Artist Feature: Dan Lam

Dan Lam was born in the Philippines to Vietnamese refugee parents. The small family made their way to Texas when she was just a baby and established in Houston. Later, she and her mother would move to Dallas, TX.

Always one to follow her intuition and passion, she pursued an academic path in the fine arts. Dan obtained her Bachelors of Fine Arts from the University of North Texas in the fall of 2010 and went on to a Master's program in Fine Arts at Arizona State University, graduating in the spring of 2014.

Dan has had the honor of being published twice in New American Paintings, first in the MFA Issue no. 111 as Juror’s Pick as well in the West Region Issue No. 120.

In a previous interview with Vice you mentioned that you find inspiration in the work of art figures like Eva Hesse, Claes Oldenburg and Lynda Benglis -- in the present moment, who / where do you draw inspiration from?

On a regular basis, I research a lot about psychology, sociology, and philosophy. Even the books I read for pleasure have some elements of these topics. While it's not always easy to see a direct influence, I think there are a lot of psychological aspects to the ideas that drive my work. Since quarantine, that's where a lot of my attention has been. Prior to quarantine, for visual inspiration, I'd make it a point to go on trips to go hiking and explore different landscapes often.
I love to look at work by other artists and I definitely think it's important to know the context of your own work. But I personally find that when I do too much of that, especially through images online, it's easy to recreate something I've seen without remembering where it came from. So I try to experience work by other artists in person.

Your aesthetic is extremely unique -- what are your favorite materials, textures and colors you like to work with?

I've always been drawn to non-traditional mediums. I love using familiar or everyday materials and transforming them through my process. It's hard for me to say I have a favorite because I feel like I'm only at the tip of the iceberg!
What is the main message you’re conveying through your art?

I play with a lot of different ideas in my work and a lot of times those ideas are actually opposing concepts, like attraction vs repulsion. Those ideas inform the work, but the process itself also tells me what to do. I don't know that it's super important to me that everyone "gets it". I mean, it is a great experience when someone comes up to me and spot on knows what I'm talking about; it makes me feel like I've met a kindred spirit.
But in the bigger picture, I want people to see my work and have their curiosities piqued. I love when someone has a strong reaction, positive or negative. If they hate it and say "ew" or if they love it and want to touch it, I like the reactions. If they spend time really investigating a piece and have a ton of questions about it, I couldn't be happier. I also really love it when people tell me what they see through their own lens, that dialogue is important and teaches me things about my own work that I might not have thought of otherwise.
All of your pieces are absolutely out-of-this world beautiful. In a 2017 interview with ArtResin you mentioned that your art is intended to have a psychological effect on people --- As people usually want to touch it but it might hurt you -- so it’s a message that we are attracted to things that are beautiful. What feedback have you received from individuals who have experienced your art up close?

The desire to touch is the biggest thing. Everyone from children to seasoned art collectors will go hands first to touch a piece! Sometimes at shows, people don't know I'm the artist and I'll watch them sneak touches. I hear a lot of comments about the work seeming alien and from another world. In the same vein, I hear a lot of references to ocean life forms. My favorite feedback has been from people who have told me they don't like art, but my work has caught their attention.
Your pieces have unique names like “Lucid Dream”  / “The Empress” and “Delicious Monster” Do you pull inspiration from the dreamworld or anything supernatural?
My latest pieces do have names that reference more existential and subconscious things, but I think it has to do with how during this time I've picked up the hobby of trying to lucid dream (hasn't quite happened yet) and I've been more consistent with meditation practice. The textures of the latest works are something my mind goes to when I'm meditating, the flow of the material is super relaxing and seems to embody some of the ideas of consciousness and existence I'm playing with. I find the names I give my work definitely reflects what I'm most obsessed with currently in my life.

So let’s talk about your name. I am sure you get tons of questions about this. In an interview with The Jealous Curator you talked about how a teacher in Kindergarten literally changed your name for you to Danielle. Years later you’ve made a name for yourself under your given name -- Dan. How has your experience with others reacting to your name impacting how you create and the messages you convey through your pieces? Also, do people’s assumptions about your gender bother you at all?

I don't think that my name has affected how I create or the message of the work. And the gender assumptions don't bother me at all - it's 2020, I'm happy to help subvert gender expectations. I can't really quantify if I've had more opportunities due to people thinking I'm male though, which the statistics show the art world is still pretty male-dominated. What's been more of a surprise is how people use my Instagram name! People know me by Sopopomo more than Dan Lam, I think.
Are you working on anything new that we should be aware of? If so, what?
I've just been staying busy in the studio and taking advantage of this time to explore various ideas that have been on the backburner. Later this year in September I have a solo show with Hashimoto Contemporary in San Francisco.

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