Interview: Daisy Patton

From Los Angeles, California, Daisy Patton moved back and forth between Oklahoma and California during her childhood. She spent much of her early years reading adventure and detective tales, history and art history books, and ghost stories. Patton’s practice is focused on history, memory, and social commentary stemming from this youth soaked in such specific cultural landscapes. Her work explores the meaning and social conventions of families, little discussed or hidden histories, and what it is to be a person living in our contemporary world. One such series is "Forgetting is so long," reviewed in "Art LTD" and "Hyperallergic," as well as featured in "The Jealous Curator," "Fresh Paint Magazine," "Backroom Caracas," and "Artistic Moods." 

Currently residing in Aurora, Colorado, Patton has a BFA in Studio Arts from the University of Oklahoma with minors in History and Art History and an Honors degree. Her MFA is from The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston/Tufts University, a multi-disciplinary program. Patton received the Montague Travel Grant for research in Dresden, Germany, and she was also awarded a position as an exchange student at the University of Hertfordshire, UK while an undergraduate. Patton has completed artist residencies at RedLine Contemporary Arts Center in Denver, Eastside International in Los Angeles, and Anythink Libraries in Colorado; she will be an artist in residence at MASS MoCA in March 2017. Exhibiting in solo and group shows nationally, K Contemporary represents Patton in Denver.

Tell us a little bit about your background. Were you always interested in being an artist?

I was born in Los Angeles and spent my childhood split between California and Oklahoma, leaving LA at age 9. My mom was going to community college while in LA, and I attended her art history class and saw some of those famous paintings I'd learned about through frequent visits to LACMA and other museums. As a young child, I'd wanted to be an artist, paleontologist, farmer, and an Egyptologist, although by the time I was 13, I'd decided to become a historian since I thought it would be impossible to live as an artist. I learned to paint and draw almost entirely self-taught, copying Old Master works, magazine photographs, and animal images. Once in undergrad, I quickly realized you can't make it as a history professor either, so I went into art full time. 

When did you first start using family photographs in your work? What initially inspired your current series?

I've been using family photographs as inspiration since 2012, when I started the painting series A Reconstructed Family Reunion. Previously, I had a sound art series called I'm Perfectly Fine Without You, where children of absent fathers talked about their memories and experiences. It's an experience I share, never having met my father, but I knew I couldn't contribute an interview to the series since I knew what I'd be asking myself. A couple of years later, I started Reconstructed, painting my family photographs realistically onto panel and inserted a father's presence into them as a way of imagining an alternate timeline where he was present in my life. I had my grandmother's photographs (I'm named after her), knowing I wanted to do something with them. So a little over three years ago, I tried using these images as references to paint more expressively, but those didn't work at all—I couldn't even finish a painting! I went to a vintage shop in Denver and saw a box full of old abandoned photographs. After picking a few that I fell in love with, I did some research to figure out how to mount prints to panels. That's how Forgetting is so long came to be—they instantly worked in a way that felt like alchemy. Reconstructed was such restrictive painting, which is not my personal preference, and Forgetting is far closer to how I prefer to work. I should note that while I started as a painter, after an extensive painting block I switched into photography for several years and have a substantial knowledge of printing and photo history; this has certainly influenced how I now approach painting in general. 

Describe a typical day in the studio.

I tend to be a workaholic—I go into studio every single day, unless I'm gone for a trip or seeing other art. I'll paint in studio for anywhere from 2 to 5 hours on average, though sometimes much longer if I have a deadline! Short, intense bursts of painting are my preference since I'm very focused when working. Then I go home, eat dinner, and work on other series that aren't painting, research, or administrative tasks. I'm a night owl, staying up until 3am regularly. 

Has social media presented new opportunities for your art? Tell us about your experience with sharing your work online. 

I think so! First, social media has created a community where artists from all over can connect and meet through their art. Artists I absolutely love like Anna Valdez, Hayley Quentin, Erika Hess, Matt Best and more I've met online—and sometimes in person now too. I started a professional account on Twitter and was initially resistant to Instagram, but now I'd say that IG is my main social media platform. I'm pretty open about showing paintings in process. I actually hate talking about work in progress in a critique format since I know where I'm going, but I like being able to see how a piece has grown or shifted over the time. There's also the painting geek in me that loves to see how other painters work, so I feel like sharing means opening that conversation. I think we have our own recipes and methods of painting, so even seeing something in process doesn't necessarily mean you're giving away your secrets—if anything, for some, I'm even more amazed by what they do!

What has been the most rewarding part of being an artist for you so far?

Being an artist is so much of your whole person that not doing it is viscerally painful, like cutting a piece of yourself away. My life experience working administrative and other jobs have made me a better artist and person, but you can tell you're on the right path when things open up in ways you couldn't imagine possible. Additionally, so much of art-making are new or different forms of communication. You're a storyteller hoping to connect with others, which I think is unique to artists. And then there's dealing with uncertainty—I never thought I'd be the kind of person that would be able to handle not having a rigid plan, but learning that flexibility in thinking has been so crucial. You're meant to keep growing and being an artist is part of that; I always try to make plans or do things that make me uncomfortable so I avoid being safe or fixed in place. There's a value to that I think many underestimate, regardless of field. 

What are your hobbies and interests outside of painting?

As I mentioned, when I was younger I thought I'd be a history professor to pay the bills. I still love reading and researching, and a lot of that feeds into my work in various ways. I hate to say that my whole life is caught up in art-making...but taking time off or "vacations" are my nightmares! I do have certain genres of non-fiction reading that aren't necessarily art-related that I dive into when I have time: human arrogance in cold environments (a more specific human v nature), biology and botany, murderers in history (it's like ghost tours: it's all history backgrounds with a sprinkling of the macabre!), etc. I love traveling when I can and seeking out unusual museums or events, such as a dolls and miniatures museum.

Name a few influences or artists that inspire you. 

So many: Marlene Dumas, Ellen Gallagher, John Singer Sargent, Sophie Calle, Doris Salcedo, Kerry James Marshall, Kehinde Wiley, Thomas Gainsborough, Christian Boltanski, Nick Cave, Claire Tabouret, Nan Goldin, Robert Frank, Lynette Yiadom Boakye, Amy Sherald, Georges de La Tour, writer Rebecca Solnit, Mark Rothko, Lu Cong, Thomas Lawrence, William Morris, Jenny Holzer...I think it's important as artists to keep looking at art and figuring out how you can situate yourself within the context of art history and the moment in history you're inhabiting. 

What are you currently reading or watching?

I'm reading Rebecca Solnit's newest book, The Mother of All Questions, a sort of follow up to Men Explain Things to Me. She's the author that coined "mansplaining," though I've read her for several years since she writes about art, history, memory, landscape, environmentalism, political activism, and hope. Her ability to recontextualize what we think we know and lyrical writing are some of the reasons I'd have to say she's my favorite author. 

Tell us about upcoming events and projects we should be on the lookout for. 

I'm finishing up two paintings that will be part of a group show called Cross Pollination at 516 Arts in Albuquerque, NM that will run August 19-November 11. Also, I'm excited and honored to be going to Anderson Ranch for a residency this fall, where I'll be working on more large pieces and some other series on reproductive rights. My schedule has been pretty packed for the last yearish, so I'm looking forward to some time to just paint for myself rather than a specific show...though I'm planning on another solo in 2018 that I'll be making work for.