Where the Gentle Giants Are: The Art of Dan May
"Only artist Dan May can make something so amorphous absolutely adorable. He creates creatures that look like an embryonic hybrid of Sendak’s 'Wild Things' and places them in illuminated worlds of fuzzy color.” ~Ruby Winkle
Platinum Cheese (PC): This past summer, you had a solo show entitled Into the Wild at Gallery 1988. What was the concept behind these new works?
Dan May (DM): It was essentially a more refined continuation of my previous work. The creatures and environments in my pieces have evolved a bit, and are influenced by things that are going on in my life at the moment, as well as the creative process that is ongoing in my mind. The creatures that I have been creating are a bit softer in texture and nature. I have also placed even more emphasis on the human and creature connection, as well as their emotional and spiritual connection with their environments.
PC: Your work is continuously evolving with more refined brushstrokes and luminous color palettes. Is there anything specific inspiring the progression?
DM: Not consciously. I am, however, trying to create the most delicate and detailed pieces that I can (in the amount of time I am given before shows), in order to evoke a strong connection between the viewer and each piece that I create. Prior to Into the Wild I spent some time exploring the works of the Romantic Era. Artists during that period had a beautiful way of capturing their luminous surroundings and creating an almost surreal effect with very realistic subject matter. There is a strong emphasis on emotion within these works. I’d like to think that a bit of this has rubbed off in my recent paintings. I hope to continue to push these elements in my work as I go forward.
PC: How do you go about choosing your color palette?
DM: I choose my color palette based on the concept that I have in mind, as well as the environment that I am going to be creating. The mood of the piece needs to be matched with the appropriate color palette in order to evoke the most emotional response to the viewer.
PC: Your artwork is rich with narratives thereby giving them a storybook quality that one can't help but compare to Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. Did this particular book have any influence on shaping your illustrative style?
DM: Although not consciously, looking back I think that “Where the Wild Things Are” probably influenced my illustrative style in some way. Another author/illustrator that I am fond of is Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss was a big influence for me growing up. His creative and comical style was very inspiring. I felt as though I could really draw a connection to his characters, and although his narrative was a bit simple (yet brilliant), his artistic style really helped shaped his success and fan base. His books can’t help but put a smile on your face. I also remember reading quite a few of Mercer Mayer’s ‘Little Critters/Monsters’ as a kid and trying to draw my own versions of the characters that would appear in the books.
PC: It seems like a natural step to develop a book aimed at children while keeping the adult audience in mind. Have you given any thought to creating your own book with illustrations and storyline?
DM: I have given a book a lot of thought, and I can’t imagine not being part of a book within the next 5 years. My wife and I have created some story ideas, however the funding is always the trickiest part! I would, however, love to be paired with an author or present my work to book publishers (most likely a children’s/adolescent’s book) and see where things go. My wife and I will soon be moving to New York, so hopefully this is something I can begin to explore more aggressively!
PC: Sculpture seems like an organic next step as well. To see the melancholy monsters or human-like figures depicted in your works living outside of their paintings would be fantastic! Is that something we can look forward to?
DM: Yes, I’d love to explore sculpture at some point. I definitely envision it happening in the near future. I will see where things take me! My biggest obstacle right now is time and money, but not to worry, I see it in the future.
PC: The majority of your exhibitions show mainly in Los Angeles. Any thoughts to moving West?
DM: Good question. We have given lots of thought to moving to Los Angeles. It seems as though every time we go there we toy with the idea. We have been wondering if NYC or LA would be better for us to end up for the past couple of years. The reason we chose NY, is that it feels more like home. We met in NY, and all of our immediate family is on the east coast. It’s a tough decision, but we figured that we could always travel a lot out to LA. Who knows, maybe one day we will have two places (east and west coast)! It’s wishful thinking, but we like to think big!
PC: Where do you find inspiration and influence on a daily basis?
DM: My influences and inspiration come from my day-to-day life. I’m going through some difficult times right now with my father being sick, and the importance of life is stronger than ever for me at the moment. My paintings allow me to escape, yet connect, with my inner feelings and thoughts. I’m very much influenced by the news and the changes in our environment as well. I listen to a lot of music and podcasts while painting… I’m sure that has some sort of influence on the work also.
PC: Was anyone else in your family an artist and did they encourage your artistic talent?
My grandfather, who has now passed, was an artist and was very inspirational to me. He definitely encouraged my artistic pursuit.
PC: Which contemporary artists do you most admire and/or are inspired by?
DM: I enjoy and am inspired by anyone who is working hard as an artist today. I think it’s an exciting time to be an artist. Anyone who has the courage to create a work of art and put it out there for the world to enjoy, dissect and consume is alright in my book!
PC: If I were to spend the day with Dan, what could I expect?
DM: Staying up late and sleeping in! Ha. I work best when the rest of the world is asleep J. A typical day usually beings with checking emails, shipping off artwork, making phone calls, etc. (the uncreative stuff!). The day would most likely include an iced coffee or espresso as well. Where we live, I’d probably take you out to the beach and enjoy the nice weather for a bit… maybe grab some lunch. From there, the first painting session would begin. I’d take a short break for dinner, maybe catch a little TV if something good is on, and then it’s back to painting until the wee hours of the morning (3 or 4am).
PC: What's the one thing you can't live without?
DM: My wife
PC: The one thing you can't live with?
DM: Ignorant people
PC: What are you creating at the moment?
DM: I’m currently working on a series of new personal works. The work has a new and exciting energy to it, and I look forward to sharing it soon. Other than that, anyone out there looking for an illustrator for a children’s book… I’m all ears.
PC: What's on the horizon for Dan?
DM: Having just wrapped up my first ‘Dragon*Con’ experience my wheels are once again rapidly spinning. I had the pleasure of spending time with some of the most prolific artists working today and it really gave me a creative jumpstart. I began examining where I’m at in my own career, and I’d really like to take things up a notch. Look for me to reach further within myself and bring certain elements in my work to the forefront.
Thanks Dan! For more info about Dan May and his artwork, visit DanMay.net.