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May I present to you – Dan Wonderly

In 1997, I walked into a painting class in Cavanaugh Hall on IUPUI’s campus. I took my seat and looked to my right. I met Dan Wonderly.

First of all, his last name is Wonderly. Not Superbly, or Greatly or Ironically. Wonderly – possibly the greatest surname in the history of our species.

Me and Wonderly in Times Square
Me and Wonderly in Times Square

Dan and I connected instantly – films, creativity, photography, humor, thrift store clothes, robots, surrealism, odd haircuts and great conversation. We collaborated on lots of things together. We worked like comrades in arms on an exhibition for Indy’s 1st Jazz Fest. He was the recipient of my first ever sculpture. He photographed my wedding. And along the way, despite not being a follower, I have landed in Dan’s many worlds in some form, including Portland, Oregon, Santa Barbara, CA and New York City.

Dan is a wonderful friend that not only taught me how to bush dive, but showed me that leading a creative life is okay. He has embraced creativity fully, allowing the path to unfold as he experiments, innovates and takes the leap that comes with creative expression. In that regard, I have always looked up to him.

As I got older, I looked to Dan’s world for inspiration. Without knowing it, Dan has shown me a creative path. I’m incredibly thankful for that.

He is prolific. He is ever changing. He is a caterpillar that became a butterfly that became a sauropod that became a robot. That might be jibberish to you, but Dan speaks this language. His work speaks this language too – paintings, photography, video, sculpture, drawing and in his thought. Besides being an artist, he’s also a philosopher.

Mr. Dan Wonderly

He paints. He writes. And he shoots. I urge you to explore. He’s been an explorer his entire life.

I’m forever thankful I took a painting class. Everyone needs a Wonderly in their life.

Get to know this Biscuithead a little more – some of my questions and his answers below. ENJOY!

BTW, you can read more in this Series, here.

May I present to you, Dan Wonderly.

What drives you?
I’m driven by a slightly hyper-active, imagination.  It’s just always been that way.  Somewhat of a running dialogue of thought (not always that intelligent) streaming in combination with normal conversation and visual interpretation.  Kind of like having a moving filmstrip in a type of overlay-heads-up-display…

Window or aisle seat?
I would say 75% window.  Unfortunately, I’ve started to feel trapped by the window seat recently.  I love my clouds though, so the window seat always draws me back in.  I also have a fascination with aerial/overhead patterns and how they relate to macro photography.  So it’s always fascinating to be so high above and imagine how a system of fields or rivers looks fairly similar to sidewalk cracks, and gutter streams from an alternate, close-up vantage.  I think if there was a window seat that had an attachment to a high end digital-capture back/camera I would leave the aisle seat in the dust.

What has the internet done for you?
The internet has made me think long and hard about the branding/marketing/publicity strategies of my past, present, and future work.  I’ve designed, built and deleted about 10 websites that have ranged from visual diarrhea to very sparse image based interaction.  It was necessary to go through that breadth of basic design to narrow down my focus.  Mainly for me, it boiled down to personal, professional, and then random.  I have about 4 different URLs that encompass those themes.  So, in a way the internet has made me think about my career/work trajectory more than anything  else.  I try and do the google search about once a month to see how my buck-shot approach to threading my name and art is working.  So far it is pretty interesting and the immediate interactive quality of the “web” never ceases to amaze me.

Are you an artist? Why, why not? What are you?
Yes.  It’s always been in the cards, and I’ve fought it for a long time.  In fighting it, I think I became more of the stereo-typical artist that I hated.  The whole tortured part is actually real and rather narcissistic.  All that aside, at 33, it’s what I do and will always do.  Create images and objects because it is more out of function and daily habit rather than a forced effort.  I’ve just really not had any choice-which is good and bad, but coming to grips with this has been pretty liberating.  Art can be really therapeutic and it can also be really silly and selfish.  I try and keep it silly in my mind

What influences your work?
Open spaces with clouds-thanks to Indiana.  Alternate Dimensions.  Science Fiction.  Machines and our relationship as a race with them.  The calculated random quality of chaos. Macro/Aerial photography.  My daily environments…NYC has had an interesting affect on my sense of space over the last five years.

If you could go anywhere tomorrow – where and why?
Giant’s Causeway.   It’s in Ireland and it is named, “The Giant’s Causeway”  I’m pretty sure that I belong somewhere in those highlands between N. Ireland and Scotland.

Robots. Go.
Let’s just say one of the first memorable drawings I made was probably in Kindergarten.  It was a profile of a motorcycle with a front fork and wheel, and then a rider, but instead of a rear assembly to the bike, the rider had four legs and was this weird minotaur man-motorcycle.  So, I’m a big fan of robots and cybernetics in general.  From personal mythologies that I’ve been developing for years and even more out of escapism, I love the mechanical and efficient quality of robots.  Friends will refer to me as Danbot-partly out of dancing styles and partly because my voice and expression are sometimes rather robotic.  I’m screaming with emotion and vigor on the inside, but it just never registers in a physical, outward way.  I just attribute that to years of admiring robots. 

How do you make it living in the Big Apple?
In 2003 I took out an expensive gamble on myself and went back to school.  That has afforded me entrance into a world where I get to work in the commercial-photo industry.  In a given week I’ll retouch, assist, shoot, video-edit, web-design/maintain, archive, or tech-support for myself or other clients and photographers.  Most of the last 5 years has been working for other people and making a living in more of a secondary position.  It is slowly transitioning into a more primary role, where my work is from projects that I create and finish for a client.  That is the goal with the freelance dance.  It has been a rough and challenging road, but I can say that I’m working in a creative field and am setting the future up for continuing that work in the years to come.  That was the idea in the long gamble of going back to school and student loans.  As far as living in the Big Apple-it is a literal grind.  I can say that I’ve never dreamt-and remembered-as vividly and crazily as I have since living in NYC.  It’s a fairly good companion to my overactive imagination.

Choose (3) people, dead or alive, to eat dinner with.
Nina Simone, Clint Eastwood, Egon Schiele

Describe your creative process.
It can be extreme in terms of pace.  I’ll either process information, contemplate, gestate, and then execute a project over a period of years or speed that process up into a couple of months.  Much of that depends on deadlines, or upcoming shows.  It is a great work-lesson in how setting completion dates can greatly effect one’s process.  I tend to procrastinate, but can also turn out high quality and volume in tight time allowances.  Not the greatest motivator, but sometimes that push will open my creative flow into the “zone.”  When I’m in the zone it is fairly fluid and it marries into the whole explanation of natural vs. forced art or creation.  When you don’t have to think too hard about what is happening on canvas or screen or in the darkroom, then you know it is good.  Also, usually when projects or ideas scare the shit out of me, I usually know it will be a beautiful end result.  The trick is to just keep barreling into that fear.  It can be crushing if I let it.  I think in the end you have to have vision as well.  There are decade-benchmarks I want to hit into my 60’s or 70’s if I’m still around.  Knowing that this one project or moment isn’t the end of the entire body of my  work definitely helps my process.

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