Damien Hoar de Galvan was born in Northampton, MA, and currently lives and works in Boston, MA. He received a B.S. from Green Mountain College in 2001, and a Post-baccalaureate Certificate from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 2008. Hoar de Galvan has had two solo exhibitions at Carroll and Sons Gallery (Boston, MA), and his work has been shown at locations including the Lincoln Arts Project (Waltham, MA), Schoolhouse Gallery (Provincetown, MA), and Boston University’s 808 Gallery (Boston, MA). A short interview with Hoar de Galvan was recently featured in the quarterly online publication Forget Good.
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My time at SMFA overlapped with Damien’s, and I remember seeing his sculptures around the studios and in some of the student shows. Kirk and I have kept an eye on his work, and have been pleased to see it making its way around the Boston area. Damien’s current studio is the first studio I moved into following graduate school, so visiting his space always brings back a bit of nostalgia. His work feels much more at home there, though, than mine ever did. It’s part studio, part woodshop; a place where everything seems like it’s on its way into becoming part of a new piece. This sense of potential, process, and play is what brings me back to Damien’s work again and again.
Andrea Evans: Hi Damien, thanks for having us by your studio.
You took a little less common route to becoming an artist; you didn’t go to art school or really study art until you did the Post-bac program at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Can you describe your background and how you made your way into art making?
Damien Hoar de Galvan: I’ve always had a real interest in art, but didn’t really start trying to make my own until my last year of undergrad while studying behavioral science. Most of my youth was spent playing sports and that took up a lot of my free time. I was good at sports and enjoyed them, but I think I was always a bit more interested in the world of artists and musicians. In high school I was influenced by graffiti and punk type music; I wasn’t much good at either but they definitely left their mark on me. I think at the time I probably would have traded my athletic ability in to be able to play the guitar.
I started painting in college, graduated with absolutely no plan as to what I was going to do with my life, but knew I loved making things. After moving to Boston around 2002, I kept painting and making things until finally ending up at SMFA in 2007 to do the Post-bac program. It definitely took me awhile to figure out what I wanted to do, but I think it was the right path for me. I probably wouldn’t have done great if I had just gone to art school when I was 18.
AE: Wood, as a material, seems to be one of the constant materials in your work. You mentioned that your father was a carpenter, and you often work as a preparator at museums around Boston. Have these two things had much influence on your production?
DHG: Yeah I’m sure. I grew up around tools and materials (and someone who knew how to use them). I worked for my dad off and on during summers and a bit after college; I think I would spend most of my time dreaming of ways to use all the different building materials for artwork rather than really concentrating on being a good carpenter. I love hanging out in dumpsters looking through the cast off pieces from job sites, that’s where a lot of my materials come from.
Wood for me, I think, is just the perfect material. You can really do anything to it and it seems to get better the more you mess it up. Working as a preparator has been great in showing me another side of the art world; you kind of get to peek behind the curtain and see how it all comes together. I get to see a lot of art, work with a lot of good people who have many great skills and ideas, and often find cast off materials for my own work.
AE: In addition to your carpenter father and your own work as a preparator, what are some other influences on your artwork, formally or conceptually, artistic or otherwise?
DHG: My biggest influences are other artists. I could easily mention probably 100 contemporary artists working today that I greatly admire, but I’m not sure if that would make for an interesting answer. My earliest influences when I first really started looking at art were Egon Schiele, Richard Diebenkorn, De Kooning and Basquiat. When I went to SMFA I was introduced to a much more academic approach to studying art and learned a bit about post-modern theory, conceptual art and the like. That stuff made my head spin and I’m glad I got a taste of it, but I’m not sure how much it informs my own practice today. A few of my favorites who are actively working now are (and I’m leaving out so many), Chris Martin, Tal R, Katherine Bradford, Tucker Nichols, Joanne Greenbaum, David Shrigley, Bob Bailey, Jamison Brosseau, ok that’s enough.
I think the other real influence on me is the internet and social media specifically. Instagram and tumblr are great ways to see a lot of art without leaving your chair. Having the ability to search for any random thought while waiting for paint or glue to dry must be having some sort of affect on me.
AE: Your work tends to hover back and forth between painting and sculpture. You have more object-like pieces that incorporate painted surfaces, and your more 2-dimensional works still have a very present sculptural quality. Your smaller, more recent sculptural pieces could even function as paintings, if they didn’t have the ever-present “base” to stand on. Do you identify a clear distinction between these approaches of painting and sculpture?
DHG: I think I approach most things as a painter, and I’ve only recently stopped calling myself a painter. I love painting, but for a number of years now just applying paint with a brush to canvas has been almost impossible for me. I’m not entirely sure why, but clearly I need to “build” things; whether that’s a painting or a sculpture, I’m not always sure. Surface is and always has been very important to me, but these days I seem to need that surface to be a part of a greater thing. A flat 2d substrate isn’t enough for me. I really enjoy making objects. I came to a point where I couldn’t justify why I was making marks on canvas, but with a sculpture, I don’t worry so much about it.
AE: There is a collage-like quality to your work—but instead of using scraps of paper, you use bits and pieces of wood, found objects, and the like. Looking around your studio, everything feels like it could potentially work its way back into a piece. Is this process of reuse or recycling of materials a way that you have worked for a long time? Do you ever go out and buy particular objects to work with, or do you limit yourself to found materials?
DHG: Yes, I need to build things out of little bits. Again, it’s that need to build or construct rather than just start with a flat surface. I do look at just about everything and anything as a material (although wood really is the main ingredient). I try not to buy any materials, apart from paint, glue, screws. I can’t remember the last time, if ever, I went to a lumberyard looking for specific art making material. There’s so much stuff laying around that I don’t need to, and generally feel guilty about taking that approach. I really don’t love the term “found materials”, but for lack of a better one, that’s what I tend to use.
AE: I’m curious also about the pieces in which your daughter’s hand makes its way into your work, through her scribbles on pieces of wood. Do you see her as a collaborator in the work, or are these just an extension of available “found” materials?
DHG: Oh, she’s a collaborator alright. When she’s not in school and I want to be in the studio, she has to come along. She’s usually content playing with bits of wood and pencils, markers and stuff. I have to keep an eye on what pieces she’s using so she doesn’t draw all over everything. Over time those drawings on wood tend to make their way back to my worktable, and get cut up and used in different ways. I guess really they just become more “found” material, but I know which pieces she had a hand in—it makes it fun.
AE: We spoke about the process of making the new small sculptural pieces: that you tend to work intuitively, responding to formal concerns such as color, shape, and composition as you are constructing the works. What is your process of moving through a piece? How clear an idea do you have for each at the start? How do you know when one of these pieces “works”, or when it doesn’t?
DHG: I almost never have an idea of what a work will become before I start. Sometimes I think that I’d like it to be biggish or smallish or yellow or whatever. They tend to start with a base at the bottom and get built up. They’re generally built from intuition, emotion, from a formal position. I work best when setting up a way of working, and then getting lost in the process of it.
A piece is done often when it becomes “whole”, when it looks like a complete body or being or something. I want a finished piece to exist as if it’s always been there, like it’s natural. If something doesn’t work, I tend to change it. It’s not too often that I abandon a piece altogether. I’ll just keep reworking it until I can live with it; even if something does get abandoned, it will probably end up being used in another way someday. I keep things for years.
AE: While much of your work may be read as abstract, I find that I can’t help but begin to anthropomorphize certain pieces. Every time I see your grouping of new small sculptures, I think about Alex Katz’s piece “One Flight Up” , a grouping of painted portraits shown clustered on a table. There is something in these pieces that recalls the portrait bust—but only to a certain point. Is this something you are thinking about when making these pieces, or something you are working against?
DHG: That bust shape you’re referring to has evolved over a couple of years. They began as much more simple sculptures, a single stick or piece of wood on a base. Already that can be read as a figure or a phallus or whatever people want to read into it. As the sculptures became a bit larger and more intricate, this bust or head like shape began to emerge. It wasn’t really a conscious decision but as I’ve made more of them, I’m aware what they may look like to people, I don’t go searching for that, but I know it’s there. I guess I prefer them to live in a state of ambiguity. I’ve never felt the need to work with the human figure before but I suppose I’m not shying away from that association right now. I mean, I tend to refer to them as “guys” (and that doesn’t mean I’m attaching a sex to them, that’s just what I call I group of beings).
Oh and that Alex Katz piece is great, and I can see what you’re saying. I suppose in both cases our groups of “heads” could be seen as individuals in a larger group, possibly conversing. I’m not sure if he ever shows just one little head on its own though or if they’re always together; I like to think mine can do either.
AE: I’m also curious about the role of humor in your work. Some of your earlier text pieces are funny, quite literally, but even the more abstract works carry a sense of play and humor. What drives this approach in your work?
DHG: I don’t think I consciously set out to make funny work but there did come I time when I became aware of it, and then there is the decision of what to do with that. I think I’ve battled with irony a lot in art making and that probably has something to do with the humor. Slacker mentality, irony, and angst I think came out of the 90’s pop culture and had a lot to do with my formulating a self. These days I do my best to be sincere and care about what I do, I don’t think irony is any real way to make a lasting career for yourself. At the same time you have to be realistic and see that we live in a really fucked up world and to be too serious or trusting about anything isn’t really possible. I guess I try and take a humorous approach to my dark worldview and my work reflects that. Sometimes it’s straightforward with text using a one-liner. More recently it comes across in building these somewhat silly sculptures that have a genuine desire to live despite their awkward construction (if that makes any sense).
AE: The hand-made quality of your work is very present. There is a sense of play in the work, as you piece together or construct these different forms. We were joking around in your studio about how ridiculous art making can seem at times; the world is turning, all sorts of things are happening, and here we are: sitting alone in a room, making little marks on a piece of paper or putting small blocks of wood together. But I think we each find our own meaning in this in order to keep doing it. What is it about the act of making that is important to you, or important to the work?
DHG: Art making can absolutely seem like a ridiculous endeavor and totally unnecessary or silly or childish. I guess that’s what makes it so great. The idea of shutting myself away from the rest of the world to sit at a table all day while playing with little bits of wood or trash or whatever you want to call it and gluing them together is really very strange. But at least for right now in my life, I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing. I’m not saying it’s all fun or easy, but I truly enjoy making things. I can’t fully explain it, but if I’ve had a good day in the studio, I feel like I’ve done something worthwhile when I go to sleep. I’m not sure if I would be as interested in making work if I was having someone else fabricate it for me. I need to be constantly playing with the materials; that’s the real enjoyment for me.
AE: What are you working on this summer? Do you have any new shows coming up that we should keep an eye out for?
DHG: I’ll be having a show at Schoolhouse Gallery in Provincetown at the end of the summer. There may be one or two other projects in the works also but mainly I feel it’s important to continue to get to the studio on a regular basis. It’s very easy to get sidetracked if you don’t make studio time a priority, without that the work’s not going to get made.
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For more of Damien Hoar de Galvan’s work: