An Interview with Dan Alva
From your work, it’s clear that you are an admirer of the old master painters. Can you give us some insight into how this began and why you choose to pursue this imagery in your works?
I studied graphic design in school and took a few classes in art history. I’ve never been much of a reader, and I’m more into visual books – the less words the better. The one thing I did read was artist biographies. I find their early days are always the most interesting – how they grew up, how they got started, and how they eventually end up going crazy (most of them anyway). This led me to dive deeper into their works and the meaning behind them.
I know your advertising background has taken a large influence in your work and process – do you view art as an extension of a personal “self-advertisement” or how do you see this all being drawn together?
I connect the two worlds through process. All my works go through a typical design timeline. From planning to research, sketches to photoshop, oil to canvas. It’s a step by step process that helps me see the final output before even picking up a brush. Working on the fly is too risky for me. I appreciate the controlled chaos.
Besides your creative and professional background, what else inspires your work? (Location, music, other artists, etc.)
I’ve been looking at fashion catalogs a lot lately, especially old look books from designer brands. Just analyzing the patterns, colors and models. It’s got me thinking about ways to modernize these paintings. I always try to picture the works in a collection or household during the process; I want them to work in those environments without looking too ridiculous on a wall.
Can you give us some more insight into Mona and Gogh? Why choose these two images and almost seemingly strip them back?
I’ve read a lot about Leonardo da Vinci and Van Gogh. For me, Da Vinci was a creative engineer more than an artist. His drawings look more like blueprints of the human body – that guy was on another wavelength. Mona Lisa is such a classic and so instantly recognizable, that I wanted to put a different spin on it. Chopping away parts of the painting with patterns gives it a work-in-progress feeling. Off the Record was a happy accident when I was playing with layers in photoshop. I never intended to create any white versions in the series, but when I hid the other layers in photoshop and landed on this version, it started growing on me.
I was really drawn to Van Gogh’s self-portrait because of the colors and the technique he used to paint. His life was insane – it reminds me of some people I know. He has a series of portraits of prostitutes that I want to recreate somehow.
Do you have a discipline / schedule you adhere to in your creative process?
There’s an art to the planning and thinking beforehand. I like to be 6 months ahead of myself to make sure I’m comfortable investing the time into a piece. Each painting takes 2-3 months to complete, so I like to make a few at a time while concepting the next batch.
Can you tell us more about what’s coming next? I know you work a lot with sculptures and mixed media, can we expect to see anything soon?
This year, I started to explore this same series in sculpture form using 3D renderings of vintage Greek artifacts. From Alexander the Great to Medusa, I am digitally remixing and rebuilding the sculpture into something new. It’s been very time consuming, and after 6 months I still haven’t achieved a final product. I’m trying to perfect the upfront process so that I can eventually produce a large series with high quality materials at the right price point.
How has lockdown affected your artistic practice? (if at all)
It has been a slow year in production. I think everyone is caught up or at least has an extra worry to consider now. I’ve gotten to the point where I try to watch the least amount of news possible and just get my head in the game. Ironically, this has probably been my healthiest year simply by avoiding the nightlife and eating better. Summer is usually when I prep for Art Basel, but with all the unknowns this year, I’m just convincing myself that I need to produce. Worst case I have a stacked studio come December.
What’s one thing we can always find in your studio?
Water. My studio is in Allapattah near Wynwood with no air conditioning and summers in Miami are hell. It’s become my art gym.