Neoteric Art: Give us some background history on yourself including why you became a painter.
Daniel Bodner: I went to school at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and studied psychology three years before switching to drawing and painting. I always liked to draw, but when I began painting in oil, around the time I was introduced to the work of San Francisco Bay area painter Nathan Oliveira, I knew it was something for me. I finished school and moved to New York to work for several galleries, museums and artists — a kind of schooling in itself.
NA: You lived and painted in Amsterdam for fifteen years. Please share that experience including your return to the United States.
DB: In 1988 I went to Berlin to get away from everything I knew so I could concentrate solely on my work. I returned to New York and spent a year and a half working in the galleries again before deciding to move back to Berlin in 1990. On the way there I stopped to spend some time in Amsterdam and never left. Amsterdam compelled me and influenced my work — as a place and through the paintings and art I experienced there along with its famous northern light. But mostly it was being in a new place where I had to invent my own reality every day. My paintings were generated from an interior dialogue, unplanned and organic in process, and were fueled by my life as a stranger — an outsider looking in.
I visited New York in 2004 on my way to Chicago for an exhibition with Roy Boyd Gallery, where I’ve exhibited since 1995. I stayed in New York for a few months and found that I really liked being back where I started out as a painter. It was a homecoming and a return to a place where the people I’ve known and the places I visited since childhood were all around me. It forced me to no longer be on the outside in an abstract atmosphere. I found myself more part of a community in a way that I hadn’t before this return to New York. I began to look at the city and what was familiar about it. Then my painting became an exploration of more realistic space than I had been used to. It was as though the figure I’d been painting turned and saw a more real space and became part of the greater picture. Moving back really changed my work and opened up something new.
NA: You say your work is concerned with isolating and interpreting the language of the human form and depicting the idea of an individual rather than just the image of one. All this is very evident in your work. Why have you been so drawn to the human form and experience?
DB: Painting in Amsterdam and in Europe in a sort of self exile, my subject matter was entirely an exploration of the human figure. At times it was self portrait, at other times I suppose I was painting the “other”. For me the human figure seemed a kind of common denominator. We all have bodies, and any viewer could look at the figure and relate in one way or another — as a confrontation by another or by oneself. Beyond that, I saw myself as an abstract painter, using the figure as a vehicle. The formal qualities of these paintings hold equal significance with the images, and often recall decaying photographs, drawings or artifacts, with surface textures that reference naturally occurring processes like mold and oxidization. These qualities work as visual metaphors for the human experience, and together with the image of the figure, refer to themes of solitude, alienation, and desire. Eventually, I discovered that it was also the figure in space that held my interest. As I explored space in relation to the figure, I sought to find a middle ground between the traditional notion of depicted space and the flat space of Modernism.
NA: Describe your painting process.
DB: For many years my process was very much automatic. I had influences including other artists and a particular esthetic I was interested in — old photos, copper plates, etchings, moldy pond surfaces, sometimes whatever drew my attention. Since my work shifted to include more realistic representations of space and light, I use photographs to make initial sketches. I’ll take several photos of one spot and combine or take out elements. Then I make drawings, oil studies, and eventually larger paintings of the same composition. I often make changes while I’m painting so sometimes the outcome varies greatly from its original source. I’m mostly interested in how light determines what and how we see.
NA: Where do you see your work taking you in the future?
DB: Presently, I’m working on painting cityscapes and concentrating on light and space. I feel very open in my work and that it could go in any direction. I like staying open and exploring whatever comes my way.