DRAWING A PROFILE OF DANIEL SEGROVE
WALT MORTON: You are a mixed-media artist, though drawing and especially charcoal drawing is obviously the core of your work. I am interested in how you found your way to charcoal drawing as a foundation for mixed media. When did you start drawing, and what was your training or learning method for drawing?
DANIEL SEGROVE: I have always had a natural affinity towards drawing, and charcoal/graphite was a medium I felt most comfortable using. I went to Academy of Art University where I got my BFA with a focus on painting, but during school I struggled with painting, specifically oil painting which was a medium I could never seem to get the hang of. I felt as though I had to work twice as hard just to be mediocre with it, while charcoal and graphite was more enjoyable and I was more proficient with it as well.
WALT MORTON: Who are the charcoal artists, living or dead that have most influenced you? What charcoal artists do you find admirable?
DANIEL SEGROVE: There is a long list of artists that I find inspiration from their charcoal work. If I had to choose one dead and one living artist they would be Nicolai Fechin and Zin Lim. One of the main qualities that both these artist share is that they make drawing look so effortless, while still keeping structure and form intact. I would always look over Fechins’ portraits during school. His understanding of form, texture and depth within the face is simply incredible to me. Zin Lim was actually an instructor at my school, but only taught the master degree classes. So unfortunately, I was unable to enroll in any of his classes while I was studying for my BFA. He is one of those artists and teachers where, as you watch him work, your main thought is “how.” How does he make it seem so effortless, expressive and direct while still managing to keep his proportion, form, and value on point. He’s definitely one of the best charcoal artists of our time in my opinion.
WALT MORTON: What do you like about charcoal? What does it let you do best? And what are your other favorite tools in 2017?
DANIEL SEGROVE: Charcoal is a very versatile tool - it comes it different levels of control as well as a large variety of softness. It also has a great visual weight to it that you can't always get with graphite. In 2017, I have been moving back towards oil paint, although I still wouldn’t call it my favorite tool since I still have a hard time getting used to the textural quality and slow drying process. But as of now it’s the best tool to execute my current concepts.
WALT MORTON: One of the most obvious innovative features in your work is a break away from traditional fine art drawing to inject color, also to distress the image — to stain, tear, cut, wreck or burn the image. Sometimes to crop the image “badly.” Part of this is a way to bring new color and texture and excitement, but is it more than that? When did you start manipulating your work this way — and why?
DANIEL SEGROVE: I started this type of destructive deconstruction once I left school, mostly because once I was out of school no one could tell me "no this is wrong." My concept behind the distress on the artwork's surface was to try and find a link between emotion and texture. I want to capture the emotional presence not through an actual literal representation (e.g. this is an emotional artwork - look how the figure is crying or something). Instead I want the emotion to come from how I treat the artwork itself, that the emotion is felt in a more literal action by the hands of the artist and not the subject matter. I think I can also relate the goal to the goals of storytelling, how writers often like to “show” and not “tell”. This also applies to visual art as well. Making a visual image does not inherently mean you are showing something. If you make the image too literal, you create a very stale image - you don’t want to spoon feed the viewer. I believe in leaving the image open ended so that the viewer can make their own conclusions and relate to it how they wish. This is why for my work I don’t want the emotional aspect of the work to come solely from the subject matter but the treatment of the work itself.
WALT MORTON: Does distressing the image ever go badly wrong? Do some of these end up in the “failure” bin? Or do you like seeing all unplanned outcomes for good or ill?
DANIEL SEGROVE: Oh yes, I would say mostly failures. I believe that it’s just the most interesting way for me to create, gambling for an unknown end. I believe that the risk taking is what separates a good work from a great work, but of course it comes with its consequences. However, I wouldn’t say that these are complete failures when the destructive qualities lead to a destroyed artwork because I always learn something new from the process.
WALT MORTON: There are some other contemporary artists who distress, wreck or damage a work of fine art into a mangled state. In Italy, Nicola Samori rips up the surface of his oil paintings. In London, the Chapman Brothers recently “rectified” Goya etchings by overpainting the figures with clown and puppy heads. Do you see any connection in your work to this impulse?
DANIEL SEGROVE: I think so, more so towards Nicola Samori, I think it goes back to what I mentioned in a previous question of trying to make the treatment of the work a main component in the aesthetic and the concept. Nicola Samori is tackling one of my biggest inspirations as an art student; that is seeing the decay of old masterworks, although he pushes it the extreme. As a student I was very drawn to the old masterworks that have been badly decayed by time, survived fires, stained by being poorly taken care of. This is where I started to notice how great of a contrast this distress creates when placed on something that is so greatly refined in technique.
WALT MORTON: The artist who achieved the biggest popular success with large graphite-charcoal drawings is Robert Longo. Do you think collectors understand and appreciate charcoal drawing — or is it seen as a lesser form? Many schools approach charcoal as merely a training basis for painting. Should we be taking charcoal drawings more seriously?
DANIEL SEGROVE: I would like to think that the importance is in the final result of the artwork and not so much the tools that were used to create it. I’ve heard that as well as a student, this type of caste system for mediums, and I do completely agree that certain mediums take different levels of skill/time. I think that it becomes superfluous if we take in consideration that we need to judge art on the basis of is the work compelling or not.
WALT MORTON: It looks like 99+% of your subject matter is the human form. Some critics would argue that the human form as subject is cliché, others would say it’s the only subject worth exploring. What’s your thinking on subject matter?
DANIEL SEGROVE: Currently, the human form is definitely having a huge resurgence. I find it to be one of the more compelling subject matters that has an unlimited amount of potential if we consider that there are a lot of muses and unique individuals where we can draw our inspiration and subject matter from. As well as it’s just a timeless subject matter - our understanding of self and others can really come through in figurative artworks, more than any other subject matter trying to capture this understanding, in my opinion.
WALT MORTON: Do you draw from live models, photographic reference, or imagination? And what are the relative benefits of any of those for you?
DANIEL SEGROVE: I would have to say a bit of all three, I have been drawing from life for many years, but when I am in the studio I work from photographs mostly of people I know and have drawn from life previously. I find that this way I understand a nice balance of what I know from life and what I see in the photo to create an interesting balance in the rendering of information. Imagination comes into play in my exaggeration and editing of the people I draw - where I ignore what I see, and simply create what I believe would make a more dynamic image.
WALT MORTON: Sometimes you paint atop your drawing as a way to bring in color or opacity. I am curious what kinds of paint you like using and at what point in the process this happens. When do you decide: “This one needs color X.” Or “I will burn you now."
DANIEL SEGROVE: Most of the time I will use oil pastel, or acrylic when bringing in color for my work. Although I generally have an idea beforehand of my concept for the distress in the work, of the two you mentioned, the burning is a lot more intuitive, and usually comes at the end if I deem the work needs, as Michael Borremans would say, the “knife in the eye quality” - something to break up the image in a dynamic way.
WALT MORTON: Your drawings can include areas of comic-book-simple lines as well as areas rendered to near photorealism. How do you decide what’s the right mix? Do you have any theory or guideline for yourself about what areas or textures to render and what not to worry about? What lines to preserve?
DANIEL SEGROVE: Yes, the theory comes from understanding how to balance information. Understanding what my focal point is and how other areas need to support this focal point. When I create a highly rendered portrait, I like to contrast this with empty negative space to create a contrast of information. From there, I may leave the upper torso empty then bring back the information towards the hands. It comes down to rhythm and composition. A general rule of thumb is to render areas of structure. For example, if I was drawing an arm, I would render the shoulder, elbow, and hand, leaving the bicep and forearm empty or with minimal information since I consider those to be soft transitional forms of the arm that lead the eye to more structured areas that need rendering as mentioned above.
WALT MORTON: What’s the biggest benefit any artist will get by practicing serious charcoal drawing?
DANIEL SEGROVE: Well, I believe drawing really is the foundation of any type of realism, and can be applied to many different subject matters. It’s the basis of how we understand the world around us and how we understand how light falls on objects. From there, once we understand the fundamentals we can have the choice to manipulate/exaggerate our artwork since we now have the capabilities and knowledge to do so.
WALT MORTON: The oldest known human artworks are cave paintings made 28,000 years ago via charcoal mixed with spit or animal fat. Do you feel any connection to those earlier mixed-media artists?
DANIEL SEGROVE: Yes, I think all artists do, not so much the fact that it’s mix media, but the pursuit of understanding the world around us and our place in it through art. The fact that humankind has been pursuing this goal since our earliest discoveries of art 28,000 years ago is really inspiring and shows how art is inherent in our species existence.
BIO: Daniel Segrove is a recent graduate in multidisciplinary mixed media with a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. Daniel currently lives and works in California, and has shown his work in the United States and internationally. Daniel’s explorations of traditional subjects such as portraits and the human form are unconventional. Daniel explores the use of paper in an active role, as a concept and a way of self- expression, rather than as simply a passive surface on which to draw. Experimentation and intuition create dynamic figurative works of art, juxtaposing traditional figurative realism with abstraction and minimalism, in visual and psychological contrast. Segrove's work incorporates mixed media including charcoal, graphite, oil paint, acrylic, pastel and collage, and mixed visual disciplines.