work dealing with experimental and challenging forms of printmaking. Right now I am printing on the heads of sewing pins which has been super fun. I am also looking at producing a series of instructional videos on Print and Sculptural practices. So after that I really don’t know if I have any creative goals other than not to become static or to stable. Some of my favorite artists are the ones where I see something I like in the gallery and realize that is someone I am really familiar with but did not recognize their work. One example I love is Tim Hawkinson, that guy is brilliant and does sculpture, drawing, installation, machine making, just great work, and so diverse.
See one of Daniel's demo videos here:
See some of Daniel's hand cut gears with lithographs in action here:
What do you consider to be bad art? What is good art?
That is a question that I get often and I think there are many levels of engagement to this idea. For me some pieces I thought were bad years (or even days) ago are now some of my favorites, and vice versa. But I think for me the better questions is what makes artists make bad art or good art. Otherwise the question is what makes a bad artist or good artist since they are indicative of their production. Also most things that I think are bad art I really don’t consider art. But I think the answer I would give is, art that doesn’t show growth. I often look at works that don’t challenge me or most likely the artist, that is what I think is bad art. Also on a personal bias, things that are painted or drawn with extreme rendering skill often times get pushed to the top of peoples lists of “that is good” but for me it usually drops to the bottom. Anyone can do that with time and practice. I respect the skill but often that skill eclipses the art beneath.
What completed creative project are you most proud of in your life so far?
1. My family (had some real help on that one), 2. In terms of creative practice I really don’t know, either the New Albany Public Art Bicentennial Installation or a couple of traveling shows I have been apart of.
Daniel's daughter, Olive, has her first art show:
Daniel's New Albany Public Art Bicentennial Installation, "Like Strings and cans through walls," in the Winter.
Name a few creative individuals you admire and explain why.
My mom because she is amazing and taught me craft and how to think unlike other people. I still call her to brainstorm ideas sometimes. The professors I had in school (mainly Bob Mueller and Carmon Collangelo) still have an effect on me, I often times hear them in my head while I am teaching or making things. But here is my “short list” of people that I admire or inspire me. All pretty much for the same reasons, either they excite my artistic guts or they challenge me, or both. Ann Hamilton, Arthur Ganson, Ron Mueck, Elizabeth King, Chris Burden, Rebecca Horn, Janine Antoni, Melanie Bilenker (that girl is insanely amazing just in terms of her patience and eyesight), Erica Duffy-Voss, Willy Verginer, Dalton Ghetti, Do Ho Suh, Gehard Demetz, and Xoil Loic. (I think I could talk forever about artists, there are just so many amazing things being made today)
What are some of your current obsessions? (Art, craft, musical, or completely random.)
Wood veneer, Chocolate milk and Cheeze its (great balance of salty and sweet), cleaning my office (a life long endeavor), and making my daughter laugh till she can't breath. Music I have really been into a single track by Entertainment for the Braindead entitled “Sleep” I could listen to that thing on repeat for hours while I work. It is going to be the trailer track for the videos I am working on.
Do you collect anything?
I collect antique typewriters, beetles, outside of that I would say I gather rather than collect because I end up gaining a lot of things with the best intentions of memory or use, and they end up becoming things are just there.
Recommend some inspiring books/websites/music/movies to us...
I hate but love sites like notcot.org and twistedsifter.com and 8tracks.com. They are like rabbit holes but fantastic. In terms of music, recently I have been mainly playing Pinkie, The Apache Relay, John Mark McMillan, Entertainment for the Braindead, Civil Wars, Daylight Worship, A Fine Frenzy, and cracking open some dusty cases like The Innocence Mission or Johnny Cash. Movies I would always go back to Memento, Alice (by Jan Švankmajer), The Fantastic Mister Fox, and Shawn of the Dead. Just like books I think a music list could be an interview in and of itself. One of the best books I would say would have to be Hinds feet On High Places that and The song I knew by heart. There are so many good books thought I think I would really have to chew on that one for a while.
Do you have any advice you could offer to someone who wants to start expressing themselves creatively but doesn't know where to begin?
Stop thinking and start making. Try hard and fail harder. The most import thing to do is attack your work as if you were in a tickle fight that turned into a real one. It should make you nervous and excited at the same time. Get feedback and move forward don’t try and over labor something your time is much better spent making more than dwelling on something for too long. Care about your craft, more than your audience, (if you are your audience then this can be complicated). Some of the best advice I have ever heard was from a talk by Chuck Close and he said “problem solving is way overrated, problem creation is much more important”. If you don’t know where to start you already have your first assignment so in a way you do know how to start, you need to experiment with everything to find a veil you want to unravel. You are also in a great position because people that “know” what they are doing have rules ingrained in them, but the only people that advance a medium are the ones that don’ t know what they are doing since they have no rules to guide them.
Here are some in progress photos of a piece called "Lucifers" that Daniel has recently completed. The little pieces of tracing paper are markers for the pins with printed letters on them.