11 questions with artist Dan McHale

The 11 Question Interview Series continues with artist Dan McHale sharing his thoughts on art, life, and animation. Learn more about the artist and visit pivotartgallery to see his new film “Spear, Fish, Boat”.

McHale - animation still from 'Spear, Fish, Boat' - 2011

1. How did you first become interested in animation, illustration, image making?
I’ve been drawing since I was little and got encouragement from my parents. My
father was a painter and my mother a high school art teacher. As a child liked science
fiction, drawing monsters, spaceships and so on.
2. If you have artistic/creative role models, who are they and how do you relate to them?
There are so many artists I admire. Sometimes I unconsciously rip them off. In my
film there is that close-up of the diver’s eye and then his point of view underwater.
Once I drew it I thought, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Uh-oh, I’m copying Kubrick. But
then I figured, I could do worse.

3. What is most satisfying to you about the creative process?
I like to make a gesture, and see the response. Whether I move the stylus across the
graphics tablet, or add a new layer of sound, say, I like to see/hear what the result is.

4. What do you learn through your work?
You know how people debate the meaning of a work of art, and wonder what the
artist intended? And the artist’s intention is not always the best guide of the meaning
(for each viewer)? I also find layers of meaning in what I’m making. I have certain
goals and make rules for myself, but later on I might say, oh, this is what this film is

McHale - animation still from 'Spear, Fish, Boat' - 2011

5. Do you prefer painting to drawing? or vice versa?
I love both drawing and painting. I haven’t painted lately as I’ve been focusing on
animation, so I miss painting right now, would like to get away from the computer and
go dirty up a canvas.
6. How does the narrative or story-line develop for your animations? Do the images
come first or the story?
I think I start with an image usually. In the case of Spear, Fish, Boat I just wanted to
mess around, and make some things move across the screen, without any plan. I just
started an underwater scene with a blue background. Then I remembered a story my
wife had told me about her brother, where he lost his boat. Then I started making
drawings to tell that story.

7. How do you know (if ever) when a piece, whether a painting or film is finished ?
In the case of a painting I may declare it finished the moment someone buys it. Do
any other artists tell you that? With film it seems, every time I start a new one, I say,
I’m gonna make this fast and rough, and leave it that way. With Spear, Fish I started
that way, but kept layering things in. More colors, more bubbles, a variation in the
music. I think this film will really be done when I see something to fix and decide, no,
make that better in the next film.

8. Your work can be very funny or wry or satiric. Can you talk more about humor and
how it works for you?
There’s a lot to laugh at in the world, including one’s own thoughts. Sometimes I say
something that I think is funny and I try to draw it. When I put it on a screen, in
movement, I try to get the timing ‘right’. I know a joke about timing. I would tell it now
but it has to be told ‘live’.

9. How do you feel about contemporary art and your contribution to it?
Contemporary art, for someone like me who has worked a lot in commercial
animation, is a place where I get a break from clarity of communication. I’m talking
here as a spectator of contemporary art. Sitting on the floor of a museum is a rock the
size of a fist. I notice that sounds are being emitted from the rock. I crouch low and
realize that there must be a speaker under the rock producing scraping noises. What
does it mean? I don’t know, but I enjoy it. On the second question, I love the idea of
contributing something to contemporary art. Maybe someday I will.

10. What is the most important thing you want viewers to come away from your work
I would like a person to experience some soulfulness when they take in my work. I
want them to go to a dark place, and come back again. So what they might take away
is a shudder of dread at where they’ve been. And having survived, they’re glad to be

McHale - animation still from 'Spear, Fish, Boat' - 2011

11. What can you add that would help us understand you and/or your work better?
When I did the Hamm’s brewery paintings, people started telling me their memories
of the giant beer glass, and I loved hearing that. Then once a fellow told me, no, it
wasn’t Hamm’s, it was another beer. I started getting annoyed, but then I figured, just
listen to him. It¡’s nice to make something and talk about it. It’s also nice to make
something, and listen.


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