Daniel Sullivan is a founding partner/owner at Oliver Street Studios and was co-founding Director of AREA 405

Daniel Sullivan is a founding partner/owner at Oliver Street Studios and was co-founding Director of AREA 405. Born in Columbus, Ohio; he received his BFA in painting from The Ohio State University, where he received numerous honors and awards – including the Hoyt L. Sherman Memorial Scholarship. He received his MFA, also in painting, from The University of Maryland, College Park – graduating with a 4.0 GPA. Daniel currently lives and works in Baltimore, Maryland.

Daniel has a thirty-year exhibition history, showing regionally, nationally and internationally. Exhibition venues have included solo and group shows at The Columbus Museum of Art, The Delaware Museum of Art, The Corcoran Gallery of Art, The Muscarelle Museum of Art, Maryland Art Place, School 33 Art Center, Walker Arts Center, Baumgartner Gallery, Acme Art Company, Atlantic Center for the Arts and many others. He has also been awarded grants from both the NEA and the Maryland State Arts Council, as well as being a national finalist for the Richard C. Diebenkorn Memorial Teaching Fellowship at The San Francisco Art Institute.

His work for many years, was an open-ended dialogue with the viewer, deconstructing scientific metrics and the methodologies of Modernism. This subject and the disassembly of conventions, has recently been supplanted by a thorough investigation of historic and clandestine conspiracies. The control of information and the fracturing of an individual’s psyche, are equally considered and taking the form of modernist standards. A quest for an aesthetic truth in a world where truth is selective and redacted.

By Lisa Salerno

Can you tell me about your series of images with the butterflies? What was your inspiration behind them and what does this series mean to you?

I often operate from a place of very specific intention – yet with the resultant imagery and forms being an ambiguous home for the viewers’ associations. I hope to create multi-layered events that, like an archeological dig, create strata of interpretation.

These images are really as close to figurative work as I have perhaps ever gotten. On a general level, they feel skewed and perhaps uncomfortable. Both the butterflies and human forms are dark – figuratively and literally and they continually re-contextualize each other. Grainy and amorphous, the human forms seem clouded in secrecy and specificity simultaneously. They feel somehow offensive and explicit, as if one is guilty of viewing a subversive act or depiction.

In a very specific way, they were meant to address the release of covert and often redacted CIA documents which tell of a dark world of experimentation – to nefarious and disturbing ends. MK ULTRA is the overarching title of the program that houses various specific operations – each with their own goals and methodologies… and none of them pretty.

Your other large painting for your “MK Ultra” series is really intriguing. Can you tell me a bit about this piece?

This piece was done for a specific show, with a specific theme that I was asked to take part in, thus its dissimilarity to other pieces. I was requested to do a piece based on the Spirograph…. a charming and interesting thematic. My core premise was to use the innocence of a childhood toy to reference the illuminati and sacred geometry. The latter a tool for both secrets and answers by the former. In form, it is an exercise in mark-making and composition. Layering and superimposition, depiction of specific symbolism with the generality of pure painted activity – one informing the other. It was an enjoyable creative process – taking form in front of me, as I was painting it. It uses some predetermined forms, yet also chronicles its own act of creation.

MK Ultra

Will you tell me a bit about your “Project Monarch”, or color grid paintings? Also, It looks to me as though each color is created on a separate panel. Did you plan this so that your paintings could be interchangeable or easy to transport, or is that just a bonus?

This was really one of the first bodies of work to deal with the aforementioned clandestine program and takes its title from a specific CIA event of the same name. The source is color-averaged photos of people – often myself or others close to me. They take the form they do, partly to reflect the intention to fracture an individual’s psyche by Project Monarch – self and non-self, used unwittingly to accomplish other’s distasteful goals. Also intertwined are the concepts of public vs private and the definition of portraiture.

Wedded to this subject is the form of color field painting and the ever-present grid of Modernism. The colors and their placement are pre-determined not by me, but by the pixilation process I subject the source image to. It takes a good deal of time to mix the colors to match and I often use how closely they replicate the source, as a gauge of success of any given piece.

Since the wok depicts a very specific image of a very specific person in a very specific context – albeit abstracted, the constituent panels are not interchangeable. I have experimented with painting them on a singular surface, but they just didn’t work for me, visually or metaphorically. And while they may be easily transported, that was unintentional and is a tradeoff to the multi-step process needed to display them.

Name three artists you’d like to be compared to, and why?

That’s an interesting question. I’m not sure I really want to be compared to anyone specifically. We, as artists, have historically trafficked in the concepts of individual, unique and authentic, so willing comparisons may not always be something I choose. While I may appropriate some specific forms and/or methodologies –it’s to my own ends and for my own goals.

I formed as an artist in a developing post-modern world and aesthetic. I spent many years debasing and underscoring modernism’s inadequacies when contextualized or deconstructed. My goal was to simultaneously question the forms and metrics of both modernism and scientific inquiry. A while back, I noticed there was a creeping shift of this thematic to another: that of historical and clandestine conspiracies. But it took some time for me to conceive the visual language I felt comfortable using for this loaded topic. Parallel to my shift in content, I became acquainted with the term and concept of metamodernism. That feels more comfortable to me – and perhaps a more accurate description of where I am with my work presently. I really am both enamored by, but also wishing to question, the language of modernism – often by pairing and/or contrasting it with a very specific subject matter and internal narrative. I wish to use a set of abstracted forms and formats, but imbued with enough specificity of intent, to satisfy both the casual and a more inquisitive viewer (and myself). I hope both will find adequate solace and challenges.

As to some of my favorite artists – which to me is a wholly different question, I adore Cy Twombly. I was influenced by Antoni Tapies and moved by Felix Gonzalez-Torres. I also enjoy Roman Signer and Joseph Beuys, and admire David Hammons.

Studio View

Your bio states that you have had an exhibition record of over 30 years. Did you always know that you would be an artist or was it something that you just fell into?

Just falling into art-making seems alien to me and would certainly not be the case. As far back as middle school, I wrestled with two competing career paths… either the biological sciences or art making. I was enamored at a young age by the work of Miro. His graphic abstraction seemed some exotic language depicting very specific events that I was not privy to. I was insatiable in viewing every art book I could get my hands on. This was pre-internet, so access to imagery, was not always easy. Then I began to actively make things. Looking back now, it seems a forgone conclusion I would be an artist, as there was nothing I was moved and motivated by more.

What’s the best piece of advice (for building an art career) that you’ve ever been given?

Look at as much work as you can and learn as much as you can.

Anything else that you’d like to share?

No, just that I appreciate this opportunity to speak about the work. I don’t often get the chance, unless a curator makes a studio visit and often what is spoken of, is either abbreviated or relating to a predetermined thematic.

Connect with Daniel Sullivan




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