"The l... o...n...g count" is Dan Colen's latest exhibit in New York, and probably one of the most memorable. The paintings and the different sculptures are displayed across all three stories of legendary artist Walter De Maria's former studio located at 421 east 7th street, in the East Village. Undoubtably a rare and unusual place for an art show. Watch and listen to Dan discuss his life, art, love for Scooby Doo, invisibility and other ideas behind this show.
I saw these Stud paintings in your studio, you were making them already in August 2013 right?
Yeah. I’ve been working on the paintings in this show two years I’d say. I started the stud paintings as a whole in 2010 – it was a challenge sort of scaling them up, and so it took a few years to make that happen. These, I have been working on for a couple of years and for the first time, in - I think - a really successful way, I was able to use some restraint and really hold on to the works as I made them, as opposed to letting them seep out of the studio or just doing a show at a convenient venue. I really had a feeling that these things needed a special space, and the opportunity presented itself a couple of months ago.
It is a special place. So you didn’t come up with this idea for this place, it was already in gestation waiting for the perfect moment to happen.
Yeah, but I do really feel like there couldn’t have been a more optimal site-specific kind of thing. You know, I’ve always kind of enjoyed the stud paintings hung on brick, just because of how the materials collide, but De Maria’s work and the faceted metal sculptures that he made, they’re so close in material identity to the studs and so different at the same time. And the metal stud is so iconic and specific to the East Village also... So to find a venue this special down here is really amazing.
I feel like that’s a really important part of the work, they become so visually exciting that I think a lot of the content is sometimes forgotten about these; you get so caught in the way the light plays on it and everything. So Scooby was always this reminder of the content, the place where the paintings really came from – from an overlapping experience of popular culture and counter culture. Scooby was always this junky in my head, so there’s always like a cigarette or a bottle in my imagination of him, but not until I found the space did I create this installation of the bottles and cigarettes – kind of a tribute to De Maria’s floor pieces, but is also so unlike it at the same time.
The Scooby on the top floor was always attached to the paintings, because I was working on him for the last two years at the same time as the stud paintings. I always had them strangely connected in my mind. There is something about the paintings that like... They become so optically stimulating, that it’s hard for me to also hold on to their content as referents. You brought forward these thoughts about failure... And this erosion of what metal studs represented to outlaw cultures, because over generations the studs have been absorbed into popular culture and fashion everywhere. Even the story of this building being a power station that turned into an art studio and finally now an exhibition space – along with the neighborhood it changes. Everything kind of changes. But how much do we retain and process of that change?
I really enjoy all the conflicts between dirtiness and cleanliness... It looks dirty although everything has been crafted, failure and success are intertwined, as well as crowdedness and voidness. You used to live next door ten years ago... Were you fantasizing about this place? Is this here the show you were then thinking you would do - or is it just totally unrelated?
Yeah, no i’m actually glad you brought that up – the thought of the amount, the emptiness and the fullness – there are all these empty bottles, but the paintings are also dense and so packed with material that they’re kind of splitting at the seams even. But anyway, yeah, I lived behind this building for a lot of years.
Tell us the process behind each cigarette, the bottles are all different, are the cigarettes all different as well?
Yeah, the cigarette butts and the bottles are all different. They’re not ready-mades, they’re not found objects, they’re each individual sculptures.
If I had to propose a narrative... I'd say that Scooby drank all of the bottles... or did we just miss a party? Is there a narrative or is it all organic?
Everybody wants to tell a story, which is definitely an important part to me, but more than developing an explicit narrative, I like the confusion of the narrative information and the formal information. You know I was talking before about things changing over time, and it reminds me how just after 9/11, in early 2002, the Scooby Doo live-action movie was released. Seeing that kind of transformation of this flat, really classic character from my childhood into this CGI, very modern technology was jarring. What did Scooby become when they inserted him into a real world instead of a cartoon world? It’s similar to the studs; I’m not especially attached to their original punk value – there’s nothing critical or judgmental as to which was the better use of the materials, or is there a better form for Scooby... It’s just me wanting to join in the progression of things changing. With Scooby, I wanted to take him into the next form, which looked similar to the CGI version in the movie, but was an actual three-dimensional object sitting in our own space. The hard work of making him was asking how real is he going to look, or how much of a virtual thing is he going to be. And I think the narrative hopefully connects to those ideas as well – how much of this story is just a fantasy?
The press release says that the Scooby series is about "supernatural villainy as basic human wrongdoing." Is this also part of the artists mission: to make believe he is supernatural somehow by using some tricks?
Thats a good insight.
Scooby Doo is you?
The Scooby is a part of you.
Definitely; it’s a type of self-portrait for sure. I don’t want to speak for all artists, but what I do is, I try to bridge the gap between the physical object and something bodiless or supernatural or spiritual. I try to – I want the space between us and Scooby to be part of the art. I want the art to be around and inside the bottles not only in the glass itself – and especially the bottles help with that kind of thing because they’re vessels, so you can easily imagine whatever it is they contain being part of the sculpture, you know what I mean, that’s part of the art. I love that with Scooby Doo, the whole thing is they thought they were chasing the supernatural but they always unmasked it to be just a simple villain. I think for an artist there’s more of a a kind of fluid back and forth between that – whether you’re elevating something that is of the earth to try to make it more spiritual, or whether you're trying to take something more spiritual and transform it into something material, something that has the weight of a sculpture. I’m really interested in that, and I kind of pursue that thinking by walking a line between figuration and abstraction.