Brooklyn-based artist Dan Perkins creates abstract geometric works that incorporate, in his words, “elements of minimal painting and colour field painting” and merges these with “something a bit more playful”. Describing his work, he says: “The forms themselves are imbued with light, rendered in luminous washes.” At the heart of his process is “a close attention to colour, and playing with the illusionistic space of painting”.
In Dan’s paintings, fluid shapes intersect and fold back on themselves impossibly to create Escher-like optical illusions, rendered in hazy, undulating colours. Dan tells us: “Colour has always been a constant source of inspiration, as well as the unique space of a painting as something paradoxical: a flat plane that creates depth. For me, the sublime and its shifting cultural definition has been a theme in my work, tangentially or directly, for many years. I often think of my current work as attempting to describe impossible sublime forms. Forms that seduce and reward; hopefully inviting the viewer to linger long enough to slowly tease out their logic.”
Painted in oils with painstaking precision, the works are evocative, in a similar way to the paintings of Rothko, of moods and auras that pull the viewer in among the forms, colours and expanses of the images. Dan’s intent to compel the viewer comes from his own process, which is bound up with extended, concentrated contemplation: “Process is very important to me; I think the meditative headspace that can be achieved while working is something that is hard to find elsewhere.”
“My work starts in small sketchbooks, playing around with forms. From there, I transfer drawings into a larger sketchbook, working with a compass, and figuring out how I want to divide up the rectangle. I use graphite to get an idea of how light will be rendered. From these more complete drawings, I transfer the composition onto a prepped panel and begin working on a series of masked layers, carefully mixing and blending oil paint through carefully cut stencils. The paintings slowly build themselves, and I work across a number of paintings at once, so they begin to inform one another, and often tease out a similar colour idea or feeling of light.”
Some of Dan’s visual references in art history are surprising, given his tendency towards abstraction: “Romanticism has always been a huge source of inspiration for me: its championing of experience as a means to knowledge; its obvious ties to describing and illustrating the sublime experience. In that vein, 19th Century painters like Caspar David Friedrich come to mind.” Beyond the romantic painters, Dan says: “I view many of the light and space artists of the 60s and 70s as having a similar preoccupation with the sublime, but accessing it through very different means. James Turrell is a favourite of mine, and new to me is DeWain Valentine, also of that era.”
Dan’s body of work pans out as a continuous, subtly shifting flow of colour and form, to which he consistently adds new layers and depths. He tells us: “Currently, I am working on a body of paintings that are concerned with channeling certain qualities of light present at night – nocturnes, in a sense. For me, the slow evolution of my work over time is most important. I have begun to slowly push the scale of work. Sizing up presents a variety of interesting challenges. That being said, there is always something about a small gem of a painting.”