Sad Magic | A conversation with Daniel Granitto

 Daniel Granitto with 'Harsh Light'

Daniel Granitto with 'Harsh Light'

Written by Kristopher Wright | info@odessadenver.com  

03.23.2018

(Denver CO)

Daniel Granitto's latest solo exhibition 'Sad Magic' is a deeply personal investigation into the dilemma of existence and meaning. Reconciling viscera and is-ness, Daniel Granitto's painted works seek to excavate the truth in both place and self. Vibrant palettes of color and classical mark making amplify the artwork’s transcendence of time and decay. These places feel like memories, dismantled and reconstructed over and over again; losing sight of reality, but never escaping it. Vacant seats and collapsing homes become monuments to the ‘Eternal Afternoon’. There are ghosts here, they will not be ignored.


 'Out In The Back (Looking South)

'Out In The Back (Looking South)

How did you get started/introduced into the arts?

My mom is an art teacher and she has always encouraged me to draw and create. She would give me lessons in formal drawing, and constantly encouraged me to draw more. I also grew up on a street with lots of kids and one of them was an exceptionally gifted artist/maker. He was a few years older than me and through much of my childhood I strove to be as good as him. We would get together, sit out on one of our porches and just draw for hours. It was great!

Why do you create the artwork that you do?

Wow, hard to be brief with a question like that - I am drawn to work that strikes me as earnest or sincere. In my own practice, I measure the success of any given painting in proportion to its sense of sincerity, and I think that sincerity is the compass that guides many key aspects of my work. I want my works to communicate a sense of specific reality. I want them to be intimate experiences for the viewer and above all else, I want them to convey a sense of wonder at the gratuitous and magical gift that we call existence. That’s really what the paintings are for me.

 
 'Harsh Light' (Detail)

'Harsh Light' (Detail)

 
 'Issues of Scale and (in)Significance' (Detail)

'Issues of Scale and (in)Significance' (Detail)

What do you do to get over your creative blocks?

I guess it depends on the nature of the block. Sometimes, often actually, just going for a long walk helps me to clear my head and settle. Much of the content of my work comes from simply walking around with my eyes open. Sometimes writing/journaling can be very helpful because it forces me to really articulate and organize my thoughts. Last, but certainly not least, “trust your gut”. I think fear plays a tremendous role in creative blockage and I am a firm believer in quieting all other voices in order to listen to your instincts and intuitions.

What strategies do you use to research/find inspiration for your artwork?

My answer is sort of divided into two categories: intentional & unintentional.

I spend a significant amount of time researching artists whom I admire both past and present, living and dead. I check out books on these artists and read about their art practices. I much prefer to read the sources where the artist is the speaker talking about their own work. For this reason, with living artists, I always try to find interviews. photography plays a huge role in my practice as well. I take photos everywhere and all the time. I like to print several images in 4x6 out of the hundreds on my camera and this helps me filter out the images that I find most compelling. I keep all these prints and photo albums (I have 4 albums currently) and I often look back through them to renew my inspiration or to get a sense of clarity about what images/group of images to pursue next.

My unintentional research is, in a sense, everything else in life. Movies are a huge source of inspiration both visually and conceptually. Music, though I typically don’t listen to it while I am working, is deeply impactful to me. I find inspiration in fiction so I read a lot of novels and short stories. I’m very into theology and for the past few years, I have been attending a church that practices ancient liturgical forms (Latin readings, Gregorian chanting, gorgeous and chilling choral arrangements) and that has become a tremendous influence and source of inspiration. The list continues… but I will end it there for now.

 Daniel and son, Clement, discussing his work with students from Arapahoe Community College 

Daniel and son, Clement, discussing his work with students from Arapahoe Community College 

What is a typical workday in the studio like for you?

Well, there really is not a “typical day” in the studio for me, which I guess says a lot. My life is built around my 14-month-old son’s schedule so every week looks a little different. One thing I will say is that when I am physically in the studio, I am very focused on making. I do most of my thinking/planning outside the studio so that when I walk through that door I can jump right into painting or drawing. I think this is directly connected to being a father because now my studio time is so specific and limited that it feels extra precious. I do the bulk of my painting at night now, when the family is asleep. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a night person… but you do what gotta do. I look forward to the future when (hopefully) I will once again be able to work during the day!

 'Oh The Glory'

'Oh The Glory'

What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

In the words of my buddy Nick Zuwala, “Stick to your guns”.

 'Island House No. 2' (Detail)

'Island House No. 2' (Detail)

‘Sad Magic’ seems to be a departure from your previous work, featuring more figures and an interest in architecture... What’s most exciting about this body of work for you? What’s been the most challenging?

I think that to me this body of work feels more like an arrival than a departure - Upon graduating four years ago, I felt very uncertain about what work I should be making. During school, my mind was filled with such a variety of influences and voices that by graduation I could no longer distinguish my own voice in the clamor. So, as I see it, the work that I was making for the first two years after graduation was lost and was searching for itself. I think those two years were essential in helping me understand who I truly am as a creative voice and in allowing me to be okay with that. When you are unsure of yourself, it is so tempting and so easy to try and be someone else. Someone you are sure of. So, this work feels to me like an arrival because it is the first full body of work (created over the course of two years) that I feel is truly representative of my vision and my voice. 

The most challenging aspect of making this work has been the actual labor and mechanics of painting. This body of paintings was made in reference to photos from my personal archive. I have striven in this work to overcome style by forcing myself to trust my instinct/inspiration and to paint any subject that strikes me as compelling regardless of whether or not I have painted something similar before and regardless of how difficult/labor intensive it might be. While this has been the biggest challenge, it has also been the greatest reward because with each new subject, I have had to change my strategy and learn new ways to communicate the proper sense of light and atmosphere. I look back at this work with a sense of deep satisfaction in knowing that I have learned a great deal. Making this body of work has undoubtedly made me a much better painter.

How do you think about the figures and places depicted in your work? is it important for viewers to know the 'who' and ‘where'?

This is an important question as it is one that always comes up. My personal perspective is that the content of the work is not about the specific people and places as they relate to history and content. For instance, the fact that I know the figures in the paintings is not the point for me. I do not want the conversation to become about personal biography/history because I feel that this read stifles and limits the possible breadth and universality of what the work can communicate. On the other hand, it is of the utmost importance to me that each the scenes, the figures, the light and the atmosphere all feel specific and particular because I believe that this lends to the sense of reality and intimacy that I endeavor to communicate in each piece. My aim is to use the intricate and particular material reality in order to point to the universal and the transcendent.

 'The Eternal Afternoon' (Detail)

'The Eternal Afternoon' (Detail)

Do you think differently about your work in regards to scale and medium?

I tend to work in two paint modes these days: smaller watercolor works on paper, and larger oil paintings on stretched canvas. I see both of these methods as being mutually supportive and instructive, but I do view them as distinct and each has its respective strengths and weaknesses. 

Watercolor is my first love. I learned to paint in watercolor before I ever touched another medium and I feel at home when I work with it. I find that working the smaller watercolors allows me to take risks and make discoveries. I can make fast decisions in order to get to the heart of the subject quickly. I also love to work with the translucent property of watercolor. For these reasons, I find that this scale and medium functions as a testing ground for potential larger works in oil. I might finish a watercolor and decide that it fully communicates what it needs to say and do, I which case, I would move onto a new subject. On the other hand, while I still might really like the watercolor, I may decide that this subject would really benefit from further exploration on a larger and in oils. In this case, I would still consider the small work as finished, but I would also use it as a tool for making the larger work.

So, with that in mind, let me say a few words on the oil paintings. I have had to work harder to become a competent oil painter. There are two primary reasons that I choose to work in oil as well, instead of just sticking to watercolor. The first has to do with scale. I sometimes feel that a certain composition would be more successful if it were larger in relation to the viewer. When you look at a small work, you approach it, get close, and inspect. On the contrary, when you see a larger work, it confronts you, sometimes from a great distance. And with the larger works, it feels as though the viewer could just walk right into the scene and poke around in there. This difference is considered with each new work. The second reason for the lager oils is the sensation of the paint. The properties of oil paint offer a sense of reality (not verisimilitude) which I don't experience in watercolor. I am drawn to the sense of softness and depth that I find in the oils and I feel that it blurs the lines between experiencing a picture (depiction) vs. experience a direct reality.

What are you most excited about for the coming year?

The birth of my second child! Our first daughter.

What are you most inspired by right now?

Artists: Andrew Wyeth, Euan Uglow, Nigel Cooke, Antonio Lopez Garcia, Fairfield Porter, Peter Doig, Charles Ritchie…to list a few.

Movies: Everything by Terrence Malick, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Elephant Man, Notes on Blindness, Wise Blood, Andrei Rublev

Books: The Winged Seed, Everything by Dostoevsky, As I Lay Dying, Everything by Flannery O’Connor, Writings of the Church Fathers, Housekeeping

I have also been discovering a lot of new artists through Instagram which has been super exciting. And I always find the blog "Painting Perceptions" to be incredibly insightful, especially the interviews.