Pierogi: Though your subject matter and form stays consistent throughout your recent work, the materials vary from paint on canvas to drypoint etchings and pastel or colored pencil on paper. Can you talk about your preference in materials, and how the image differs given the medium, if you find that they do differ at all?
Don Doe: There is a reference to some style or period in the work that I want to come close to; that decides the color, material and paper type. You have to make the most of the experience of mimicking a style by staying with in its limits of color for each narrative for as long as possible.
For me, drawing of any sort is like thinking, and not a lot is planned for what I am trying to do. Some days I know the outcome and others I risk everything to find where materials will take me. For the unclear days my favorite choice is watercolor or ink wash to inch toward it but if I want to make a large statement I go for a canvas where there is more planning. And anyway, a large gouache can be murder on the lower back to execute. Paper is wonderfully immediate and easy to throw away if it goes badly. As for printmaking with drypoint, it is the closest to drawing like Whistler on, as most of my work references someone and he has some essence I want. The image differs a lot with the choice of medium; juxtaposing the differing sides of my taste or temperament, sometimes luxurious other times rustic. The choice is for a transparent sense of process and emotional outcome. But I get bored with the same materials so I am always searching for a deeper spirituality to work with the demands of the composition. It has been misunderstood that the exploration within the style and medium is a large part of the message.
P: Some of your works are monochromatic and others are quite vibrant, though they all utilize light in a very considered way. How do you arrive at your color choices?
DD: Well, I crave a color impact. Light is shape and depending on the narrative in the composition or my goal towards one, or if it were to be a mock up for a larger work (I am a constant recycler), color sometimes needs to idealize an elemental exotic life or a grittier, more troubled presence. I mean the subject might be irresolute, and so, the color as a monochromatic choice can be elemental, somnolent and just the thing to contrast the troubling figure. But then in another instance a full color pastel and watercolor approach lends a Fragonard bent to the proceeding that sits lightly on the paper and sparkles. That is great to lull one into accepting a bit of the grotesque within the classical.
As I am working out the composition there comes a moment when I ask “where is the light coming from?” To consider a light source is a special unifying event I construct. If I look for where that impulse comes from I guess It probably originates from my classical life drawing training but it has at least one foot in my Catholic prayer book upbringing. And perhaps my third foot in a mock grandstanding obsession with mood and atmosphere. Light unifies and directs the eye, like a seamstress using a gathering stitch. My mother was a seamstress and she hired me to assist her.
P: Are your compositions imagined, or derived from source material? Or both?
DD: There are pictures that are basically an attempt to depict an imagined historical event, then there are pictures that grow out of existing materials, in most cases old photos or magazines, and live by transferring them to a different context. And then lately there are my quasi surrealistic ventures into sculpture. Things start with a found photo or magazine page of a woman or man then additional searches in my desk piles for a selection of other photos laid in front of me. I handle them or discard them till they trigger an ordering. The drawing begins as a dashed off affair without concentration into a dialogue with the medium. So, although they start with photos the problem is really a psychological one; my need to find out whether a particular photo has motivation for me. It can be just a suggestion or the whole thing and often the source is not recognized in the final outcome. The composition develops as the story gets sorted out in the process; of the medium, its accidents; its grittiness or I just quit it, bored.
P: Where did your fascination with nautical scenes come from?
DD: Besides the fact that the old Erie Canal passed directly in front of the house I grew up in and that English language owes a great debt to maritime relations, in 1997, I was searching for a subject, while mimicking Tiepolo’s drawings, and became fascinated by some photos from my old manual I’d saved from my teenage training as a Life Guard. The posed photos of faux drowning victims suited my recent panic of becoming a father. About the same time I received an assignment by an editor, Owen Philips from The New Yorker, to create a cover from a piece of classical literature, and I thought of Moby Dick. But in my version, Ishmael was a pinup girl building a ship in a bottle. At first that came to nothing, but later it triggered a memory; my best friend’s mother decorated her house years ago from a Sears catalog in a Mediterranean style. She had fishnets on the walls, steering wheels, buoys and a total Romantic fantasy she could inhabit that was in contrast to, or maybe complimented, the daily domestic life. At that point it just seemed to become a bond between this and the intimacy and sincerity of travel sketches of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. You know what I mean? Kind of a mash up of hot topics to me, murky historical, personal, delightful, 1940’s Pinocchio-esque and salacious.
P: Do you see a relationship to photography in your work?
DD: Sure, the photographer is me looking in a mirror at a world I cannot enter, only render the view of myself looking at it. I once had a job as a family portrait photographer; it helped me get outside myself.
P: Can you talk about your opinions on voyeurism?
DD: A keyword in the definitions of voyeurism is “unsuspecting,” which implies a person hasn’t consented to be watched. There is an interest in that which is hidden. It is an intriguing noir place to situate a work as if art could ever not be a symbolic act of voyeurism on some level. Probably this behavior has a conceptual relation to my art that is very nuanced, but which gets lost in the male gaze debate. Reality is never the same for two people anyway. No two people see a painting the same way and no one ever sees it the way the painter intended. For instance, I’ve enjoyed Michelangelo Antonioni’s” Blow Up” a dozen times and I respond to” Coming Apart” by Milton Moses Ginsberg, and Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.” Besides these movies, the internet and the paparazzi have made us all lookers and watchers.
So speaking of voyeurism and watching seem an apt metaphor for my troubling nautical fantasies. This work I am putting out there will be permanently troubling and not easy to package. So the image through the telescope is a search for a soul; a hopeful landfall in the chaos of the sea, but my sea. I love to introduce the concept of a private thing shared between intimates to what is ordinarily a documentation.
P: Have men made an appearance in your work? If so, how do you feel about depicting the different genders?
DD: I have several ongoing series of drawings where men make a main appearance. They are designedly tautological about such things as the male artist trying to find inspiration through art, his conflict between realism and abstraction, not to mention the dealers, assistants, models, and the overwhelming anxiety associated with a blank canvas. There is an early group about lifeguards at an old stone quarry where many autos have been submerged. There is the series of the artist trying to sell his canvases or get the attention of a curator, which were some of the first works I showed to Joe. I have another series of a solitary male utilizing a camera possibly as a voyeuristic device preparing to either document his female subject or keep a distance from her, a very open ended series without an outcome, but full of noir. I am working on 2 other series about pissing in public and another about gun hobbyists in the woods. So, I guess the men illustrate a problematizing of the male gaze, and other blurred distinctions between life and the authoritative nudes of the masters, that an eventual installation will resolve.
P: Two of your newer works, “Satyre” and “Inside Me” seem to be departing slightly from your other works; I see a slight bit of surrealism, and the figures seem to be posing but are expressing a bit of shyness, or shame. Is this representative of any new thoughts you have?
DD: These 2 charcoal drawings are from a current interest and developing story filling my studio that has surprisingly spun off a group of clay sculptures. The lack of a setting in the surrounding paper the women inhabit may emphasize the Hans Bellmer or Max Ernst influence. Life drawings always appear shameful without a setting to give context. And Surrealism was always there under the nautical dress and sea chanteys. But then I am interested in transformations; of what I see in a person and what they see of themselves, or at least I hope to make a compelling sculpture that conveys the notion of simultaneous self-images. Maybe an idea from the future self seen as passing through the former self. So, going back to your first question, charcoal was chosen because it looks like stone, easily defines shapes without color distraction, feels unlabored on the page and has a kind of melancholy academic nostalgia you might interpret as shame. But these are only 2 of maybe 50 works. Of the works I currently have in the flat files these 2 have a separate purpose; to help me imagine 2 sculptures. I include them in the flat files because they are perhaps leading to a new body of work. As a sculptor’s drawing, trying to feel it as if in 3 dimensions they are without style. They are of a sculpture “posing” as a shy figure study.
P: Can you attribute aspects of your upbringing, be it geographical or familial, to your work?
DD: Perhaps a list suggests something: A couple generations before me when my relatives emigrated from Canada my surname was originally spelled d’Aoust yet pronounced “Doh.” I am proud to say I was expelled from my Catholic grammar school twice, receiving D’s in academics and A’s in art. And yet I did not hate the experience completely, because it became obvious to me that art is always redemptive, even when being sly and mischievous within the classroom assignments. Recognition in grade school art class easily offsets the Catholic up bringing. Lucky that my darling mother sent me off to 6 years of weekend art classes when I was 9 years old at the Toledo Museum of Art with Diana Attie. TMA has an astonishing Group of El Grecos and a massive Peter Paul Rubens. The subjects were biblical and the compositions were pure drama. While in these classes I was drawing from the nude model by age 15, a secret kept from my mother. She finally found the drawings. Except for these museum classes and World Book Encyclopedia, culture was non-existent in our house.
As I said earlier I grew up next to the old Erie Canal, with my buddies. We climbed in the locks and followed its route on bikes for miles. And of course we boys thrilled at scandalizing the grade school with Nudist Magazine clippings we snitched from our father’s closets.