For our November 2010 installment of In Depth with the Artist, we are excited to introduce Dagan Barrett. A child of jack-of-all-arts parents, former art school kid and sometimes-societal-outcast, Dagan inspires us to sleep with danger, speak our minds and air our dirty laundry.
At the jump, check out our exclusive interview, his latest project of narcissistic and cathartic genius, and hit up the shop for limited work you just aren’t going to get anywhere else. This is our blunt conversation with Dagan Barret. Hell yeah.
Junkyard Arts: Ok, Dagan. Let’s start with the softballs and work our way to the nitty gritty. Did you get a formal art education?
Dagan Barrett: I got a BS in sculpture and ceramics from Skidmore College, but dad’s a photographer and mom’s a jeweler and sculptor, so art was just a normal everyday part of life for me. After college I worked at Pearl Art and Craft for 7 years, and did my best to learn how to use every single little thing in that store. I learned more there than at art school. I still take classes all the time; it’s really humbling/inspiring to sit in a classroom with a bunch of really talented kids half my age and try to learn something new.
JYA: I miss art school in many ways. In part because I liked not actually being responsible for anything. I’m curious: why the diversity in medium in your recent work? You seemed to do mostly photography when I met you, now you are doing letterpress and I have a feeling you’ve got all sorts of shit up your sleeve. whats the deal?
DB: When I first moved to Boston I was doing tons of installation’s and making little two-headed plaster bunnies and gluing them all over town. Photography was just a way to document it all. The truth is I’m not technically a very good photographer, but I love taking pictures. I just try to use whatever medium fits the project I’m working on. Usually I have to learn it first though. I love learning new things.
JYA: Do you have a general point of motivation that you always go to?
DB: I try to always be making something, but I certainly have periods where I’m just going through the motions and have to throw it all out. That said, when inspiration strikes, I just try to go with it and not think too hard. My rule of thumb is: fast and dirty-make it messy-clean it up later-no shame.
JYA: Speaking of no shame, your latest project, Corrupt Susceptible Hearts just finished it’s first big show outside of Boston. Explain a bit about it so our readers can cringe at the idea…
DB: This past winter I contacted all the women I could that have been a part of my life in one way or another, from high school right on up to present day. I asked them to write something about us and post it in a Craigslist Missed Connections, not to tell me what they posted, just what city it was in. I tried to phrase it vaguely enough that what they chose to write was open to their own interpretation.
I then set them in type by hand and printed the pages using a Vandercook letterpress.
I’m hand-binding them into an edition of 36 books. They’re all on different weights, textures and types of paper. You can feel the letters pressed into the pages.
The companion book I’m working on is photos, scraps of paper, ribbons, notes, bits and pieces, whatever I’ve got left (if anything) of that person. You know, those little things you keep in a box in the way back of your closet or underneath your bed.
JYA: When you decided to do this project, was it completely narcissistic in nature? Catharsis? Just genuinely curious?
DB: It was all of those things and more. I’d just had my heart broken and was feeling nostalgic. Heart break can be great for creativity. All my favorite songs are about it. I was definitely nervous what certain people might write. I contacted everybody i could, the ones I tried to do right by, as well as the ones i did wrong.
JYA: Don’t most of us not want to relive the past with our ex-lovers? Didn’t you do shit that you don’t want to be confronted with again? What if the sister of that hooker you killed responded? Then what, Dagan? Then what.
DB: The really interesting thing for me was that not a single one of them asked me why I was doing this. I was absolutely amazed and impressed by how many people were willing to put some real time and effort into it. I’m very grateful to them all. As far as the hooker I killed is concerned, that’s why you kill the whole family, right?
JYA: Excellent point. Now, onto imperative questions: when you did this project – were you thinking about how slutty you are? Because I mean, shit Dagan – how many people responded to that post with a ‘that time we f**ked‘ or ‘remember that time I jumped out the window so I didn’t get caught‘ or ‘you bit me then we banged in bunny suits‘ is relatively high, to, say, a normal guy off the street.
DB: Gosh Lauren, tell me how you really feel about me! Actually, there’s a whole range of different responses, from nostalgic and beautiful to bitter or dirty and slightly x-rated.
JYA: slightly, my dear, is an understatement. But continue.
DB: …those certainly stick out. And not every relationship we (as people) have is meaningful; some are just about f**king. I also have a tendency to date creative types, people who aren’t afraid to tell it like it is.
JYA: You ever use the ‘I’m an artist‘ line to get ladiez?
DB: Ha! people always think that. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a woman using the artist label. I’ve certainly been dumped by women because they didn’t like how I portrayed them in stuff I’ve made. Most women I date know that I document my life, but the reality of that can still be quite a shock when it’s your dirty laundry hanging on the wall.
JYA: Have you ever been in the process of making the work and realized you felt differently about the person than you originally thought? Has the artistic process changed things for the worse in a relationship?
DB: Oh definitely. Making stuff is part of my thought process. I’ll make something and the unconscious thoughts or feelings will just kinda leak in and show themselves. Sometimes. if I’m lucky. Sometimes the grey matter just gets in the way.
Emmit Gowan has a really great quote about this that I love. It goes: ‘Of course, this is one of the really important things about art, that you can make more than you can understand at the moment the thing is being made. But the gap between what we recognize inside ourselves – our feelings- and our ability to trust ourselves and to trust exposing ourselves to those ideas, can be great.’
JYA: Living in the moment while utilizing sense memory is a common training tactic for actors – Gowan sounds like he is familiar with the practice. I guess the arts all tend to bleed into each other – similar procees and all.
Anyhoo – all artists have a fall-back expressive medium – your seems to be photography. While perhaps not technically perfect, your work is always more about the emotion, the ‘now’, and that comes through. So you’ve not introduced the letterpress and multimedia into your work in addition to the fine arts – what is the next step for you?
DB: Well, thanks! Yeah, photo’s a weird medium with lot’s of rules that I don’t really believe in. It is really important to get a perfect exposure and proper color balance if you’re taking a pic of a painting and want it to look exactly the same. But I’m not doing that. I’m more interested in blown-out highlights, blurriness and things you can’t quite see. Tension in what’s not there. So for you to say it’s more about the emotion makes me feel like I’m doing something right.
I’m still working on actually binding some of these books. Eventually I’d like to publish them in a limited run, along with my response pages. This project is a small part of a much larger whole. It has many different parts and dates back well over a decade. But right now on working on another show that will hang soon.
As for the next step, just keep doing it?
JYA: Right on.
JYA: Materials do you use most often?
DB: iPhone, 4×5 Sinar Rail camera, Fuji gw670ii – but the best camera is the one I have with me. Also, a Vandercook sp-15 Letterpress.
JYA: Music you most often listen to while making art.
JYA: Favorite city to visit.
JYA: Favorite work of art from another artist.
DB: Twin Peaks.
JYA: Wait. Like, the show?
JYA: Interesting choice.