Dan Colen, Let's have a war, 2016, flowers on bleached Belgian linen, 93 × 74 inches (236.2 × 188 cm) © Dan Colen
From the outset, Dan Colen’s paintings continually investigate: to what extent does art come from the artist, and to what extent does it arise from forces independent of the artist? In his earliest paintings, Colen labored over precise oil renderings of banal interiors—a sloppy apartment bathroom, an adolescent bedroom, a camping tent—into which he introduced the presence of the supernatural—the Blue Fairy, Jesus Christ, twinkling cherubs, his deceased grandfather. He describes his subsequent series of Candle paintings as “portraits of God.” In these works, the space of the canvas embodies Geppetto's worktable—where Pinocchio transcends his materiality to become real—and a message, left by a just-extinguished candle flame, appears in the smoke.
In 2006, Colen started to make paintings with chewing gum instead of paint, ushering in a long period during which he traded representational subject matter for an exploration of the medium itself. Using flowers, dirt, grass, tar and feathers, Mylar confetti, street trash, and readymade metal studs, he relinquished his controlling approach to painting, allowing the final result to be guided by the behavior of a given material. He has mused on this loss of control as a source of excitement, as if the paintings were taking on “inevitable forms—almost like destined forms.”
Dan Colen was born in 1979 in New Jersey. He received his B.F.A. in 2001 from the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence. Recent solo exhibitions include “Peanuts,” Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo (2011); “In Living Color,” FLAG Art Foundation, New York (2012); “The Illusion of Life,” Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Garden, Scotland (2013); “Help!,” The Brant Foundation Art Study Center, Connecticut (2014); “The L...o...n...g Count,” The Walter De Maria Building, New York (2014); “Psychic Slayer,” HEART - Herning Museum of Contemporary Art, Denmark (2015); “Shake the Elbow,” Albright-Knox Art Gallery, New York (2015); and “Oil Painting,” Dallas Contemporary, Texas (2016). Colen’s work was included in the 2006 Whitney Biennial and the 12th Biennale de Lyon in 2013. His work is featured in several public collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, New York; Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo; Dakis Joannou Collection, Athens; de la Cruz Collection Contemporary Art Space, Miami; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Jimenez-Colon Collection, Puerto Rico; and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.
Colen currently lives and works in New York.