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March 11, 2024 Painter's Tape
Daniel Graham Loxton with Alex Vlasov

"When I have the right materials or collected enough of an impetus to begin a painting, it can't go wrong. Because it is love. Because it is informed by love."

Portrait by Salem Hilal.jpeg
Daniel Graham Loxton. Portrait by Salem Hilal

I first met Daniel Graham Loxton about two years ago in Cleveland. Seeing his work and chatting with him was a blast. All the time after, we stayed connected online. Periodically talking about Jonathan Lasker, Peter Acheson, painting, and Loxton’s work or mine. His words often have an aphoristic quality, his vocabulary is rich, and he is always in search of something deeper than a practical response. Alluring stories and descriptions of Loxton amass like brushstrokes on his picture planes. Loxton’s remarkable candor opens up a range of topics essential to painting, such as love or beauty. I can’t wait to see Dan and his work in person again. 


-Alex Vlasov

Alex Vlasov: This notion of doubt and how it relates to belief… Do you think intuition impacts your work? 


Daniel Graham Loxton: Absolutely. When I approach a painting I am not at all envisioning an outcome besides gathering materials slowly. I set them out in a way so that I am witnessing a process happen almost like a viewer outside of myself. I am trying not to prejudge. It goes back to your point about doubt, and cultivating doubt, as something that you have to endure. Enduring those moments where it’s not turning into anything communicable right away. I am sifting through materials, like dust, and letting it settle. Only then can I begin to have agency in the process. Often, it is far down the line in terms of beginning the painting and then having agency over the painting. It takes time. And a lot of that time is spent in doubt. It does get easier over time, but I do not think that doubt ever leaves. There is something worth surmounting in the moment when I look back. Most often I am happy that I saw these things through. 


AV: It takes a while to know your own work. I wonder how you developed this ability of seeing and enduring doubt over time. 


DGL: It has been a slow upward trajectory of becoming more confident in this process. Early on, as a painter, I had anxiety surrounding influence. When I talk about materials, often I am taking concepts from other artists, and I was uncomfortable doing that at first. As I’ve developed as an artist, especially in the last five years or so, I believe I am in the lineage of artists who each had their own set of doubts. It is comforting to put myself into a lineage even though we are in the splintered present and it is difficult to say: "This comes after this." But that itself might be our zeitgeist. If I am able to recognize that while making these paintings, I can still be a part of something that gives me a connection to something larger. I feel like a very small part of something much bigger than myself. That scared me as a young artist, but gives me comfort as an artist working closer to middle age. It took a while to develop this, I guess (Laughs). 

Daniel Graham Loxton, Il trullo, Oil, wax, dry pigment, textile collage, staples on wooden stretcher bars, 9 x 12", 2023. Courtesy of the artist, photo by Damian Griffiths

AV: This idea of being a part of something larger. One of the things that interests me about the work is this appreciation for the entire history of painting. It is not just about the history of Abstraction but also goes a long way back to the Renaissance, or Dutch Still Life. When we met last time, we talked about the Hudson River School. 


DGL: Despite the fact that at first glance my paintings are largely abstract, they are deceptively narrative. It is because I look at so many different schools of painting, sculpture, and photography. That often builds toward a consensus of forms like still life. The cohesion of marks on the canvas despite it being found objects butting up against something painterly and atmospheric, which I take from the Hudson River School. That influence came to me almost by chance. I left New York City. I met someone. They were attracted to this part of the Hudson Valley. Together we came up here to live near the Hudson, and it just became something I was witnessing on a regular basis while I held abstraction from my days in the city. I was also looking at photography and film at the time. It is a stew of influences which I try to hold in equal regard at all times. To look in different directions while I am in the studio. 


I can't tell you why painting always wins out, but I always tend to pick up the brush. I may have a camera nearby or the opportunity to let the process end at just a snapshot, text fragment, or Xerox print. I've been asked throughout my career, “Why don't you just try sculpture? Or why don't you just do photography? Why do you agonize over a painting?” I agree painting can be agonizing. The time it takes, all the history, waiting for it to dry, transporting it. It is not the easiest or most direct way of communicating but I like the complication of form, and that goes back to still life. When I visit a museum, I do not go to the Contemporary wing first. I usually go to see Chardin or someone a little bit deeper in history who has found a way to build visual interest through an economy of means. That brings me back to the construction of painting and still life does hang heavy in my work. Willem de Kooning said something similar. He taught a class at the peak of his career when he was known for the Women and the Abstract Expressionist stuff. But he sat and made a still life with the students. He was unflinching in his approach to composition and history. I put myself in a similar lineage. It does not mean you can't break free from academic things, but I still think there is something true and valid there.


AV: There is also this aspect of the process, accumulation of layers, building up the surface, and many materials that are implemented in the work. I am curious about the objectness and dimensionality of your paintings. 

DGL: I like to highlight the ten feet that viewers will walk between first seeing my painting and then seeing the details of my painting. That's a crucial step. I am leading them toward these deeper details, deeper histories. I have found that relief on the canvas is something that comes from the picture plane. (Points to a painting in the studio) This is a piece of wood that protrudes out, but you may not notice from across the room. When discoveries are made as they approach the work, they tend to linger longer on it. They tend to look at the edges of the painting, or put their face very close to the surface, which I've realized is something that non-painters don't often do. They do not take that oblique angle from one side or the other and kind of circle the painting. As my practice expands, I am realizing that slowing down someone's experience can be beneficial to them. When they leave the painting in the room, their experience of life after the painting can be enriched by having seen it. They are slowing down and looking at the details of other things in life. Recognizing atmospheric effects that are truly occurring in the world. I wouldn't go as far as to say I am creating a simulacra or something like that, maybe in the most academic terms. But to simplify it, these objects have their own histories. They are to be discovered slowly by the viewer. With objects in relief, I find that people look at the edges of things more. 

Daniel Graham Loxton, Untitled (Box Painting), Oil, wax, charcoal, Japanese watercolor, paper collage and adhesive on panel and wooden paint box, 13 x 17 x 2.5", 2023. Courtesy of the artist, photo by Ernesto Eisner

AV: One of my mentors back in undergrad told me this story once. She went to see a show of Luc Tuymans in New York. While standing in that gallery, she noticed copper tacks in the edges of his paintings. And she said to me, “Well, why do you think he is still doing that? Nobody stretches canvas that way for many years. Think about who looks at the edges of painting. It is his love letter to painters.” 


DGL: I have shivers thinking about that. That is beautiful.


AV: I also see love letters to painters in your work. Can you talk about this relationship between love and painting? 


DGL: My wife will kill me with this question (Laughs). There are very few things that I am truly in love with, or I can describe with love, and painting is one of them. There is such reverence and comfort that I feel when I enter my studio because I'm amongst things that I love which take the burden of time or a sense of urgency away. When I am immersed in books about painting, learning about painters, looking at interviews with other painters, and just chatting with other artists, it is one of the most comforting experiences that I could possibly have. I have deep anxieties about certain aspects of life, there's a whole world out there, but I don't when it comes to thinking about the history of painting or what painting can do and how it slows down our experience here on earth. Those are such valuable things to share. 


Often I will put the title of another work of art into the title of my painting. And in that sense, it becomes accessible to the viewer. Sometimes these clues are much more subtle. But I am trying to communicate a sense of love for the medium, and it helps me to get over that hump of doubt. Maybe I am in a mire of material concerns, but when I adhere another name to it… It is like, “Okay, you can do this, or you can pull this from whatever kind of compost of history you are engaging with. There is richness here.” I think of richness, or a sense of fertility, as love. When I have the right materials or collected enough of an impetus to begin a painting, it can't go wrong. Because it is love. Because it is informed by love. 


AV: There is plenty to see in the work and also so much to think about. This idea of abstract versus concrete or how conceptual coexists with perceptual. In other words, considering painting as a form of thinking.  


DGL: Within the frame of painting, there is also thinking about what is outside of the frame. And thinking about what is outside of the frame enters into the frame. If you allow that broad view of what painting can be, is it a way to hold your thoughts? Organizing your thoughts can happen during the process of painting. I should be clear when I say that, at least in my practice, I don't create my works from a research standpoint. It is simply having my materials ready to react to my surroundings. It is a bit like cooking in that sense. Cooking can also be like thinking, but I bring that up because mise en place is something I think about. Having your ingredients in front of you. So when the impetus, when the thing occurs that is outside of the frame, you are ready to harness that in a meaningful way. Even if and only in a small part or a small section of the painting are you reacting directly. I believe that that's enough to expand upon within the frame. It enters the work subtly. It takes time to build upon those thoughts that are outside of the frame because they get very quickly inside the frame. That's where, as an artist, I'm able to express my experience outside of the studio best. They become embedded in the process. 


AV: I start thinking about the experience of life and how every day we have different experiences. When I look at the work, the work is not generalized. There is a uniqueness from one painting to another. And even though there is a uniqueness, I can still see your hand. I am also thinking about quality versus quantity and how it relates to the culture of consumption we are living in. Your work goes quite the opposite direction in that sense.  


DGL: I would say my entire body of work is a subtle rebuke to that consumerism. When I talk about a viewer slowing down to view my work, that does not lend itself to producing a lot of paintings because I don't think they would have the time to experience each one if I were displaying them en masse, or even in series. Each exhibition is a chance to pare down. I treat each painting as an individual experience, even if that experience changes throughout the day. If one material enters into the painting, it could be just one of many things that are happening. It is never one thing. No painting begs for just one overwhelming impetus. I don't want things to constantly cancel out one another. I want them to coincide on the picture plane like geology. 


I would describe the qualities that I look for in my work to be a certain concert of densities. Things happening that have resonance, that are dense enough to attract your eye, and that could come in the form of something in relief but it could also come in the form of something atmospheric that allows one to recede into the painting. I think multi-dimensionality, whether it exists in actual space or two-dimensional space, is crucial. And I take that from history. I take that from the Renaissance. Piero della Francesca or Giotto come to mind. So, the figure and ground relationship does mean something to me, and I think that's difficult to harness in a meaningful way, but it is crucial. 

You said something very kind: that my work does have the look of my hand ultimately in it despite all of these disparate sources and each painting looking very different from one to the next (Shows two different paintings in the studio). My hand shows through because my materials exist in one place. There is a locale. A terroir, to use a wine term. I work in a very small studio and materials tend to accrete themselves or spill over into other ones. That is just one very simple way of connecting my paintings. They are created in close proximity, but their conceptual space is much larger. I have used this proximity from one painting to the next, where they are created, to my advantage. Almost like a chef working on very different dishes, but I am on that same burner on the same range (Laughs). Like the salt gets in each one, but in different quantities. It is responding to the previous work, or the previous move. There is a call and response, but I respond differently to each painting in simultaneity. And I let certain gestural brushwork shine through the final piece. I use the brush very infrequently, but when I do, it is my hand and I accept it. In that sense, I am not relying on other artists there. I have confidence in my hand. It comes from drawing and looking at a lot of art.

Daniel Graham Loxton, Untitled (Commuter), Oil, acrylic, Japanese  watercolor, paper collage and adhesive on linen, 9 x 12", 2023. Courtesy of the artist, photo by Ernesto Eisner

AV: We once discussed how looking at European paintings in Europe influenced your work and how that experience of standing in front of those paintings was really transformative for you. You told me the story of meeting Lawrence Carroll. How he advised you to go to Italy and look at paintings. 


DGL: Yes! I am deeply influenced by the history of European painting. As a young artist, I was looking at the Metropolitan Museum as opposed to the New Museum. I am blessed to have parents who took me to see Renaissance exhibitions or to look at panels from the 14th and 15th centuries. I had a love that was from a distance for a period of time. Looking at a lot of books or going to the library and seeing these plates with full-color renditions of Jacopo Bassano and Tintoretto. Those were my early heroes.


Later, I became inspired by artists who were European but living in New York. They were mostly showing at a gallery in New York City called Reena Spaulings, which is a gallery that I still look at today. Jutta Koether is one German artist who introduced me to a whole group of artists from Cologne who made their mark in the late 70s and still had resonance for me in the early 2000s. They were deeply intelligent, irreverent, nihilistic, and hopeful, all at once. It was the link from history to the present day that I was looking for as a student in New York at the time. 


In 2018, I was in a small group show in upstate New York. In that show, I showed three small paintings. They were the beginnings of my current practice where I was becoming comfortable with found material, but also responding to my move upstate from the city and looking at a lot of Hudson River School painters. An American artist who had lived in Venice for most of his career, Lawrence Carroll, had recently relocated to upstate New York and visited the show. He told the curator that he was interested in three of my works and if he could meet me for lunch, he would really appreciate it. He introduced himself as Larry. He didn't tell me his last name. He just wanted to have lunch. I am so glad that I said, “Sure. I'll have lunch with Larry. It's just a Larry in the world.” When I arrived, he introduced himself as a painter as well, and he started speaking my language right off the bat. You know, he saw the historical elements. He talked about paintings from antiquity that I also was looking at. He eventually told me his story, and that he showed in some very well-known European galleries. He had been in a museum show where his work was featured alongside the work of Morandi. A two-person show: Lawrence Carroll and Morandi. That's all I had to hear. 


He surprised me at the end of lunch when he said, “You know, I would love to buy all of these paintings and with the money I encourage you to go to Rome.” So that's what I did. I went to the Vatican museums. I went and saw whichever Leonardo da Vinci was there. Then I went to Siena, Assisi, and Florence, to The Uffizi and Church of Santa Maria Novella, all on a shoestring budget. I had almost no money. I went with my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife. It was this experience of, “Oh, my God! I am experiencing these things that I only saw in books.”


I really do have to credit Lawrence for his support and brief mentorship. Brief because he passed one year later, suddenly, while preparing for a show in Switzerland. It was a shocking loss for his family and friends. Before he died, we exchanged some emails and I told him how valuable my experience was in Italy, and he told me that he had hung the works in his house upstate. I'm thankful to him I got to have this dream experience. I have been back to Italy several times since, to all of the major cities from Venice down to the south, to Arezzo, to Assisi, to see all the chapels. When I look through these history books or in the library, I've stood close to most of them. I dedicated the painting titled San Lorenzo to him.

Daniel Graham Loxton, San Lorenzo, Oil, wax, dry pigment, collage, thread and acrylic on wooden panel, 15 x 8.5", 2021. Courtesy of the artist, photo by Damian Griffiths

AV: This is a wonderful story. 


DGL: The influence that I talk about goes from one artist to the next if you are lucky enough, or open enough, to meet other artists and interact like that. He was so humble in his approach. He did not lead with his popularity in the artworld. He led with his love of painting and just introduced himself as one man with a name to another man with a name. As opposed to, “A great painter - Lawrence Carroll, to a young painter - Daniel Loxton.” He left open the possibility that I would say, “No.” That takes a lot of strength.


AV: Art comes out of art, and artists come out of other artists. It is a priceless experience. It does not matter how expensive all those paintings are. When you stand in front of it in a museum, it is priceless to have that experience. To look at the surface, learn something from it, and then apply it to your own work.


Robert Ryman said once that all his art education comes from being a guard at the Museum of Modern Art. I know you spent a lot of time looking at European paintings along with the work of painters like Ryman or Blinky Palermo.  


DGL: I worked for five years at Dia Beacon as a guard, just like many artists before me. Wade Guyton was a guard. Brice Marden was a guard. Ryman, too. Having the opportunity to spend six or eight hours in almost absolute silence and solitude with art benefits an artist. Especially the half hour before a museum opens and the half hour when it closes, but all the time in between, watching people pass. I appreciated having the time to look at Ryman's paintings at Dia because I knew what he said about being informed by his experience as a guard, and it felt like I was a part of this conceptual lineage of painters standing quietly in awe. 


After a couple of years spent at Dia Beacon, I could see the dust marks on a Blinky Palermo and how they would move from day to day, depending on if the conservators had dusted them or not. All of that gave me such a high visual acuity for looking at surfaces. Occasionally, I like to empty out my picture plane like Ryman, or Blinky, or Knoebel. The difference between Belgian linen and cotton duck, or plastic versus wood, glassine, different qualities of tape or adhesives. All of that stuff does come into my work, but fragmented. I've taken fragments from each and composed them a bit like a still life. The scale of my work lends itself to these small arrangements. It is easier for me to take an omniscient point of view because my conceptual view is expansive, but my material concerns are focused. The smaller scale allows me to see every aspect of it at once and begs the viewer to get closer to it all.

Daniel Graham Loxton, Untitled (The dog with the strongest grip), Oil, wax, Japanese watercolor, 9 x 12", 2023. Courtesy of the artist, photo by Ernesto Eisner

AV: Something is beautiful in the way you are describing the small details of your paintings. Striving for beauty in everything. Whether it is attention to the surface or even the idea of thinking in painting and how that can be beautiful as well.


DGL: I used to be really afraid of the word beauty when I was a younger artist, but I accept beauty because it is one of the aspects of my work that allows me to say that it is complete. When there is a level of beauty in the details, I find it easier to communicate some of these more expansive ideas, material concerns, or conversations surrounding painting.


How do you describe beauty as beauty? Other than if you are attracted to it, it keeps your attention, or puzzles you in some way? It is alluring. Beauty can be something withheld. If you create something in the picture plane that's alluring and then you obscure it, you are asking the viewer to strive for beauty. You've set that interaction in motion. The withholding can happen on the picture plane, and the release, or reveal can happen as well. When I find a way to do both, when I give and I withhold so that someone wants more, that's how I can harness beauty in my painting. It can come from the brush, or it can come from the object that I adhere to, or it can come from the materials themselves. It can come from the order of the weave of canvas, as there is something beautiful in order. But there is also something beautiful in disorder, atmosphere, or the spread of material. They have to be in conversation with one another. I don't think beauty can be conveyed in one dimension, at least on a conceptual level. You have to pit one thing against the other. And that's what I do. (Points to a painting in the studio) This is a good example here. This is a book cover from a Degas monoprint covered in glassine. It is begging you to push against the surface, so you can get a better look at it.


AV: As a viewer, you have to work for it. 


DGL: Yeah. Beauty is not easy. Love is not easy. It loses its value if it is too accessible. Many comments on this have been made through different means. That's just how I approach painting. 

Daniel Graham Loxton, Untitled (Contrafact), Oil, acrylic, dry pigment, Japanese watercolor, wood collage and adhesive on panel 12.25 x 12", 2022. Courtesy of the artist, photo by Ernesto Eisner

AV: What is next for you? 


DGL: I will be showing in Italy next year at a gallery in Cremona outside of Milan. The gallery is called Triangolo. It is run by two very talented young gallerists, Leonardo and Ludovica, who visited my studio here in New York and offered me a solo show in the spring of 2025. The text will be written by a writer whom I admire greatly. In May of this year, I'm included in a group show at Final Hot Desert in London, run by two excellent curators, Ben Anderson and Marina Moro. Final Hot Desert is a strange but cool name, and I am really into their program. Keep an eye out for that. 


AV: That’s great! I am excited to see at least a glimpse of these shows.


DGL: In the coming year I plan to explore a new area of Italy, south of Milan. I’ve never been to Bologna. I'd like to visit Morandi's studio and possibly visit some of Lawrence's work if they have it on view at Museo d'Arte Moderna in Bologna. If I can do that, it would be a nice bookend to my experience with him here in New York. Wherever I go in Italy, I share that story about Lawrence. It has been an amazing calling card because he is less known in the States but is well known there. Similarly, most of my career to this point has been in Europe and less in the United States. I am not sure if that is the trajectory I meant to have, but it just happens to be where people have responded to the work and given me opportunities. 


AV: I am thinking about the lineage… I love Brice Marden. In one of his interviews, an interviewer asked him, “Where do you see your place in art history?” And he replied, “Well if there is any place for me, it is more just trying to keep certain ideas or certain beliefs alive.” Where do you see yourself in that lineage? 


DGL: I admire Brice Marden’s work and I like that answer so much. I saw him during his last weeks of life. I took a photograph of Brice with my 35mm camera on his porch in Tivoli, NY, and he passed away about three weeks afterward. In that picture, he seemed to stare right through me with a knowing smile. 


I would say that my lineage is somewhere caught in the ether of painting. It is in the mist that surrounds painting. Whatever painting is being created while people are alive, and thinking about making images. I think it is just somewhere in the mist. I hope that does not sound too nebulous, but if I could take a jar of it and keep it next to me in the studio, that's what I want to be a part of. So many painters are in that ether. They're my companions. That's where I want to be.


AV: That’s beautiful.


DGL: Painting is beautiful.  

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