I wanted these paintings to reveal themselves during the making, similar to how the trash paintings came to be. I was thinking about alchemy. So there's this juggling act; I'm starting and often ending with an image, but the oil paint and the process of using that oil paint will open up the possibility for the artwork to take a new direction.
Gagosian is pleased to announce an exhibition of new paintings by Dan Colen.
The Miracle paintings continue an investigation that has been central to Colen's practice from the outset: to what extent does art come from the artist, and to what extent does it arise from forces independent of the artist? In his earliest paintings, Colen labored over precise oil renderings of banal interiors—a sloppy apartment bathroom, an adolescent bedroom, a camping tent—into which he introduced the presence of the supernatural—the Blue Fairy, Jesus Christ, twinkling cherubs, his deceased grandfather. He describes the subsequent series of Candle paintings as “portraits of God.” In these works, the space of the canvas contains the space of Geppetto's worktable—where Pinocchio transcends his materiality to become real—and a message appears in the smoke left by a just-extinguished candle flame.
In 2006, Colen started to make paintings with chewing gum instead of paint, ushering in a long period during which he traded representational subject matter for an exploration of the medium itself. Using flowers, dirt, grass, tar and feathers, Mylar confetti, street trash, and readymade metal studs, he relinquished his controlling approach to painting, instead allowing the final result to be guided in large part by the behavior of the given material. He commented that he found the loss of control exciting, as if the paintings were taking on "inevitable forms—almost like destined forms."
Following these discoveries, in 2011 Colen began the Miracle works with a new relationship to the intrinsic properties and potential revelations of oil paint itself. Like the Candle paintings, he bases the Miracle paintings on Disney stills—in this case, from the mythic Fantasia—as a means to tap into the animation giant's stronghold on our collective imagination. The vignettes that comprise Fantasia pair symphonic musical compositions with animated sequences that move fluidly between abstraction and representation and address such themes as creation, doom, and the alluring but evasive power of sorcery. Instead of the quotidian spaces of his early works, the Miracle paintings—which measure up to ten feet in width—depict an entirely fantastical realm in which unseen agents cast magic spells, phantasms rise from the murky abyss, and depth implodes in a cloud of dust. Colen applies pigment and medium, in some sense, to echo this inchoate subject matter; bursts of powder, puddles of liquid, and raking pulls and pushes made by tilting the canvas back and forth constitute a spectrum of alchemical painterly acts—some developed through exhaustive studio trial, others evinced outside of the artist's intention. These are aptly magical atmospheres for Colen's continuing search for the painterly sublime.
Dan Colen was born in New Jersey in 1979. Exhibitions include the 2006 Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2006); “USA Today,” Royal Academy, London (2006); “Defamation of Character,” PS1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City, New York (2006); “Fantastic Politics,” National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo (2006); “Skin Fruit: Selections from the Dakis Joannou Collection,” New Museum, New York (2010); “Peanuts,” Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo (2011); “In Living Color,” FLAG Art Foundation, New York (2012); “Meanwhile...Suddenly and then,” 12th Biennale de Lyon (2013); and “Dan Colen: The Illusion of Life,” Inverleith House, Edinburgh (2013).
“Help!,” a major solo exhibition, is currently on view at Brant Foundation Art Study Center, Greenwich, CT.
Colen lives and works in New York.
Gagosian Quarterly Summer 2021
The Summer 2021 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring Carrie Mae Weems’s The Louvre (2006) on its cover.
Dan Colen: Sky High Farm
In this video, Dan Colen speaks about his inspiration in founding Sky High Farm as a way to address food insecurity and improve access to fresh, nutritious food for underserved communities in New York. Established in 2011, the 40-acre farm raises pasture-based livestock and grows organic fruit and vegetables exclusively for donation.
The Bigger Picture
Sky High Farm × Project EATS
Dan Colen and Linda Goode Bryant are both artists who have founded nonprofits devoted to food justice. Here they speak about art, food, and life, including how they arrived at farming and the urgency of their projects’ missions during the current health crisis.
A Single Moment: Dan Colen and Francesco Bonami
Dan Colen joins Francesco Bonami in a conversation about absence and nostalgia, decadence and decay, progress and failure—and about help, the theme of his most recent body of paintings.
Dan Colen with Hans Ulrich Obrist
Against the backdrop of his survey exhibition Sweet Liberty, Dan Colen speaks about his work with Hans Ulrich Obrist, starting with his earliest interest in art and continuing up to the recent Desert paintings (2015–19).
Dan Colen: Carry On Cowboy
Gagosian Quarterly presents Dan Colen’s Carry On Cowboy. This performance first took place during the exhibition Dan Colen: High Noon at Gagosian, Beverly Hills.
May 20–26, 2020
Moving between diverse styles and subjects, Dan Colen investigates the conceptual stakes of materiality and mark making. Alongside explorations in unconventional mediums including chewing gum, flowers, and metal studs, he continually returns to oil painting and representation, conducting an ever-evolving inquiry into the objecthood and authority of painting as a medium.
Photo: Eric Piasecki