Studio Visit appears in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. Here, a visit with painter Dan Gratz.
Q: I loved your paintings that were on display at Figure One. How much do you charge for them, because I really want one?
A: I can give you a price list. There's a range. It depends on the size.
Q: Are you from Kansas City?
A: I lived there for a time, but I'm actually from northwest Indiana. I was born in California, and my dad has a piano store that he started in northwest Indiana, so I guess I grew up there.
Q: How long have you been painting?
A: The first painting I did I was 19 — so for nine years. It was a pretty good painting — my first painting — but after that it was bad. I wasn't a natural painter, and my color sense wasn't good.
Q: Did you major in painting as an undergraduate at Indiana University?
A: I entered with a major in fine arts, because before you go into painting, you take all the prerequisites. I took color theory and sculpture and all that so I'm kind of a late painter. The BFA program in painting is really competitive. It took me three tries to get in. I definitely wasn't a natural; it took more work for me.
Q: I'm surprised. You seem to have most of the painterly techniques down.
A: Well, I don't know. I went on this Hudson River School quest last summer. I felt deficient. I wondered how the Hudson River School artists were able to achieve those luminescent effects. I looked at Frederic Edwin Church, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran. I was trying to learn their techniques by looking at and studying their paintings. I came to the conclusion there weren't techniques, per se. I think every one of them figured out how it worked for them. The way I approach painting now is, "This is my own system." I'm still using all the things I learned, whether in an academic setting or not, but technique is something I think about a little more abstractedly than I used to.
Q: What are you doing in your paintings? They look like collages, but I heard everything is painted.
A: They actually are paintings of collages that I make or my brother and I make together, using pictures from different magazines and time periods. One of the challenges is to reflect the qualities of the different time periods. I stick pretty close to the collages, but it always changes. The collages are designed to not be too obvious. When I make the collages, I think about landscape, and when I start painting, I think about a still life.
Q: Do you use oils?
Q: Are you saying something with your paintings?
A: Yes, but a lot of what I am saying is conveyed through painting, so for me to try and articulate it verbally would fail in many respects. If you're interested in painting, it really becomes a conversation with painting. For example, there are references in my paintings to metal music.
Q: Are you a fan of metal?
A: Yes, I like all kinds of music. My paintings are not illustrations of the music. Just some of the qualities of the music are in my paintings is the closest way I can say it. What is interesting to me is thinking about the landscape and forming an identity in some way. How does a landscape from a magazine inform you as a person? That's something indeterminate, like how metal influences a painting.
Q: Are you a third-year master's of fine arts student at the University of Illinois? What are your plans for after you receive your degree?
A: Yes, I'm third-year. The plan is to do artist residencies. I've been applying to residencies and working at the same time and getting out there. Eventually, I want to teach.
Editor's note: Gratz will show some of his paintings as part of the School of Art + Design Master of Fine Arts Exhibition, which is April 11-28 at the Krannert Art Museum.