Oakland-based painter Dan Hampe has made a name for himself through his visceral, dreamlike imagery. His work brings motion to stagnant space, at times seeming to leap off the canvas with both elegance and violence blended in measure. Hampe’s work will be featured at an upcoming pop-up in Los Angeles. The artist sat down with Open Color to discuss his newest show, his process and the motivation behind his latest series.
How would you describe the evolution in your work?
One of the main things I’m dealing with is the element of time, the dimension of time. I definitely work toward including graphic 2D elements, as well as a good amount of depth. I’m looking at time’s impermanence. [In my paintings] you get these sporadic samples of imagery so you never get the full thing...there’s a lot of motion, a lot of time passing. When I’m rendering a piece it’s not meant to be still—I want it to take on an element of motion. That’s the underlying foundation of everything.
I really kind of move back and forth between representation, which would be the more traditional and classical stuff, and abstraction. I kind of play those two elements against each other. There’s a gray area between them, where reality becomes blurred, yet still defined. I kind of weave both of those elements into themselves and dance through the gray area. From that you get a surreal but nonobjective flow throughout the painting.
That’s what’s really interesting to me, that area between representation and abstraction. There’s a vast unknown world that exists between the two. Exploring the unknown is thrilling, which, for me, is what keeps the fire burning.
What would you say are the most notable transitions you’ve made as you’ve refined your creative process?
I think it’s a process of simplification. I’m constantly trying to simplify my process. I have this kind of natural ability to load a lot onto my plate. I kind of spew out chaotic information and then I’m constantly cutting back to the elements that are important to me and my message. My taste in color will change, especially with this show. A lot of stuff I’ve made previously has dealt with magentas and teals, a juicier palette, this palette is much more creams and earth tones, deep browns, eggplants and stuff. I think my taste is always evolving and I just make sure to always allow for that to happen.
Tell us about the new show. How did it come about?
After my March show in San Francisco, I knew I wanted to continue that conversation sometime in the fall. I had a few conversations with Ryan Rehbock, who owns The Crown Collection, and we went back and forth about the current state of the gallery world, and both agreed that the current foundation of an “art show” is ripe for evolution. I’ve always thought that the real magic that exists at any opening is that first night. It’s fresh. Things are happening, conversation and relationships are being bred. That is the real purpose of the show—the experience. So naturally I suggested, what if the whole show was just the opening, a one-night pop up, that has all the accoutrements of an opening reception for a month-long exhibition, but wastes no time.
We went back and forth over a few different places, and both of us came to the conclusion that Los Angeles was next. It seemed fitting. Don’t Think Twice is all about not hesitating, and in a town where there are a million fucking things to do on any given night, you can’t be indecisive, you just have to go with something and see it through or else you’ll be in your car driving the whole time.
I wanted to pursue an artist-in-residence program somewhere near L.A. and Santa Barbara presented itself, for a multitude of personal reasons. I took up residence in a studio at Santa Barbara Center for Art, Science and Technology, thanks to Alan Macy. SBCAST is a live/work creative design and development community located in downtown Santa Barbara. The community consists of full-time, accomplished, working “multidisciplinary” residents who focus on the juxtaposition of art, science and technology.
There wasn’t too much pre-planning for the show, thematically speaking. I just started working, and in that first month of working, the themes and palette presented themselves. In early August, Don’t Think Twice the idea came into play. I realized a lot of what I was dealing with in my paintings was this confrontation with hesitation in its many forms and aspects of my day-to-day. For example, when working, you sit there and you’re like ‘Oh I know this is what I want to do,’ but you wind up sitting there procrastinating. Hesitation is preventing you from doing what you have already decided. At that point, I decided this whole show is going to be about confronting hesitation.
Why do we hesitate in making decisions? If we know what we want, then why do we hesitate? That really took hold and really became the theme for the show.
I identified hesitation in my business life, and the hesitation in my personal life. Those two things were happening at once, and it came full circle. I think I’ve been indecisive in general but now I really realized it, and wanted to confront it. Like the matador confronting the bull, you must approach it with a humble confidence.
If you watch a toddler draw there is no hesitation, they just grab the pen and draw, there’s no anything. They're not trying to make something cool, or something that’s anything. There’s this element of pure confidence and I was interested in finding out where that comes from.
Don’t Think Twice—it’s a one night thing. You can’t think about going, it’s only there one night. Everybody’s involved whether they want to show up or not; you’re a testament to the name of the show and your own hesitation.
How did the change of scenery in Santa Barbara affect your creative process?
It made it ten times harder. It really did. I think Santa Barbara was one of the greatest places to live because you hold yourself to a high standard in everything you do in this town, people eat well, live well, are very conscious, all of that. However, I was dealing with some personal hardships, and I found myself wedged between the positive and negative aspects of love. Constantly being pulled one way one day and the other the next.
I think that the growth you have in your own personal life or endeavors happens a lot when you put yourself in new situations. In order to continue growing, you are naturally forced to re-root yourself and get back to it.
I think changing my scenery allowed me to be a little bit more comfortable with changing my imagery, palette, etc. It ultimately made me confront the discomfort of change, on the spot, and move on. There wasn’t time to sit and wait.
I started to ask myself, ‘Do I build new relationships? Do I hermit in my studio or not because it’s temporary and it won’t last?' All of that played into the theme of Don’t Think Twice. If I was going to party I was going to party, if I was going to work I was going to work. I was going to do one or another and grab whatever I want from it and enjoy it to the fullest and know that I made the right decision in the moment. You can deal with whatever after the fact but thinking ahead serves nothing.
It’s all about balance. Do you party or do you work? What exists in that transition between light and dark? That fork in the road is the gray area where I want my work exist.
What are you most excited about creatively upon your return to Oakland?
I’m really excited to come back to Oakland, it feels like a home and the Bay Area feels like a hub for me. I was questioning it, and I spent time away this summer, and now that that’s passed the Bay Area is really the place I want to grow my roots for a while. I think there’s a lot of opportunity here. I think that Oakland is this very unique place.
In Chicago in 1871 a fire leveled the city. Architects used this term tabula rasa ("blank slate”) to refer to the city. At the time, architects like Louis Sullivan, (and one of his apprentices, a young Frank Lloyd Wright) began to work within the city and the staple of the new urban sprawl was birthed, the skyscraper.
I think Oakland is the tabula rosa of the next wave of art, mainly because it doesn’t have an established art identity. It’s a big experiment, how does it land? Maybe it’s a big flop, but let’s see what happens. I really respect...the diversity and history of Oakland. There is a fair amount of change that the city is going through [regarding gentrification]. For better or for worse, I think the role of the artist is extremely important through that transition. Bridging the gap between ignorance and knowledge, artists can bring to light the history and dynamics of a neighborhood with the new business crowd. The key is, everyone has to be willing to learn. Just as you have to be as an artist, you must be willing to take on the role of both the teacher and the student.
What adjustments have you made to support your art financially in the current economy (i.e. how have you stayed in the area when artists are being pushed out)? Have you had to be more aggressive with outreach to new buyers or has it been strictly organic?
I’d say if anything it’s been organic. One thing I’ve always noticed and believed is that if you work hard and are passionate and dedicate your time, and are smart, when you do that, opportunities start to present themselves. It’s really something I’ve talked about with a lot of artists...I don’t think there’s a formula. It's nothing to do with the imagery, for the most part that's not what’s holding people back. What it really boils down to is you have to be fully committed and fully believe in it. If you don’t, you can’t expect anyone else to.
You have to take care of yourself and then you can work on relationships with other people. Our work is the same way. You have to be making it for you, that’s what gives you your identity. Every piece I make I like and would hang on my wall. I stop when I think it’s ready. I stop when it’s something that I like. If other people see it the same way or speak that same language, then that’s where you get your business.
I haven’t spent too much time thinking or working with that in mind, but the only thing I know I can control is how dedicated I will be, and how much I work I put in—I can control those things and I have to leave it up to…well, that’s a whole discussion as to whether you believe in luck. I do. You create your own luck. I believe that pure luck isn’t something that’s real, it’s generated from hard work and passion and dedication. All of those things together breed luck.
You have to be resilient as all hell. At the end of the day I don’t get a salary, and if you want it, you fight for it. If you don’t enjoy that fight then you move somewhere else and do your thing. It’s never not going to be a battle for the artist to survive. You’re living in a world that has a different foundation that isn’t built around what we do, it’s built around a whole different system. You have to understand that and know it’s going to be difficult. It really boils down to how badly you want to fight for it. If you have all of those things it’ll work out. If you’re a quitter, you’re out of luck.
Anything else exciting you have coming up or want to talk about?
There’s a group show the night of November 12th at Athen B where I’m featured, and I’m debuting in December the biggest piece I’ve ever painted for a shop down here [in Santa Barbara], at 10-year anniversary party of Fuzion, a boutique clothing and glass gallery. Stay tuned for more details on that.
Don’t Think Twice: A Solo Exhibition by Dan Hampe presented by the Crown Collection will be on view at 2207 N. Broadway, Los Angeles, on Saturday October 15th from 7-11pm.