Quick Draw Artist Interview #26: Carla Danes

Quick Draw Artist Interviews are a series of interviews conducted by Otino Corsano using Facebook's IM Chat feature. Spontaneous conversations with international artists are recorded and documented specifically for publication on this blog.

Quick: home. Then there was the time everyone agreed to meet at the restaurant afterwards. I showed up to find you waiting outside just as perplexed. No one was inside so we carried on. On our own. The first was no longer touring yet if the second was was in town it could be planned. Across the movie theatre isle; walking in as it dimmed. Same name; two locations. You kept your word. Draw: art about art.

Carla Danes (b. New Jersey) received a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, both an AAS at Fashion Institute of Technology, New York and a MS in Early Childhood Education at Hunter College, SUNY, New York, and completed her MFA at Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, in 2002. Exhibitions include “Bloomin Coral” in the group show “Story of O” at Ben Maltz Gallery, Otis College of Art and Design and in the lobby of the Torrance Art Museum (2010/2011). “Doin It” was an installation of a 100 small pieces at Kruglak Gallery, Oceanside, CA (2009). Her solo exhibition titled “Tabletop Jungle” was featured at The New Chinatown Barbershop. Among numerous experiences, she is a volunteer at Santa Monica College in the Etching Studio and is a member of the Los Angeles Printmaking Society.
Carla currently lives and maintains a studio with her husband Christopher in Venice, California.

All work by Carla Danes unless otherwise noted.

Chat Conversation Start


Hi Carla!

Hi! My friend is leaving now!

No rush. I'm here.

"Border", 2012, Monoprint, 17 3/4 x 12 inches

We are alone. Everyone’s gone!
Okay! Lets go!

Wasn't it funny when you told me you share a studio with Chris in Venice
and then I asked, "Chris Rowland?"

Chris Rowland
Yeah! He is my friend on FB and has a baby now! I have always liked him. Like me, when the three of us where in grad school together at Otis, he was always swimming against the tide (but was quieter than me).

Chris Rowland with his new baby

Then I remembered your husband "Chris" is a photographer.

Do you inspire each other’s work or are your practices unique since they operate in distinct media?

"Sequoia River", Christopher Danes,  2008, Archival pigment print on rag paper, 22 x 22 inches

Absolutely! We are a team! We met at RISD when I was 18, so we have grown up together and most everything is intertwined in some way, even though we are very different. The work is different too, though I guess you could say we both think about nature and beauty and color.

We live in a tiny cottage and built two studios in the backyard with a breezeway connecting them. We share a bathroom, a storage room and even an outdoor shower, but inside, the studios are like two different little worlds.
We spent all our "retirement money” on them. Worth every bit of it!
Chris was a contractor in NYC for twenty-five years, and then a computer consultant, so he helps me with tools and with the computer. I give him crits but he won’t let me clean his studio.

Wondering if we can begin by talking about your early days as an artist?


 "Snapshots from the Refrigerator" Installation for "Aqua", 2005, Talento Arté Visual, Mexico City

I imagine like me you always considered yourself an artist
even at a young age
~ true?

Yes. First I wanted to be a cowgirl, then a veterinarian, and then it was always "artist” after fourth grade.
Our daughter Claire decided to be an actress at eight years old as well.

I was a painter. However, my father said if I was going for a BA I had to have a teaching degree. I taught elementary school art in public schools in Providence, Rhode Island for a year. Then we were VISTA Volunteers to keep Chris away from Vietnam Nam. “Volunteers in Service to America” was part of President Johnston’s, “War On Poverty”; kind of like an American Peace Corps. We lived and worked with black people as community organizers in North Carolina and learned about being poor and what power (or the lack of it) was, and I finally grew up.

"Tabletop Jungle", 2006

I'm hoping you can take me on a quick tour of your academic experiences since you studied at some key art centers.

What was RISD like at the time: Its cultural, political environment?
RISD was wonderful! I didn’t feel “different”!
Freshman year was exhausting. We worked night and day. I would take a nap around 9:30 PM but I had to get up again in the middle of the night when most everyone else was asleep in order to finish the assignments. I gained 20 pounds by Thanksgiving from stopping exercise and eating candy bars from the machines in the dorm. It was a new “modern” building with no windows in the workroom (!?) and I remember horrible florescent lights. Also, I had been taught to eat everything on my plate. In those days, salads bars didn't exist and they dished out a lot of carbohydrates in the refectory. The last two years, we all lived off campus in pre WW1 wooden buildings, which was really fun.

"Falling Shapes and Confetti" 2012, Monoprint, 17 3/4 x 12 inches

RISD was New England in every way. 
We had an excellent visual education but it was a bit behind the taste of the times. There were no people of color there then. I had only one female teacher, who taught “Nature Drawing”, a one-credit course in Freshman Foundation. We made renderings from an ancient library of natural objects and dead stuffed animals. It was like being inside a Renaissance “Closet of Curiosities”. Come to think of it, it was a little like my studio is now, only with different stuff. Besides two years of art history, we took “2D” and “3D”. We also took “Projection Drawing”, which I almost flunked, and “Lettering”. Even Architectural students drew from the model for two years. My husband studied black and white photography with Harry Callahan in the new Photo Department. There was no film department then.

There were a lot of prep school Yankees. There were also sophisticated beat types up from NYC. And naive kids like me. If we had talent, everyone was okay.  Some of our teachers also taught at Yale, which was not far away. There were no hippies when I arrived in 1963 but most of us were hippies when we left. Most of us dressed alike and looked shabbily the same. We all had long, healthy, uncolored hair.

"Veteran's Day", 2011, Monoprint, 14 x 17 1/2 inches

I was born the year WW2 ended; there had always been change. 
The Beatles came to America when I was a freshman. President Kennedy was shot in November of my sophomore year. In the spring of my junior year, we had the first brownout, which took out the electricity on most of the East Coast. We all thought it might be a Soviet bomb since that was the biggest public fear.  When we were kids, before Jonas Salk invented the vaccine in 1952, it was fear of polio every summer. We had the run of the neighborhood, though. Planned Parenthood and birth control became public, and Dr. King spoke during the March on Washington when I was in college. And then he was shot.

I hope my memory is correct; I remember you mentioning you lived in Greenwich Village for a time? Was this around the time you studied at FIT/SUNY for Textile Design?

"Untitled", 2012, Monoprint

Yes, but we lived just south of The Village, in SoHo. It was still an industrial area and it was illegal to live in most of the old cast iron buildings when we moved into our first raw loft on The Bowery. Artists were living in SoHo then, but there was nothing to buy. Galleries and a couple of restaurants came first. We had to go south, to Chinatown for the nearest pharmacy and to Little Italy to buy food. It’s all about buying now.

"Betty Crocker DNA", 2009, Small sculptures in an installation, 72 x 120 x 72 inches

I’m wondering how your academic experience in a variety of fields informs your current work. You have described your sculptural work residing in a zone related to teaching art to young kids as well as being a homemaker...

"Betty Crocker DNA", 2009, Detail (Installation includes over 100 small sculptures)

This is so true! I was a suburban baby in communities totally made up of white people. Just before my family moved from a suburban Boston area where we had lived since I was five, back to a suburban New York area when I was 15, the first mall EVER was built near our new home in Paramus, NJ. Even though my parents weren’t materialists, I was taught all my life about taste and manners and consumerism. This was pre-feminism, of course.

"Three Black Flowers and Fringe", 2012, Monoprints, 19 3/4 x 9 inches

After VISTA and a five-month motorcycle/camping trip through Europe, using money Chris and I had saved in NC, we moved to NYC. I waitressed and went to FIT where I studied textile design before working in the garment center for ten years. This is where I learned about what decoration was really about.

What is decoration really about Carla?

Decoration is about embellishment and enhancement. Decoration is much more personal for the maker than for creators of fashion, who have to project into the near future in order to sell the newest thing. Although they are similar, unlike decoration, fashion talks about current politics. It’s no accident that people have been choosing black clothes to wear forEVER. Americans have been at war, non-stop, for over 12 years now and we have a worldwide depression going on.

"Circus Coral", 2008, 72 x 20 inches

So I imagine your time spent studying later at Hunter College at SUNY in the field of Early Childhood Education informs the work. Has working with young kids helped you navigate the art world more effectively?

Sincerely, in my view, there is a sense of idealistic creation found in the forms, as well as innocence and hope.

"Circus Coral", 2008, Detail (Liquid wood putty, foam insulation spray paint, plastic net,
 hair clips, dish scrubbers, lampshade, jump ropes and Sonotube)

Well, about kids, I was the oldest of five children.  Four years after I was born, my Mom and Dad had four more children in the span of five years, so I was my Mom’s assistant. I always babysat, even in college.

I worked on getting my MS at Hunter for the first four years that I ran my (fancy) toddler school in SoHo. We were raising our own two kids in the same loft space. The school really just reinforced a lot of what I already knew in my bones. I value children more than anything else, I think. Besides, I know how to talk to them and they make me laugh as I learn from them.

"Betty Crocker DNA", 2009, Detail (Each of the 100 small sculptures are made from 3 or 4 found 
household objects and common materials that have been manipulated and glued together.)

You moved on to SVA in the late 80's and even studied at Art Student’s League in the early nineties. Was the decorative always a part of your work even then?

I had really been away from making visual art for the four years it took to finish my MS in ED and hadn’t made any fine art for 15 years, so It seemed like I had to start from the beginning again. It was very difficult. I had been looking at contemporary art for years in SoHo and taking care of the children of some famous working artists. I didn’t think I could ever catch up. I took classes at night after work. At first, I painted from the model. I made still lives and took my oils and drawing pad outside. Figuring out space outdoors is a lot harder than playing with space on the picture plane! Still, figuring out what to make is the hardest of all. At least I could paint by myself without a class when I was chaperoning Claire on sets for four years even though there was little time for it. And by 1994 I was starting to paint some ideas.

I guess to bring us up to the present I was hoping you could help me understand a topic that may or may not be key to your practice?

Can we talk about Feminism?

 "Snapshots from the Refrigerator", 2005

Yes. I was a feminist before I knew what it was. I was the fastest runner in my class and I didn't understand what happened in Sixth Grade when the boys started to win the races.

I remember when we were at Otis and I think it was Tone O. Nielsen or Stephanie Allespach who invited me to a new Feminist group she had started.

Tone Olaf Nielsen

Stephanie Allespach

To be honest, I was both honored and very scared at the same time.
And I remember the first meeting was soooo tense!

I always talk about the female experience from a female point of view. I really like women!

For instance, I learned all kinds of craft and practical things as a Girl Scout.  My family sailed, which is an activity that defiantly favored men, so I became a "Mariner Scout” where girls could race and participate fully. I was a Girl Scout even in high school when it was way uncool.

Why are women artists so mean to each other sometimes?

Like within the art ‘boy's club’ there are generally set rules and even in conflict there is a mutually respected bravado. Yet to me it seems this support system could be stronger within art and feminism together.

Are women scary? In Junior High girls were scary for my daughter but I was head cheerleader when I was in Junior high (I didn't know or care about the rules of football) and I had fun. I had terrible grades. I guess it depends on perspective.

"Aqua", 2005

Am I totally wrong for commenting given the fact I can never describe my view from a female perspective?

Absolutely not! You are a man, that’s who you are, and besides, we need everyone to understand everybody. We all need to talk about everything. 

"Aqua", 2005

Partly because women are trained to be home and family oriented, even if we go on to higher education, most of us tend to identify with a small unit of people and not with the greater world. When I was a traveling art teacher in the late 1960s, the grade school teachers had completely different environments in their individual classrooms. They did their work alone, behind closed doors, like homemakers have always done.

In the staff room they never shared what they knew with me, a new teacher with five schools to visit. Sad, but we compete privately: who has the prettiest home, who is a better cook, who knows how to do whatever....

I haven’t found as much competition with woman I know in the arts, as I have in other areas.

This is nice to hear.

Still I cannot help to see your work as having a sensibility progressing feminist discourses within new forms...like environmental concerns - through the use of recycled materials.
And in the way you are able to so poignantly incorporate these original found materials into new landscapes beyond the context of your source objects.

"After the Tsunami 3", 2012 (Detail)

I use stuff around me because it is practical and women have always done that.
I think about craft because women have always been allowed to make craft things. I make things decorative because women have been "in charge of that" in their homes. They also attract men by decorating themselves (and also to compete and share the fun of decoration with other woman).

Decoration is related to fashion but it is not the same thing. Humans have always decorated themselves and their (caves?). Men love it too, but in Western society, we get to dominate.

"Tabletop Jungle", 2006

Your work reminds me a little of Jacci Den Hartog's sculptures and then there is the rich and continual resurgence of the decorative within the LA scene led by pioneers such as Lari Pittman. Do you locate your art practice to this Los Angeles community tradition and now?

"Passing a Pleasant Summer III", © Jacci Den Hartog 1998, polyurethane and steel
Gift of the Alberta duPont Bonsal Foundation

© Lari Pittman @ Regen Projects 

There is also Jennifer Murphy in Toronto and Jesse Harrod in Chicago who make amazing works bridging 'painting' (the wall) and sculpture (the real space of the gallery).

"Monkey's Recovery", Jennifer Murphy, 2012, Dried pansies, dried bougainvillea, metal shoeheel 

"Monkey's Recovery", Jennifer Murphy, 2012, Thistles, shell, ceramic, Photos: Josh Thorpe

"Untitled", Jesse Harrod, 2011, Fabric, wood, paint, sequins

Of course I am aware of it, and I respond to the decorative in other artists work; However, for me, it comes from being a textile designer for ten years. I love pattern and texture as well as color.

I had too much academic history affecting my painting when I started back as a fine artist in my late forties. I think I “came off the wall’ in reaction to that. I needed to think in a new way to free myself of old habits. It was more fun and exciting to work in new mediums and get away from the rectangle of paper and canvas.

Do the sculptures in your series "After the Tsunami" actually incorporate materials found after a tsunami or is the link more metaphorical?

Maybe you could describe one work specifically for me (actually my favorite)
"After the Tsunami 4" so I can understand how it is constructed and your thoughts on your expression?

"After the Tsunami 4", 2012

We found some great stuff last spring at an unofficial rifle range in the mountains, north of Santa Barbara. There were plastic compound buckets and microwave ovens and propane tanks all shot up with lacy holes, as well as shotgun shells and cartridges scattered around that we collected. But I had already made a couple of the Tsunami pieces before that.

Although I start with a germ of an idea, the first part of my process is intuitive, so I make a big mess pouring different materials out onto the table. Then I fuss with things to figure out what I will use. It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle. If I have two or three parts I want to use, the rest comes along as I work.

For “Tsunami 4”, I used fishes’ maw I bought from Chinatown in SF a couple of years ago. I thought the fat twisty shapes with strange texture were amazing. I had already painted big smooth palm tree seed pods red that I had glued together as the substrate to go with the red shotgun cartridges I wanted to glue onto them as if they were “growing” there like little weeds. I liked having the organic shapes of the pods painted shiny plastic-colored red to confuse the viewer a little about the materials I was using.

The “After the Tsunami” series is obviously mostly about the environment.
It’s also about war and the calamity we humans are capable of bringing onto ourselves because we live in the minute and are often greedy.

As I work, I am imagining what the world might look like if nature and our manmade STUFF got all tangled up together after a terrible war or from the effects of Global Warming. Would it get all mixed up and look like a big stew?
Chris and I went to New Orleans to rebuild houses after Hurricane Katrina and saw what flooding can do. After a calamity like that, our manmade stuff looks pretty pathetic.

When I was at RISD we were at the tail end of abstract expressionism and the idea of "chance" was very interesting then. Ab Ex was also about movement and gesture. Water, wind and the sea are all about movement and gesture- elements I use in my work. It all kind of fits into what I know about.

Because I am a positive person, the work might also be a little bit about hoping for some good change after a horrible “Tsunami” or something just as terrible - “building upon the ashes” and all that – problem is, we might not be around to enjoy it.

“Bloomin Coral” is really spectacular Carla.

"Bloomin' Coral", 2010

I had help making my 12’ piece, “Bloomin' Coral”.
It's in two big pieces (Chris' idea so we could get it out the door and move it into the back of our pick up truck). It was in the lobby of the Torrance Art Museum for a couple of years but now the two parts are in our driveway wrapped in plastic like a boat in a boat yard, in the winter, in New England (or Canada).

"John Baldessari", Carole Freeman, 2011, Acrylic and graphite on mylar, 11 x 8 1/2 inches

My good Canadian friend Carole Freeman was so happy to be included in a group exhibition titled "Women’s Art Now" at Leslie Sacks Fine Art in LA alongside: Kelly Berg, Pat Berger, Cheryl Ekstrom, Helen Frankenthaler, Zhenya Gershman, Nancy Graves, Bay Hallowell, JD Hansen, Minjung Kim, Samella Lewis, Jamie Oxman, Elizabeth Peyton, Beverly Pepper, Judy Pfaff, Susanna Schulten, Julie Brown Smith and Pat Steir.

"The Direction of Water", Pat Steir, 1991, Color spitbite soapground and softground aquatint etching w/ drypoint, 
41 3/4 x 50 inches

It is a show about equality with funds going to "Women's Voices Now" a not-for-profit organization supporting free expression and progressive rights.

I think you should have been included yet there are so many women artists of note today it must be a difficult for the organizers to be completely inclusive since the field is vast and growing.

"Three", Nancy Graves, 1977, Watercolor, pastel, oil stick on paper, 22 1/2 x 30 3/8 inches

Thank you so very much!

I appreciate everything you can tell me because I am in a bit of a vacuum out here in my studio. We have lots of artist friends but it’s really just me alone with my stuff in the studio most of the time. I think writers may have it even worse in that regard.

I have no idea how to promote my work. As an older person, starting a return to fine art in my mid-forties - really my 50’s, I guess I don't worry about a successful career in the same way a younger person might. Any show I have been in has been through other artist friends. I don't know where to start to look for representation. I would love to make a slight mark in the world, but mostly, for me, it's the fun and luxury of being able to make the work.

"After the Tsunami 2", 2012

I love the art community here in LA.
There is always too, too much art to see at any given time! A lot of it is pretty good too. I absolutely identify with the LA art scene - from the way light affects our choices in color, to our awareness of how media and PR affects everyone. Ideas about change, goofiness, a sense of place and a need to be in our time are just some of the stuff that drives us. We are much more interested in what is going on around us now, than stuff in the past. (Is it those mountains and the ocean separating us from history, or is it that we are just still very new?)

Maybe because the environment is so easy on us, we are not as afraid or depressed as artists in other places. I don't know why, but the absurd and the "unimportant" are floating right up there at the top of what is interesting to us.

With the winter now here in Toronto I am quite envious of the environmental advantage you describe ~ both via climate and community.
Would you be willing to show your work in Canada?

Seen 11:00 PM

Sure! I would show it in Canada!!

"After the Tsunami 1" is my new favorite. I just decided.

"After the Tsunami 1", 2012

Ha ha! Believe it or not, “Number 1” was actually sold last summer!

My current piece is turquoise, mostly.
Still a Tsunami wall piece with stuff I found in the rifle range. 
I have never made a turquoise piece. It's so loud!

"Aqua", 2005

When we first came to LA in 1994,because Claire “got” a TV Show that was shooting here called, "My So Called Life", we dropped our New York lives and rented our loft with everything in it. We bought a new Ford turquoise station wagon when we arrived because I was fascinated at how the bright sun in So Cal makes colors diluted outside. It was hideous! We had it the whole time Claire was in Hollywood as a teenager and it stuck out terribly when we drove her anywhere in her Hollywood life. I guess I have been shy of turquoise ever since. Just the reason to tackle it, don't you think?

"New Sculpture", 2013

Yes. I think tackling turquoise is a wise aesthetic decision.

Carla ~ I always appreciated visiting your studio during the time of our graduate studies. It was so homey and so it would lift my spirits especially when I was homesick for Canada - which was not very often at all. ha.

Thank you so very much! I’m glad!

Thanks Carla!

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