Interviewing Surreal Artist Joshua Daniels

As part of my dissertation research, interviews were undertaken in order to analyze contemporary surreal art and unconscious methods used. One of my interviewees is artist Joshua Daniels, a surrealist whose childhood is represented within his work.

Interview

What/who are your main inspirations that may have an influence in your work?

Biggest inspiration – Growing up, my father was obsessed with the surrealists Max Ernst, Salvador Dali and Joan Miro. Their prints were always on the walls and we had countless surrealist books. Never a single family photo was on display in our house – only paintings. I was inspired by the technical ability of these surrealists as well as their imagination.

 

What do you think Surrealism means? And what makes an art work Surreal?

My perspective of art changed forever, following the experience of a Francis Bacon retrospective at the Tate Britain gallery when I was 14. The colour, composition and chaotic application of paint is something that has always stuck with me – now, before I paint Francis Bacon is in my

head, instead of Dali. My work doesn’t directly reference Bacon’s work; I start with the urge to be expressive but progressively the desire to achieve minimalist composition, subtle colours and a realist finish has become a more important factor in my work. I’ve always been someone who ‘colours inside the lines’ and I try to contain the Bacon-like animalistic approach and instead, hone in the expressive energy into meticulous detailing.

 

Do you think Surrealism is dead? If no, is there a difference between Surreal art work during the Surrealist movement, than of today’s contemporary artists?

Has the meaning of surrealism changed?

In my opinion, surrealism definitely isn’t dead, in contemporary art today it is just been ‘rebranded’ as something else. Surrealism and Dadaism were pioneers of outrageous juxtaposition such as Dali’s Lobster Telephone, or Man Ray’s Iron with nails. This method of making sculpture (by using pre-existing objects) can be seen in many leading contemporary artists’ work today; Damien Hirst, Yayoi Kusama and Anya Gallaccio – to name a few. It is surprising to me that contemporary art writers and artists don’t acknowledge the clear influence of surrealism in their work.

 

Aesthetically, your drawings and paintings have a similar approach to Surrealists. What are your techniques to come up with such ideas? Do you use any specific idea generation methods that you use to come up with your ideas? Such as lucid dreaming, automatism, interpretation of dreams, childhood memories etc.. If you do not use any methods how do you come up with such images?

Childhood memories are definitely an important factor in my current work. As previously mentioned, I grew up around surrealist art which adorned the walls of my childhood home. My father’s other obsession, which has also been passed down to his children, is his love of animals. Growing up, I was surrounded by many tropical and exotic animals including iguanas, frogs, snakes, tarantulas, scorpions, salamanders, axolotls, leaf insects, stick insects, cockroaches, centipedes, millipedes, tortoises – as well as more common household animals; cats, dogs and koi carp and there are probably even more that I don’t remember!

So yes, I do believe my current work is a direct link to my childhood from the continued observations of animals and surrealist dreamscapes and scenery. I feel that I am not conscious of this link until personal reflection upon completion of a painting. I think deep down, most artists’ work links to their childhood – and if it doesn’t… their art is telling a lie.

My idea process isn’t straight forward – I use a combination of interests, dreams, inspiration in everyday objects and google images! Once I have a rough idea, I look at imagery both online and from a large personal collection of animal reference books. I then begin to create a collage with juxtaposing images – often using Photoshop. I often find that when I start to actually paint, the amount of objects and imagery initially planned will get reduced right back to a minimum.

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I also regularly refer back to my drawings. When I create these early sketches I use a technique some painters use called ‘de tête’ (where there is no preconceived vision of the finished piece, but rather the work is created through a spontaneous response to initial marks, allowing for a fully organic and unplanned process).

I can remember many times where I would begin this process by drawing one line on a piece of paper, but it wouldn’t suggest anything to me so I would disregard the paper. When I was younger, my sister was often annoyed that she could never find a clean blank piece of paper and would ask me ‘why would you just draw one line?!’

 

What is your message, you want your work to exhibit?

As I got older, the spontaneous image-making became more controlled through the employment of the surrealist game ‘exquisite corpse’ – also known as ‘consequences’. When I have developed a clear idea from the outcome of this process, I then refine it to achieve a more realist aesthetic. I never use this method when painting as I like to be precise, clean and direct, an example of this can be seen in the comparison of my drawing ‘Harvest’ and the succeeding painting ‘Honey’.

 

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