Vaguely Familiar: Interview with Painter Dan Huston

Dan Huston is an abstract artist from Ramsey, New Jersey. In 2014, he graduated from Bates College with a degree in Studio Art and Environmental Studies. He studied Japanese art history and traditional ink painting at Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata, Japan in the fall of 2012. He is based in New York City. 

My paintings combine natural excess with nostalgia. The world is made up of organic shapes and movements on every level, whether it be viewed through a microscope or from the window of a space station. The magnitude of these forms can appear excessive, but unified. I cram these shapes of different colors and textures into my paintings in order to create a bigger, seemingly alive, abstraction. 

In my series Subtle, I merged my physically abstract paintings with the abstract concept of nostalgia by linking the compositions to subtle, but lasting moments in my life. Most of the inspiration for my paintings comes from nature’s forms, but they are always based in my own consciousness.


Tell us about your background in the arts. When did you initially know you wanted to be a painter?
I’ve been drawing since I can remember. I used to obsessively doodle with pencils and pens which eventually turned into charcoal and ink. My doodles were usually abstract and helped a lot with my anxiety growing up.  I didn’t start painting until 2013 though. I took a painting class my junior year of college and instantly fell in love with the colors and textures.


What inspires the color and moving in your abstract works?

The movement in my work is inspired by nature, and specifically microorganisms. I see the movement in my paintings as slow but ubiquitous, like cellular organisms under a microscope. The colors I use are often completely absurd though. Sometimes they’ll be inspired by a nostalgic moment from my life, but usually, they are the color combinations I want to use at the moment.

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How has your work evolved over the years?

When I first started painting, I made large figurative paintings of plants. There were certain abstract qualities to the paintings, but overall they were something real. I shifted into only working in brush and ink for about a year before starting my current abstract paintings in 2016. My work has changed a lot over the past few years, but I’ve always been inspired by the same movements and shapes of nature.


What kind of experiences do you hope to convey to the viewer through your paintings?

I want people to see something organic and vaguely familiar. The same natural forms repeat throughout the universe (including within ourselves!). My paintings help me understand that everything we know is connected on a micro and macro level, and I hope others see that too!

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Tell us about your art community in New York. How do you feel it influences your practice?

The magnitude of creation in New York influences me more than anything else here. At any given time of any day, there are so many different people making different things. There’s almost a tangible energy to it! New York also has a rhythm of commotion that has definitely changed my paintings. They have become more alive since I moved here.

Describe a day at the studio. What kind of things do you think about when creating your work and how do you begin each piece?

My work involves a lot of layering and drying, so I’m often working on a bunch of things at once. My studio itself has always been my (small) bedroom, so I can only fit so many paintings. When I start a painting, I think of a general composition and color scheme, but I never fully stick to my original plan. I always want to keep an element of something unpredictable and impulsive. I look at each brush stroke and palette knife mark as an organism with a mind of its own, and how it would interact with others in its environment. Sometimes they violently clash, and sometimes they form symbiotic relationships.


What are you currently working on and what should we look out for this year?

I’m currently working on a new series called ‘Collection’, which is composed of large paintings inspired by similar organic forms but on a cosmic level. However, I’m always working on smaller studies and paintings no matter what series I’m currently undertaking. I’m always looking for new ways to go bigger with my art, so I’d expect that this year too!