Neo-Pop painter and sculptor Dan Colen has been consistent over more than two decades in exploring and experimenting to discover new possibilities in different mediums. The style and subject of his work is drawn from a diverse array of influences in his own life and the world around him.Read More
Born in Leonia, New Jersey, in 1979, Dan Colen studied art at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence before moving to New York in 2001. His earliest artworks, painted in the back of an antique store in Brooklyn, were hyper-realistic oil paintings with intruding supernatural, fantastical, and cartoonish elements. In Me, Jesus and the Children (2001–2003) this took the form of a photo-realistic rendition of the artist's chest with cartoonish cherubs accompanied by text in speech bubbles.
The early-to-mid-2000s lay the foundation for Colen's reputation as a rebellious New York Neo-Pop bad boy. He emerged with a brash, rebellious, group of young artists making their presence felt in downtown New York City in the early 2000s. While each developing their own artistic identities they drew from, punkish urban visual language found in skateboarding and graffiti culture.
Counted among Dan Colen's friends and compatriots within this group—labelled by some as Warhol's Children—were the successful photographer of the Lower East Side's ne'er-do-wells Ryan McGinley and the rebellious rock star artist Dash Snow. Others among this close group of friends were Aaron Young, Nate Lowman, and Agathe Snow.
Dan Colen's sculpture at the time incorporated unusual materials and referenced the rebellious sub-culture around him. In works such as Nostalgia Ain't What It Used To Be (The Writing on the Wall) (2006), the artists formed a monolithic boulder shape out of Styrofoam, Polyfoam, and papier-mâché painted with oil and acrylic to look like a graffiti- and bird-dropping-covered rock affixed with trash like gum and bits of clothing.
Dan Colen also created more autobiographical installations, such as Secrets and Cymbals, Smoke and Scissors (My Friend Dash's Wall in the Future) (2004): a replica of a piece of the wall of his friend's apartment. Colen and his friends also engaged in more unconventional art activities; Snow and Colen's NEST (2007) at Jeffrey Deitch's gallery in SoHo, for instance, became a party amidst a nest created out of torn and shredded phonebooks.
This early-to-mid-2000s period defined by wild nights and partying ended, for Dan Colen, toward the turn of the decade; the death of Snow from a heroin overdose in 2009 sparked a change in Colen's lifestyle and practice.
In 2011, quitting his downtown lifestyle and drug habit, Dan Colen established Sky High Farm in upstate New York. He still works and produces organic food for struggling New Yorkers there.
Living and working between New York City and the farm, Dan Colen's post-2010 practice shows a return to the conventional oil painting that formed the basis of his earlier works. This was not, however, an immediate transition.
In a step towards this return to the conventional medium of painting in 2006, Dan Colen began making his 'Birdshit' paintings (2006—ongoing). Seeking to achieve a trompe l'oeil effect, he applied oil paint to surfaces to create the appearance of bird droppings. Colen also made 'paintings' out of trash materials such as chewing gum, applied to and arranged on canvases to appear like abstract paintings.
Many of Dan Colen's paintings after 2010 echo back to his 'Candle' series, begun in 2003. Appropriating imagery from the Disney film Pinocchio (1940), the paintings feature burning candles with various messages emanating from the smoke. Similarly, his later figurative paintings, such as those in the series 'Miracle' (2010–2018), 'Desert' (2016–2018), and 'HELP' (2018–2020), borrow elements of the style and composition of popular animation ranging from Disney classics to Chuck Jones' animated shorts of Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner.
Dan Colen's exhibitions from the mid-to-late 2010s have seen the artist enter into a new realm of performance art. These performances are more conventionally structured and theatrical than the events initiated by Colen, Snow, and McGinley around 15 years before. In High Noon (Gagosian, Beverly Hills, 2018), the artist's 'Desert' paintings became an active backdrop for Carry on Cowboy, and At Least They Died Together—two highly theatrical performances evocative of scenes from Spaghetti Westerns.
Receiving increasing recognition for his work over the years Dan Colen's paintings and sculpture feature in public and private collections around the world. Prominent American museum collections including New York's Whitney Museum of American Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis include the artist's work.
Exhibitions include the 2006 Whitney Biennial, New York_; "USA Today," _The Royal Academy, London (2006); "Defamation of Character," PS1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island, New York (2006); "Fantastic Politics," The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo (2006); "Skin Fruit: Selections from the Dakis Joannou Collection," The New Museum, New York (2010); and"Peanuts," Astrup Fearnley (2011).
Biography by Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2020
Colen has been preoccupied with themes of performance, illusion, and self-portraiture in painting ever since his first exhibition, at Rivington Arms Gallery in 2003 (an exhibition that showcased his own obsessive streak, given that its four paintings took him four years to complete). In Me, Jesus and the Children (2001–2003), the artist's bare...
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