Interview: Dave MacDowell is “Pop Culture Madness on Canvas.”
by Daniel Haim
Dave MacDowell Paints Acrylic on Canvas in the Lowbrow / Pop Surrealism movement. His focus is on Childhood Fantasy and our Contemporary Cultural Nightmare.
Daniel: Tell us about yourself; give us your ‘Artist CV’
Dave MacDowell: I’m a self-taught artist currently living in Virginia. I paint about 10 hours a day, and all of my work’s sell in galleries.
Daniel: How did you get started with painting?
Dave MacDowell: High school art class introduced me to watercolors and tempera, and a friend of mine told me about Liquidex acrylics. So, I went and bought a starter set and since then, I’ve given them probably half of the money that I’ve ever made in my life.
Daniel: Tell us about yourself, where are you from, how did you get started in this business?
Dave MacDowell: I’m a native New Yorker, and since childhood I’ve always been mystified by the power of color, and how light dramatically distorts our senses. My earliest memories were noticing the difference between how images were perceived through television, theatre and drive-in screens. How light would be translucent, refract and glow.
Daniel: Was it always a passion of yours?
Dave MacDowell: It was never a passion, but I had natural talent, and I eventually realized that art was the only thing in my life that wasn’t riddled with failure. It became a passion when I decided to take it seriously, about 4 years ago. I joined a local art group and saw that Virginia was geared to Boat and Lighthouse painters. I looked outside of the state, and luckily fell upon some powerful and knowledgeable friends from Los Angeles and New York, and the art market immediately answered me after I knocked.
Daniel: Do you remember your first painting sale?
Dave MacDowell: I used to always give the work away. There’s about a thousand people who have my work that never paid a dime. The work brought them joy, and to me it was a way of tithing. A barter/trade of repentance for the unfairness of having something rare and unique. Talent can be a burden when one doesn’t heed its call, and I’ve always believed that art should be free, or at least affordable. It comes from us freely, so why exploit something so pure for monetary gain?
Daniel: When did you know that the moment has come that you finally made it as an artist.
Dave MacDowell: When I have my own theme parks? LOL! I’ve had a lot of personal success the past 2 years. I’ve been in contact with celebrities, high profile collectors and multi-millionaires. I still haven’t “made it” yet, in my eyes, because it’s all about the journey! I’m too consumed struggling with the work to admit that I’ve achieved a sustainable level yet. To be satisfied and proud is for the ol’ deathbed, isn’t it?
Daniel: I understand that you are a self-taught artist, how did you manage to learn all these techniques?
Dave MacDowell: I was never allowed the affordability of technique experimentation through trial and error time. Once I had decided to make myself a “personality” through the art, I only had three paintings under my belt when suddenly I was signed on with a major Los Angeles art gallery. Every project became a self-challenge to study every painting that I feared impossible to recreate. Just throw caution to the wind, and paint everything that you want to see with reckless abandon. You’re sure to inevitably learn as you go, for sure.
Daniel: Did this come completely natural to you?
Dave MacDowell: I believe that you paint in the exact manner in which you manage your strengths and faults as a human being. I’ve always been blindly confident, and stupidly humble. You have to hve the emotion bent to be super patient crafting your product, and super impatient pushing your product within the market. You have to be a harsh realist, and a crazy dreamer. To believe that you can bring something within your head into a tangible reality, can be an unfathomable concept unto itself. But that what you do, and if you can balance this, the world’s timing is working in your favor.
Daniel: You share a great passion for Pop Culture. Where did this interest start?
Dave MacDowell: As a kid who is listening to pop radio, and consuming cartoony cereal while being barraged with media aimed at young minds, every kid can not help but to become their environment. Every product a kid thinks to be cool is marketed on their lunchbox, pillowcases, pajamas, and molded into mini action figure’s. I did have the dilemma of about a week to think about “What kind of artist do you want to be?”. And the natural answer was to exploit media culture with hidden agenda’s, just as we had been exploited since we were soiling Snoopy diapers, and eating Popeye baby food.
Daniel: What inspires you to make a great painting?
Dave MacDowell: I usually think about what image I want to paint, and then think what would make it funny/satirical/ironic. I never know that anything achieves “greatness” until it becomes wildly popular with the masses. And, when I do have that “top 40 hit song”, the people spread the image like wildfire on the net, almost immediately. I usually get one “hit” out of every ten paintings. I’ve been really lucky with timing, I think.
Daniel: Who are your greatest influences?
Dave MacDowell: I grew up with Mad, Cracked and Heavy Metal magazines. I always believed that illustration art was real legitimate art, as opposed to the “old masters”, which spoke in an unrelatable sepia toned language. I molded my work to fit into gallery markets that were dealing in contemporary art, primarily bent on illustrators who painted with technical brilliance. There’s a new wave of “folk artists”, artists who paint big-eyed waifs, monster painters, and surrealistic fantasy-world painters. I wanted the work to have a voice using people and narrative. I chose celebrity to fit my agenda knowing that people instantly react to pop-culture icons. This form of expression is barely utilized these days, and there’s only a handful that do this form of art really well. Ron English, Robert Williams and Todd Schorr immediately come to mind. If and when these guys talk about me, I’ll feel like the work is finally validated by eyes that see through the illusion. The illusion that makes it appear that I know what I’m actually doing!
Daniel: How often do you begin a new painting, and how long is the process of completing one?
Dave MacDowell: I’m always drawing out the next painting before I complete the last. This way the momentum keeps going, and there’s a giddy excited sense of completion simmering around the bend. A drawing takes about 8 to 16 hours, and the painting itself takes between 16 to 40 hours. The drawing is the most important, brain draining/ challenging part of the process.
Daniel: What’s on the horizon for David MacDowell?
Dave MacDowell: 2010 brings a full plate of Gallery Shows. I’m still pounding the pavement, super hungry and thirsty to perform in high profile spotlights. I have shows booked for Los Angeles, London and Art Basel in Florida at the end of the year. This art business is a dream world, and in reality, I also want to embrace my family, and acquire a Jeep to go four wheeling on the beach.
Daniel: Care to share an inspirational tip with our readers?
Dave MacDowell: Sometimes things get so complicated within the business, that my only advice would be “Run To The Hills”! But mostly it’s to be cool and stay in school. Anchor down with a real job and sharpen your skills when you can. If you don’t need to work, then paint every waking minute of the day. If you want to be a famous gallery artist, it’ll take you 3 years to get noticed by the public, and another two years to get accepted as valid. You can only go as high as you dream, so dream big and want it more than life itself. Surround yourself with sharp positive people, and sacrifice all time consuming detours like drugs and alcohol. Be cool and generous to everyone, because it’s a small fish bowl that we swim in. Humble yourself and elevate your work until it’s bigger than you. You can do it, and it’ll happen, because we’ve never been normal= We’re Artists!