Artist Danny Ferrell is known for his sensitive paintings of people from within his LGBTQ+ community. But sensitive doesn’t mean weak. Nor does it mean fragile, sad, somber or tragic. In fact, Danny’s paintings, with their ethereal natural backdrops and warm, glowing light, depict his sitters as strong, assertive and defiant individuals saturated in colour and brimming with life.
“There is a canon of creative work that portrays the gay lifestyle as abject,” Danny tells It’s Nice That. “Films such as The Celluloid Closet or Walk on the Wild Side show images of unhappy, suicidal gay men, which magnify the social perception of my community in our culture and fuel a conservative counter-narrative. With my work, I’d like to reverse that narrative and show positive images of gay men and male vulnerability.” For Danny, it is important that his paintings prompt viewers to confront their biases and reconsider their preconceptions of LGBTQ+ individuals. This, Danny says, is the only path towards the normalisation and social acceptance of Queer desires.
“My formative years were spent in a small town in central Pennsylvania, a place where traditional family values are placed above all others,” Danny explains. “If you deviated from those cultural norms, you were treated as a pariah, a herald of immorality. As a young gay boy, I was forced conceal my authentic self from my friends, family and peers, which left me with severe feelings of alienation and guilt. When I entered college at Penn State University, I started questioning why the world was the way that it was, so I began combining larger ideological issues with my natural facility for painting.” His art became a space where Danny could explore different manifestations of love – alternative narratives of desire and romance that are so often excluded from mainstream media.
Colour is one way through which Danny visually communicates emotional states. It is through rich shades of red, purple and orange that the painter celebrates his subjects and elevates his sitters. “Colour is incredibly important to me,” he says. “So much so that I see colour asserting itself as a secondary or tertiary character in the painting – a component with as much life and vitality as the figures I am depicting. Colour also allows my work to have a particular sense of mood and creates and indeterminate sense of time and place. I see the paintings emerging from the intersection of emotional content and formalism, so the ways in which colour, light, and surface interact with personal identity are all crucial to my practice.”
Despite his accomplished, intricate style of painting, Danny says he will continue to build on and develop his aesthetic. “It’s taken a long time to land on my current sensibility, and my visual language will hopefully continue to mature and change as times goes on,” the painter says. “In many ways, I still feel like I’m trying to find my voice. I use to make work that was incredibly in-your-face and flagrantly sexual. I spent so much time in the closet that I felt the need to confront everyone with my sexuality. I no longer feel the need or desire to make that kind of work anymore – I want to find more nuanced expressions of queer painting, but those early paintings contained the kernel of what my paintings are today, and I’m happy that I made them.”