The paintings of Daniel Sprick are nurturing, they are fulfilling. They provide us with something that we are not getting enough of. He provides us with a longing gaze at ourselves.
Daniel Sprick is a man who believes that more is to be gained from being earnest than from being ironic. His paintings clearly reflect his natural gift for seeing, and his extraordinary mastery of the material, to convey to us a deep connection. A human connection. It is as if he doesn't just paint a portrait, when he is at his best, he paints us all, the oneness of humanity into each face. Everything is there in the shadows. As Caravaggio's figures come out of the shadow, Sprick's faces possess the shadow. The subtleties to be found there are sensational.
To be honest, Since I first saw his self-portrait in the Denver Art Museum's permanent collection, I have found myself looking for a flaw in Sprick's work. It is almost too perfect. Is that possible? As I looked over the half a dozen or so paintings at his recent exhibition at Evoke Gallery in Santa Fe, I found myself saying to Director Katherine Eriksson, "What about content? Do we really need another reclining nude?" Then, as if to answer my own question, I referred to the wonderful, dark, reclining nude by Sprick, which I saw in a gallery brochure. Yes we do need another reclining nude, if it is painted as well as Daniel Sprick can paint it!
Daniel Sprick is preparing for a solo show of nearly 50 paintings at the Denver Art Museum, which opens at the end of June and runs until November 2014. Having built his career on still life painting, he has in recent years dedicated his gift toward portraiture and now, toward even more ambitious figurative compositions, and this transition is fascinating to witness. He recently participated in the Portrait Society of America's annual conference in Washington D.C. and is currently featured on the cover of American Art Collector.
Animal Carcass by Daniel Sprick
The idea is to paint something better than anyone else. Just as with a runner who tries to run the fastest mile, just because it has been run so fast already, does not mean that they we shouldn't try to run it even faster. Just because a reclining nude has been painted before does not mean that we should not paint another one, in the hopes of doing it better.
Woman with Dreads by Daniel Sprick
I once heard that Odd Nerdrum said to Jan-Ove Tuv when he asked if he should repeat a pose of Leonardo's design, "Of course you can paint a hand like DaVinci's hand, you just have to paint it better, that's all."
Or, as Alan Lawson, painter, philosopher and founder of the Alpine Fellowship said in a recent panel discussion, "It is not so much about content as it is about a way of life." It is about making a masterpiece.
Daniel Sprick and I at Sprick's studio in Denver, April, 2014
Daniel Sprick and I met one snowy Sunday afternoon at his studio in Denver. We spent the entire afternoon absorbed in a most interesting conversation, all on subject, all on the topic of Art as he calls it. His ideas as I see them are of the Kitsch sensibility, in the best sense of that word. When I asked him about it, and about Odd Nerdrum's re-appropriation of the word, he said he could not subscribe to it, "I don't understand why anyone would want to label them selves with a demeaning term," he said.
When I gave examples of how the LGBT community re-appropriated the word queer, or how the black community re-appropriated the N word, or how biatch was turned from a slur into a dangerously delusionat clothing line, he seemed sympathetic.
"I understand what you mean," he said, "I stopped calling myself an artist for years because I thought it was misleading, but have sort of gone back to it as a matter of convenience." Even if we don't understand the original invention of the word, we understand what is meant by it. Or do we?
A number of things that Daniel Sprick said during our conversation reminded me of conversations that I had recently participated in at the Representational Art Conference in Venture (TRAC2014) and one of those things was that an artist must respect the intelligence of the viewer. Sprick expressed that emotion has staying power and when that is applied to a shared purpose, with a cultivated talent, then, we have the possibility of hope, of something beautiful.
Young Man with Dreads by Daniel Sprick
The magnificent reclining nude that I had seen in the brochure was hanging in Sprick's studio where we sat and talked. It is a rather large painting. It was of course more beautiful in real life than in the reproduction, something important to remember when viewing reproductions as opposed to actual paintings, not at all the same thing. Great paintings are worth traveling for. I told him that I had tried to find flaw with his work but that this particular painting reminded me that it is not about content as much as it is about craftsmanship and the ability to make that deep human connection with the viewer. He agreed. In spite of all the wars and terrorism, society is far less violent than before. Painting can be a guide to a more humanistic understanding and guidepost to a better social arrangement. Powerful stuff.
The quote by Winston Churchill is well known, when he was approached about cutting the funding for the arts in support of the war and he said, "Then what are we fighting for?"
Tho by Daniel Sprick
Daniel told me about his trip to Bejing with ACOPAL, an international art exchange between the USA and China. We talked about Peter Trippi and what he said in his TRAC presentation, "We are experiencing a golden age in painting that we have not experienced since the 1930's. We talked about a cultural awakening.
As I expected, I discovered that Daniel Sprick believes that art is useless unless beauty means something to you. He is a man who creates from the heart. There is nothing ironic about his work. It is simply beautiful. All you really need is light to make an object beautiful, if you can indeed make an object, a human face, look so sensual and soft with oils and pigments and stamina that you convey beauty and happiness. There is the joy.
It is extremely unusual for a living representational figurative painter to have a solo show at a major museum. His is a success story. Daniel Sprick's Fictions: Recent Works opens at the Denver Art Museum on June 29th and can be seen until November 2nd. Make the effort to see how sincerity and skill are coming to define a change in our cultural values.
A catalogue from the exhibition is available on pre order from Amazon, click here.
All paintings by Daniel Sprick, courtesy of Daniel Sprick and Evoke Gallery.