Erotic–psychosocial art, life and thought
An interview with Something Dark Magazine
An interview with Something Dark Magazine
SDk: Alan, you’re an English artist living in California – why did you choose to make your home there?
Alan Daniels: I had done a lot of work for Paper Moon graphics, pictures of cars and girls. The company was based in California; in October 1980 my wife Beau and I went to Los Angeles on holiday, fell in love with it and made the decision to move there. We did not have a lot of money and were very uncertain as to whether we could pull it off. However, we were very fortunate that we had quite a few collectors of my work. One was an immigration attorney with offices in both London and LA. We traded paintings for his help in arranging for us to get green cards so we could move there. Richard Lobel of Coincraft Galleries in London bought the complete collection of my commercial work; this helped tremendously financially. We were very well supported in our quest to live in California.
SDk: You’ve rubbed shoulders with Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford... so to speak. How did you come to do work for Blade Runner, and what was that work?
AD: When we lived in England I had an agent in London, the Young Artists agency, and most of the work I was doing for them was science-fiction based. Ridley Scott hired several of the artists from the agency to go to California and work on some of the concept ideas surrounding the movie. I was brought in later to work on the matting of the movie and the poster concepts. I spent a lot of time on the movie sets to get a sense of what was being created. It was exciting to see how scenes were put together, to meet the actors, see the morning rushes, watch the set development, and see the special-effects generation. They would supply me with a single frame from the movie and I would create the environment around the action. This was then given to another artist who would re-create the imagery onto glass and then combine it with the live action. This was a time of wonder, wires and magic. It is still one of my favourite films and does not seem to date, but when watching it I sometimes remember seeing the scene being shot, and images of Harrison Ford climbing onto the roof of the building with a bloodied and broken hand, filthy and wet from the waist up and wearing immaculate white shorts and tennis shoes below the framed scene.
SDk: Our literature writer for this issue, Marilyn Jaye Lewis, worked for RalphGinzburg and Avant Garde – so did you, although presumedly freelance. Can you elaborate on what it was like to do work for such a cutting-edge magazine, and describe your art and publishing experiences during that era?
AD: Just about everything I painted at that time involved the airbrush, to the exclusion of using any other media. It was all beautiful women and beautiful cars during that period. I married the most beautiful woman – I am still searching for the most beautiful car. I have always been a freelancer and been very fortunate to always be in work. Avant Garde contacted me and wanted to do an article on the fetish elements that were becoming stronger in my paintings; this started from an interview, and led to the subsequent publication of several images. Most publications were great to be involved in during that period – I was pretty much left alone to do whatever I wanted. Who would not like to be in that situation?
The “men’s” magazines were also great to be involved in – they still had a sense of the erotic left in them, and they were a good showcase for my work. I eventually quit working for them when their approach to the erotic became gynaecological.
SDk: You paint the women who appear in your dreams. Not only that, but you say they “dictate” to you their looks, their attitudes, and the scenarios in which they wish you to depict them. When did they begin appearing to you? Can you please tell us all about the process of producing a painting, from a first dream?
AD: Images of what to do in my work have always appeared in my dreams. Some days you wake up and there is no choice but to paint. Once working on an image I continually try to let the image dictate the direction in which it goes.
Images of what to do in my work have always appeared in my dreams. Some days you wake up and there is no choice but to paint.
The women always are there first; in allowing them to develop as the drawing proceeds, a sense of their environment and situation starts to develop as well. It is difficult to stop over-controlling the painting. Some of the initial looseness and excitement of the drawing process I try to keep evident in the final piece.
SDk: Why “hussys” as the term for “your girls”? You hint there is a community of them that is almost real – can you reveal more about them, or this community?
AD: I had always thought of Heavenlyhussys as a place and not a name for the girls. It was more of a sanctuary in which they could exist and develop, each one bringing something unique to the community. It now seems the earlier girls were developing their characters. It is only in the later work that they start to interact.
SDk: Focussing on some specific pieces now, is there a metaphysical aspect to No Choice But To Leave; They’re So Cute, Can I Have One?; and Keeping a Check on Things?
AD: No Choice But To Leave. Bound and banished, tormented and protected. The masked angel and the screaming demon character are tethered by an umbilical cord. It is the idea that the same thing that can protect you can also destroy you. She has been bound and cast out but really does not care too much – or does she? You can’t always see the fear behind the mask.
They’re So Cute, Can I Have One? The circus comes to town. I had been working for Disney on Tinker Bell’s home of Pixie Hollow, and I drifted off and found a carnival approach of strange magical trees in a saturated landscape. The two main characters are the Ring Mistress for the Carnival, and the Protector of Innocence. The two girls dancing in the ball are a portrayal of captive innocence being dragged forth into the unknown; the lady with the knife is protecting them from whatever lies ahead in the unknown, but she probably wants one for her own more than she should.
Keeping a Check on Things. Fending off the demons, she stands on the edge of the mirror world in a haunting, vaulted chapel. She is what nurtures, creates and ultimately protects against all fears. She is on the brink of hell. She is a mother.
SDk: Some of your pieces share certain aspects of mystical imagery depicted in the paintings of the Australian artist Rosaleen Norton, “the witch of Kings Cross” (that’s in Sydney). She was notorious especially in the late 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. For example, your Chastity the Puppeteer is reminiscent of Norton’s The Jester with its larger-than-life force beyond humanity manipulating the strings of mortal “puppets”; and your Keeping a Check on Things, with its occult-like figures with serpentine tongues, is reminiscent of Norton’s Three Sisters. Do you know of her work? Is there anything further you can reveal about the imagery you employ?
AD: I had not been aware of her work but I am now and have become fascinated with it. Chastity the Puppeteer was the first of what I had hoped would be paintings to do with the vices of mankind; as yet she is the only one to have materialised. I can see what could be other paintings in the series for avarice or gluttony, but that would be me just controlling the situation. I will just have to wait and hope. I agree completely with what you said about The Jester, and I’d like to emphasise the “larger-than-life force beyond humanity manipulating the strings of mortal ‘puppets’”. If strings are emotions combined with will, then I think that answers it perfectly. The strings being manipulated by the puppeteer feel to me as if they represent her emotions transmitting her wilfulness to her subjects, in this case the puppets themselves. She is so caught up in being “chased” that her only freedom is in manipulating others.
SDk: There’s also what appears to be a very strong social-psychological commentary running through many of your paintings. Can you elaborate on this aspect of your work? Is there a link here with the metaphysical themes?
AD: Yes; anyway, the images can relate to each other and bounce off their situations within the painting. They can confuse emotion, alter conception, and alert the imagination – these effects would have to be metaphysical. Why do we do what we do, and what guides our social behaviour? I think in the later works these questions have become more prominent – the Hussys have established their presence and are more able to react to situations. Some of the earlier paintings have more to do with whom or what the Hussy was; they were the creation of themselves. Now there is more assurance and the situations can become complex. Why is one thing considered wrong and another right: if these decisions are being based out of ignorance or arrogance, then they are totally without value. In No Choice But To Leave there is the judgement being made between people’s rights and what’s seen as their duty. They are inseparably tied together, the cord. She indeed has a right to stay, that would be a given, in that there is no proposed wrong, yet feels there is a duty to leave. But who decides that duty – the good or the evil influences that surround her? The proposed wrong here cannot be that she is different from the other Hussys because they are all of a similar nature. So does the freedom of her rights become the focus of the others’ action? Or is it their perception that she is different the only guiding force in the decision-making process?
SDk: Much of the social comment seems to concern individual identity and psychology, often depicting masks and mirrors; one piece we find just a little poignant but seasoned with a dash of humour is Oops, where the mask drops… What are the women saying with this imagery, and with the hands that often reach from behind them and out of mirrors, grasping at them or offering gifts?
AD: Oops is innocence and a little bit of shock that her disguise has been revealed. Mirrors are the revealers of masks. Hands are the intrusion of others whether touching or making offerings. In For the Want of Chocolate she is willing to give everything for the bribe, even though she is conflicted with herself and has taken measures to secure her safety.
SDk: And is there a comment on society-writ-large, or even on the political, in other pieces, for example, in Civil War Circus – or would you regard this particular work as another depiction of personal psychology, expressing the “wars” we fight within ourselves regarding our own fragmented personalities and identity struggles?
AD: Civil War Circus is really about divorce, the very delicate balance of any relationship, and the ambiguity of the image one projects. The hands in this instance are an unwanted presence but an unavoidable instance. She carries a weapon for protection, a three-pointed hat to project humor, a contrary mix of clothing to show indecision. She is what she needs to be in order to survive.
SDk: Remaining with Civil War Circus, what is it that’s hanging from her left hip, and what is the significance of the candle at her feet? We’re fascinated.
AD: The remnants of another mask; she is slowly revealing her identity. She carries her trophies on the board around her waist. She is a theatrical being, the candle is just the stage light; it is used to mark how far you could go toward the audience. It is also a protective element – one always needs to know there is a light and a limit.
SDk: There’s a circus theme to many pieces, and perhaps similarly to how the metaphysical and personal social–psychological themes interact, so too does the circus cross over with other imagery. Can you shed light on the significance of the circus and its thematic interaction?
AD: Yeah the circus thing. My wife is of Romany descent. When we were first married we rescued an old horse-drawn gypsy carnival wagon from a farmer’s field; this wagon had belonged to my wife’s family. It was the Patience Lee swing-boats and gallopers wagon; this was the wagon they would have lived in, other wagons would have been used to transport the equipment. Lee was my wife’s family name, and they used to travel throughout Europe setting up carnival rides such as swing-boats and gallopers, more commonly called carousels. It was in the wagon we rescued that my wife’s great grandmother was born during a particularly heavy crossing of the Channel from France.
He now lives in Portland Oregon with his family who are an inspiration to the working of his ladies.
Description of Heavenly Hussys from Obsession Art
Extravagantly drawn images of women in bizarre, yet utterly feminine costume. Haute fetish fashion, intriguing fabrics, and articles like seamed stockings, lace, leather, corsets, face masks, mirrors and shiny metal. This blended with decidedly futuristic inspired hoods, latex fabric molding exquisite feminine curves, and the highest imaginable arched stilettos and boots. These are the women who beckon to him from his dreams and subconscious, persistent in their desire to be drawn.