About real reality, fake reality, and divergence points
When you first notice one of the abstract photographs by Dan Bernard, your mind goes from recognizing the familiar to realizing that it is now something else, or something in addition to what it is. bd dombrowsky’s paintings draw you in with cheerful colors and images that evoke an expectation of what you will see but once you’re close, you have to realize that what you see is a snarky reality, a caricature of what you were expecting. This month’s featured artists are experts in playing with reality, and in tricking the mind of the observer to create something new.
Here is how bd describes his art: “I think of my work as allegory painting. I like to tell stories. I want to create the essence of a story that is open so a person can bring their own part of the narrative to it.” The viewer is essential to the story that is about to be created. “My work is like a carnivorous flower. You get pulled in from a distance by friendly colors and images, and once you are there, it’s too late, you’ve seen it.” For example, you might think of it as a religious painting but then from close up, it is a snarky social commentary.
For Dan, “abstract is an image that makes you ask what is that? It is often something that cannot be identified. It’s a detail of a texture, or something ordinary taken out of context. It becomes interpretive, and very personal. It becomes much more than any other photography because it is selective. I select a piece of something that intrigues, isolate a part and create a world onto itself. The process of abstracting allows each viewer to project their own interpretation onto the image.” Omitting color enhances this effect. “Black and white images always fascinated me because it is not a literal interpretation of life. Rather a more interpretive visualization that allows me as the photographer to manipulate it, interpret it, to put my own fingerprint on it.”
The particular use of the medium
Dan’s focus is on landscape, street, and abstract photography. His contributions to the July exhibition are mostly photographs he took on a recent visit to Zion National Park.”I felt like I was in my temple,” says Dan. “Such a spiritually moving environment. The quiet but visually and geologically dynamic elements of the landscape are mind-boggling. You are sitting there and see over geologic time. You notice the earth-shaking things that have taken place.” Looking at elements that got pushed up by seismic or volcanic activity but are now frozen in time is an experience that he describes as “dramatic and magical.”
In order to capture a great street scene, “one has to capture ‘the decisive moment’ as Henri Cartier-Bresson put it." That is when movement, people, contrasts converge to create a fascinating/interesting moment to observe. “I am greatly influenced by him,” says Dan. Doing street photography is similar to “hunting”, because one has to “blend in with the landscape, be invisible, to catch that convergence.“
bd works in oil on panel. “Panel makes a solid substrate that I can prime and sand to a smooth state. That then allows me to draw cleaner lines and push out paint as far as I want. I use a “classical method” creating a monochromatic underpainting in umber tones and then apply layers of glaze over that. With the brown underlying, the use of thin oil paint, and glazing, I allow light to go through the layers of paint to the panel and come back up.” He sums up his style as “illustrative, with a pinch of surreal.”
When asked about his style, Dan describes it as “moody, dramatic, revealing, particular.” His goal is “to push past, break through the limits of what my style has been in the past; to surpass, exceed my style as I develop a new facet of it.” A great example are the new abstract images that he has developed for this exhibition, adding double exposure to his repertoire of tricks.
“Standing on the shoulders of giants”
This thought by Isaac Newton is very much applicable when talking about who influenced this month’s artists.
bd mentions Rene Magritte, Yves Tanguy, Ron English, Edouard Manet and Caravaggio. He also loves Salvador Dali’s paintings but his “personality annoys me.” From Magritte, it’s “the non-sequitur quality of his surrealism. Taking things completely out of context.” Tanguy has this “ability to create the impression of a story or that some things look like they are real but are not. He plants seeds of things that look like real things but don't exist.” Caravaggio is an “amazing painter. His application was so gorgeous. He put religious themes in (at the time) contemporary images that allows people to connect on a very visceral level.”
Other than the Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dan is greatly influenced by Ansel Adams’ landscape photography. “I learned about photo-chemistry from Ansel Adams. His books “The Negative”, “The Print” -- I read and reread those multiple times. I was obsessed. That is how I learned how to develop film and control the medium.”
For Dan’s abstract photography, he looks to the work of Edward Weston. One of Weston’s great achievements is taking the ordinary and making it remarkable. Abstract pictures of bell peppers. Or, taken straight on, a close-up of the toilet bowl making it appear very sensual with its curves and white porcelain. Another influencer is Andre Kertesz, a Hungarian-born photographer who is now considered one of the seminal figures in his field.
The creative process
bd works on several paintings at the same time. “I have them around the house and stare at them. Meditate.” That is his way of trying to find out where a painting “needs to go”. It’s a “slow, transactional process.” The most fun for bd is actually painting. It evokes memories of coloring. “Drawing is like riding a bike uphill. A challenge every stinking time. Painting is the fun part, riding downhill.”
For Dan, it is “when I share my work with others and find that they are moved or inspired by what I created.” He describes that feeling as “exhilarating and addictive” and likens the making of art to an addiction. “The longer I am not doing it, the less meaning my life has. And as I re-engage to create, my sense of purpose grows. Sharing is the peak — emotionally and spiritually. When the moment is past, the process restarts.” While he is always his first critic, he also posts frequently on Instagram and judges from the reaction of his many followers how well-liked a photograph is.
Dan hopes to “evoke in others the feelings that I experience when I see art and hear music: Exhilaration. Hopefulness. I want to inspire them, perhaps to create their own art. I dream that my creations will leave an indelible impression or memory, just like the art and music that I admire”. For bd, creating divergence is central to his art. “How things start out from one point and go different directions.” At times, he takes an old painting of his and recreates it, adding another layer of abstraction. “It’s now not only divergent from a story but also from itself. It’s double divergent.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that both feel deeply about art. Art for bd “is my entertainment, my therapy, and my job.” Adds Dan, “After family, it is the main organizing principle of my existence.”
Advice to budding artists
“Create. Create. Create. Art. Art. Art.” is how Dan sums it up. bd is as black and white in his view: “Dive in or quit. Only do it if you can’t not do it.”
Both Dan and bd are experienced artists. bd has exhibited his paintings all over San Diego and Southern California, has participated in solo and group shows in many cities and also shows in places like restaurants and coffee shops. He is also a regular at the Portland Saturday Market. Dan, in addition to being a photographer, is also a musician in his own right. If you’re lucky, you can catch him performing at the Gallery, most notably during his and bd’s Last Thursday opening reception in June.