David A. French
AFA: With well over 60 exhibitions, including at least 15 solo exhibitions, and notable public works, where do you get the drive for your achievements?
David French: The drive comes from numerous places, and at different times. The moments of awareness and discoveries that happen in the studio where I am rewarded with results are most notable and drive me on to make more. I am a cancer survivor. That experience changed me forever and lit a fire. The overarching drive is existential in nature I assume. I.e. I am not infinite. I will die. I was here. I share this with you. Painting is a location for my /our humanity and our shared histories and feelings. The drive also comes from empirical, formal explorations and curiosities.
These things motivate me more than say achieving a significant exhibition or placing artwork with an important collector. Those professional achievements are fantastic moments in and of themselves. They occur after periods of hard work, I am happy when they occur and are very important and should be celebrated. I work hard towards those kinds of goals and there is a certain amount of success that drives me on. While I am motivated to work towards goals of both, bodies of works or certain exhibitions in the future, it is in my studio where the majority of the drive and inspiration comes from.
AFA: The art is beautiful and contains a raw energy of streaks, giving these compositions a life of their own. Explain to the reader where this instinctive nature comes from.
David French: I believe my work draws strength from allowing myself to be taken in unforeseen directions by my interaction with materials and surface. Instead of crafting the materials to my will, I set up conditions where certain events might take place, or are more likely to take place. This collaborative approach to the materials yields dynamic surfaces that truly do have a life of their own. The streaks are a result of me wanting to create space and compositions fairly quickly over large areas, using tools like large house brushes, knives, sticks, boards, spray-paint etc. Working in a spontaneous and improvisational manner, I attempt to capture particular moments in time. There are areas in my painting that in order to achieve certain qualities I must step out of my head, not think, feel, and let my body do the work. I seek a balance of critical thinking and raw physical interaction. When I over think a painting it becomes dry and seemingly uninspired. Conversely when I am overly gestural the work seems out of control and uninformed. Surfaces come alive when I achieve a certain amount of balance between these two things.
Thank you for calling my work beautiful.
AFA; Your art can be quite large, what are the relationships between size and the scope of your work?
David French: These are two very different but not totally unrelated things. My large work is large because those particular art works need to be that scale to function in a certain way. Conversely smaller works need their particular scale. One aspect of my paintings function comes from their physical relation to a viewer. When one experiences a large scale work, they are enveloped or enter the work. They experience something larger than themselves. This obviously has a very different effect on a viewer than say a small piece, where the viewer approaches the work. Smaller works have a less imposing presence in relation to a viewer and the space they are installed in. Generally one stands physically closer to a smaller scale piece. It’s a different kind of communication, a different kind of perception, a different kind of intimacy with a viewer. Often my larger scaled works are compositionally simpler than the smaller ones.
AFA: Colors and brushwork are key components to your work, how do you make your color schematic choices and what are your aims with your brushwork?
David French: Color and brushwork are vital to my work. In my Triad color painting series I am most interested in staging a celebratory and investigative relationship between the essential parts of Painting and me the artist, agent. The essential painters’ toolbox consists of the flat surface, red, yellow, blue and white. I think of my interaction with these basic materials as a collaborator. I equate my action to those tool box components, everything contributes proportionally. This unit approach to making an image produces “pure” color surfaces that are always divisible and changeable. If you see green for example, it exists because it is the product of my action of mixing blue and yellow on the surface. The effort in blending yellow and blue, making green, together with its obvious optical chemistry becomes the content of the work. The pallet is skipped in these works, in an effort to work more directly with the essential materials.
In my Liquid Night series, color choices are arrived upon in a very different way. They have not been given to me, by the “Institution of Painting”, but are highly selected. Hot pink, aluminum, black are selected more for autobiographical reasons. These works tend to be more personal, emotional and less theoretical in regards to color and brushwork.
My Monochromes painting series focuses on one single color in isolation. This reduction shifts attention to not only the pure saturation and graphic effect of a single color but the texture and brushwork that support that color.
In all these different groups of paintings, the brush work supports color in its creation, and in its presentation. Brushwork is often used as an indicator or register of illusionistic depth. Brushwork can also be utilized to create texture, pattern and register my facile human hand. You can see my “artistic” touch most in the brushwork. In order to accentuate that brushwork as human touch I often set it in contrast with more mechanical paint applications, like spray paint or squeegee for instance.
AFA: If your paintings could tell a story, what would it be?
David French: I am searching for the best way forward in a beautiful and fluid foreign surrounding. Things occurred, are still occurring, and have yet to occur. I think of my work in relation to this phenomenon. We can only perceive a small slice of what is happening around us. My work appears to have been frozen in time, coming from somewhere, maybe just out of the picture plane and about to move forward past that moment. The work draws strength from this juxtaposition. I hope that the experience in viewing my artwork will revolve around this particular sense of heightened awareness.
If my painting could tell a story, the story would obviously not be a liner narrative. Unless you can consider somehow having read an entire story, or seeing a movie compressed into a single moment in reverse. The painters’ greatest gifts are that of slowing down moments. Compressing what may have taken a long period to create and essentially serving it all up in a moment. In my painting you see dramatic events in reverse. You see on the surface, the ending moments of a painting, the actual beginning or first part of a painting is seen as the furthest back and often buried in an image. You’re looking at the final scene of a personal struggle or exploration.
AFA: What is the social contexts of these vibrantly colored, kinetic, contemporary painting?
David French: That's a very good question. There are many other forms of artwork that registers the social in a more obvious ways. Abstract art or non-objective art has been accused of being exclusive or only for the educated consumer, cold, hard and distant, reductive, utopian even. However I don’t believe that is true anymore.
I am very interested in how my work functions socially. I am always seeking to have greater reciprocity. Contextualizing abstraction in regards to the social can happen in a number of ways. Most obviously in my experience is how it functions in its final location. Being over someone’s couch or in a corporate lobby isn’t a bad thing. Individuals and their lives can be affected by the artwork they surround themselves with. I’m honored when people design a room around one of my paintings and when a corporation selects my artwork to activate a space. Positively affecting the people and architecture that interact with my work are all great social forums for the work to act upon. The work has agency long after I created it.
In terms of contextualizing the work itself to the social, I bring outside references to my work in order to open the work to the social. I often point directly to familiar source material. I’ve made a painting about a masterpiece painting that hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. I’ve made work about alcoholic drinks I enjoy. I explore my impressions of David Bowie’s song “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust”. The social can be registered with a title, like “My Grandmother Doesn’t Wrestle But You Should See Her Box”. I use metallic pigments in my Nights Liquid series where I consider Cisplatin, the primary type of chemotherapy I received. Cisplatin is a Platinum based drug, invented by mistake in 1975 by Barnett Rosenberg at the National Cancer Institute. Luckily for me and others, Cisplatin the first of all the chemo drugs, provided a second chance, despite the drugs damaging effects. A metallic poison as giver of life and second chances interest me in these artworks. Using metallic paints are not only for an autobiographical reason, but as a physical and literal way to include the environment and context in which the work is displayed, within the work itself. They are slightly interactive in the sense that when viewed, one experiences shifting and reflective light. This physical property of reflection can change with a viewer’s perspective as well as the environments changing ambient light. In these works if you’re standing in from of them with a bright color shirt for example, you may see that color reflected on the surface. In that sense these works become socially interactive.
I am also offering a shared experience. My visual explorations, my agency, my mistakes can be re-experienced when traced by the eyes of viewers. You can see my touch and visually re-experience the act in my painting. In this sense they are social as well. Because everyone brings something different to the artworks reading, they are never truly finished until viewed. I make hits or suggestions but it is the audience that completes the work. Abstraction draws strength from this social ambiguity.