Matt Dangler’s imaginative explorations continue to evolve as the artist uncovers new facets of his consciousness and broadens the horizon of his spiritual journey with each new painting. Via the induction of a meditative state, which is at the core of his creative practice, Dangler looks inward, in pursuit of glimpses into the true essence of the self; not just in relation to his own being, but of a universal nature, much akin to that found within the Jungian archetypes and what can be derived from our private dream worlds. By opening himself up to the mysterious cues and metaphors his psyche provides him, Dangler constructs fantastically inspired and engaging imagery, which contains the power to reveal new and undiscovered aspects of the personalities of each and every one of us, by speaking directly to our subconscious and therefore our inherent inner beings.
Matt Dangler was born in 1984. He graduated from Uarts, Philadelphia in 2006 with a BFA in Illustration, and while there, won both the Kennedy Award (for Representation of the Human Figure), and the the Roger T. Hane Illustration Prize (for outstanding achievement in illustration and for demonstrating the inherent sincerity, intensity, and dedication to illustration which was Roger Hane). Matt has exhibited his artwork extensively throughout America, and has also taken part in shows in Europe. His work resides in private collections around the world.
WOW x WOW had the sincere pleasure of catching up with Matt for a chat, in which he shared some thoughts about his artistic journey and the evolution of his practice. Read on to hear what he had to say!
Hi Matt! Thanks ever so much for freeing up some of your valuable time to have this wee chat with us, we really appreciate it. To start us off, if you would please introduce yourself, touching on anything you feel relevant to the story of Matt Dangler the artist?
Thank you, it’s an honor to have your interest. I suppose the story begins with childhood nostalgia, it plays a role in a lot of my work, mostly focusing on the feelings of enchantment and purity, but also of course demented Care Bears or E.T. looking cats show up once in a while. It seems my psyche has built it’s visual dictionary in 80’s cartoons. I don’t know if I’m lucky, or seriously impaired, no one has ever been able to figure it out.
The art story really starts taking shape around high school though. Art became my therapy, ever since then I’ve used art like a diary entry. I graduated with a BFA in Illustration from Uarts, Philadelphia in 2006, and shortly after pursued illustration in children’s books. It only took me one major book project to realize that wasn’t where my heart was, so I looked into the more ‘liberated’ side of the art world in California, where galleries brought me on board and welcomed my twisted imagination in all it’s glory. The art scene there has been a perfect fit for me and my interests.
We’re interested to hear about where you’re currently living and what you like about the area? What is the art scene like there and do you feel a part of that community?
I’m living in northern New Jersey, with my wonderful fiancé Cassandra. We like the area, it’s very convenient with things nearby. It’s also a short bus ride away from NYC. But, most of all, I like the area because no one bothers me. Yes, I like doing my own thing, and I absolutely despise distractions when I’m trying to focus on my work. My studio is much like a little monastery, in the back of the house.
There isn’t much going on in terms of an art scene in town, but of course you have NYC nearby with all the art you could want. I’ve never felt part of a community really. I like my solitude. Not in a bitter way though, people have been so kind and supportive around me.
Once you have an idea for a painting, what’s next? What do you use in the way of reference material and how do you go about sourcing it? If you could give us some insight into how you tackle the creative process?
Well, I mentioned not liking distractions, it’s because my creative process is much like meditation. My goal is to create something transcendental, something so real that it’s undeniable; not an easy task. The best place I’ve found to accomplish this, is getting myself into a meditative state, then working things out by pencil sketching from there. I like to avoid as much reference as possible. I want the entire creation to be from within, from the soul, so to speak. But, when reference is required, I will scan the pencil drawing into Photoshop and add reference there, to work the composition out digitally. I am constantly trying new techniques, it keeps me inspired and finding new tricks. However, my go-to oil painting technique is one of the oldest, the ‘seven layer’ Flemish technique.
You are a master at creating mood and atmosphere within your paintings. Do you find that your own emotional state has an important bearing on the stories you depict, what the characters look like, the colour palette you use, etc.? Would you say that your imagery is autobiographical in any way?
Thanks! Yes you are on to it, my emotional state is exactly what will be produced, it is my fuel. As I mentioned before, art has become a diary entry. It’s never just a random character or a derivative scene. The shape of the body, the wrinkle of the clothes, the color of the sky, everything in there is how I express myself. I don’t know why or how that all happened, but it’s always been what I do. I often don’t know what my depths are telling me until I explore it all in a painting. In a sense the journey at the easel always offers a new insight about myself. You are probably starting to see why I like to paint.
With your work being so rich in narrative and symbolism, your unconscious mind is clearly something you nurture and look to during your creative process. Can you tell us about any techniques that you employ to tap into your unconscious or that help ideas rise to the surface?
I really appreciate your respect for this area. In a nutshell: I value clarity. Clarity is the key.
I’ve messed with alcohol, drugs, sleep deprivation, whatever, and I learned. Anything that makes my inner life foggier, I don’t have much use for. Things like unhealthy food, toxic relationships with people, negative movies, whatever it is, if it doesn’t get me closer to the center I don’t really want it, and ultimately won’t bother with it. I believe you’ll have far more and profound ‘ideas’ if you’re in touch with yourself, totally. The less distractions you make for yourself outwardly, the more in touch you’ll be inwardly. We all have our vices, granted, but as a focus: clarity unveils the entire picture.
Have there been any occasions where you haven’t always necessarily had a full understanding of the symbols or dialogue that emerge from the narratives within your art? Could you give us and example of an image you painted that ended up revealing something to you after its completion?
Yes, one painting called ‘Feeding the Inner Sanctum’ particularly comes to mind. Someone very close to me was battling a Heroin addiction, and during the worst of it I’d work on this drawing as therapy. Through it’s entire creation I just floated on the feelings of pain and confusion, etc. but I never really paid too much attention to what I was visually composing. When the painting was completed and I had time to take it all in, I realized it was telling a twisted story of how I felt about heroin addiction. It’s hard to articulate, but it was never a real conscious effort, it felt as if my psyche put my mind and body on autopilot to tell it’s story.
Sticking with the idea of narrative for a moment longer, can you let us in on what initially got you interested in visual storytelling? Also, what would you say are some of the most important ingredients that go into making a successful visual narrative?
It was the book ‘Animalia’ by Graeme Base. I used to have trouble falling asleep at night when I was a kid, so my Dad would open up the picture book ‘Animalia’ and come up with a ‘Where’s Waldo?’ style game throughout the pages with me. It was the first time I was swept up in art, much like the first experience you have reading an amazing book. It’s just words on a page, but when you experience it: a whole new world.
The most important ingredients to a successful visual narrative goes back to knowing who you are. It’s easy to obsess on the technical aspects of a composition, but you can’t express something with perfect clarity unless you know exactly what you’re saying. If you look around at the great artists of our time, they either know exactly who they are, or their entire focus is searching for it. Their work is a seamless voice. Their focus is more about their message than following rules. My advice would be to just focus on your interests, stop worrying about how it even looks, just worry about what you’re saying, and the more you practice that, the more naturally what you want to say will develop, and YOUR style will emerge, consistently.
As we move through life we continue to grow and change. In what ways have you seen your work evolve since you started down the path of being a professional artist?
When I started out I was obsessed with what people would think of it. I wanted to be popular and cool. I wanted the masses to beg for more!! But as time has gone on, I’ve learned that the greatest gift you can be given is a fanbase of like minded individuals. That means, if your only focus was getting popular, you might do work that isn’t who you are, and ultimately you’d be attracting people that don’t have that much in common with you. Worst of all, they won’t connect deeply with what you’re doing, because you don’t even connect deeply to it.
The greatest gift involves giving a work your absolute all, and having one person email you about how much it has inspired them, and telling you how much they connect with what you’re expressing. If you’re really lucky, one day someone might drive all the way out to your show and tell you in person. The bonds and friendships I’ve made doing my ‘genuine’ work, will always outweigh having ten times as many fans with phony work. Not every artist will have the most relatable style, but doing anything besides what’s genuine will result in disappointment somewhere down the line.
What would be the greatest compliment you could ever receive about your work?
Painting is a strange thing, it usually hits people in ways you never intended, but I’ve grown to really appreciate that. It makes me feel like something I’ve created was put in their life at the exact moment they needed it, for whatever they were going through. A moment that stands out was in the last year a collector met me at a gallery showing, and began telling me a story of what was going on in their life. They began to cry, it was very real. They said the painting felt like it was meant for them, and that it was symbolic of what they were dealing with. I couldn’t have asked for a better compliment. It’s not about praise, it’s about creating a place for someone to release the burden of life, to celebrate the wonders. But mostly offering a much needed place to escape to.
In order to get a better understanding of the personality of an artist, it can help to get a peek behind the curtain. Would you be willing to share a story from your own life, one which you feel has contributed to shaping the person and therefore the artist you are today?
Sure. Well, I think anyone that has followed me on social media throughout the years, or has talked to me etc. might get a sense that something’s going on. Either, that my brain is malfunctioning, or I’ve been through some stuff. Probably both. Either way, I’ve been humbled. It’s also helped being such an introspective introvert. I’ve done a lot of self reflecting and thinking about life.
Sincerely though, I think witnessing my Dad staying centered, steady, and calm through my journey so far, has really had an impact on me. It has inspired me to explore further into what that was all about. In a nutshell, it has brought me to peace and love, and simply put: I like the way I feel when I’m kind and selfless. He’s shown me that way, just by example.
If you could own one piece of art from the world’s collections, what would it be and why?
I’ve honestly thought harder and longer about this question then all the rest combined, haha, and I still can’t come up with anything. I suppose it’s because I’m inspired by new art every day. There is just so much brilliant art out there everywhere, I guess I’m more focused on searching, than holding.
What’s next for Matt Dangler?
He wants to go fishing… he really… wants… to go fishing. But, the paintings seem to be getting larger and larger, the new worlds he’s exploring need lots of space, inner and outer. Overall though, I’m looking forward to continuing a new life with my fiancé, she brings me to life in a way that painting never could.