Dana Kotler was born in Odessa, Ukraine, and grew up in Jerusalem, Israel. She studied in New York and currently creates paintings and sculptures at her studio in Jersey City. Kotler has been awarded numerous artist grants. She exhibits domestically and abroad, teaches in US universities, and leads workshops in Ireland.
See more of Dana Kotler's artwork, including the award-winning "The Introduction,"
in the print edition of Issue 153.
Cherri Lakey's Commentary
for The Introduction
I love looking at The Introduction. At first it seems chaotic and confusing, but, like all great works of art, it takes time (and a few viewing sessions) to let its meaning reveal itself. A gathering of friends seems to be the simple narrative, although there is nothing simple about these characters. Neither surrealism, nor realism… it is in a realm all its own… somewhere in between. Perhaps “poetic enigma” best describes both the definite and the elusive nature of the scene. It’s best to set reasoning aside and be a quiet observer off in the corner. Allow these friends from an unknown reality to go about their business of an intimate gathering at the home of the one whose head is filled with great knowledge and sits with the attitude of an oracle eager to welcome the new creature to their social group.
in conversation with
Ryan H. Smith
Your pieces are open to many interpretations. What does your work aim to say?
I always wondered whether art is necessarily aiming to say something. I think that when you ask an artist while they are working, what they are trying to say, many would stumble and stammer. At least for me, inside the making process, decisions arise, events occur, colors shapes and meanings occur, but really it all happens as a result of what happened before, and of the current state. The vector is not really beginning in the endpoint, but rather is a process of unfolding and discovery, rolling on somewhat blindly. I suppose, the aim is to channel something, maybe channel the gut. To me, the finished work seems in some way inevitable. It seems like a mirror, reflecting, while I am trying to figure something out. Sometimes I know exactly what I am asking, and then the work is probably more transparent. Other times I make a whole painting and never quite figure out what the question is, in this case perhaps the seeking itself may come through more in the work, rather than a clear question.
Yes, the work says something, and if I knew how to say it, I gladly would, but I don’t know how to—other than by making it. I suppose, what I aim to say is: we can pause and seek, explore, play, experience, intuit, trust. I get to attempt these pursuits and make a tangible object as a result, so I feel quite fortunate, but everyone has their own manner of doing so. If my work can serve as a vehicle for others to find further channels for their own introspection, I’ll feel quite accomplished. It is impossible for me to know what it would say to others, but I am infinitely curious about that.
Who are your biggest influences?
One of my major influences is my college art professor, mentor and dear friend George Dugan, who had opened my eyes to what I always suspected was there, but did not know how to look for.
It is hard to filter out the major influences, but here are some that have stayed with me over time, and some that have been added recently, in no particular order: Dostoyevsky, Edwin Dickinson (I try not to look at him), Comte de Lautreamont (!), Simone de Beauvoir, Nietzsche (can’t get away), lately Marisol Escobar, and always Rothko. It’s hard to select visual artists, there are just too many influences, including drawings by kids, and ads on billboards.
Can you say more about why you try not to look at Dickinson’s work?
When I see something I’m interested in, the freshness of the image in the mind latches onto everything, it becomes so powerful that I see other things through the distortion of that image. Dickinson’s work has certain aims and visual paths that feel similar to some of my own. When I get to my work after seeing some such thing, I feel like the decisions I begin to make are not my own, but are rather something very tempting that is handed to me on a plate. It makes it hard to listen to my work and think clearly.
To be clear, I have nothing against stealing, but stealing has to be done with intentionality, if you want to own the process and get something out of it. But following someone else’s solution is rarely satisfying, and never really solves the problem anyway, because after all every problem is absolutely unique, and requires a new approach every single time. This is why I am careful with looking at work that I admire.
How has your art changed over time?
It has changed. I had a major breakthrough soon after graduating from my MFA program. I received a grant and was able to just paint for nearly a year with no financial worries. I learned that I can paint for myself and not some imaginary audience, I learned the importance of loving the process, and that the end will only be worthwhile if the process was meaningful. My work keeps changing, it is incorporating an increasing variety of mediums, subjects, and directions. I guess I’m on a lifelong pursuit to making something that feels real and true to me, and it is darn hard to get there.
What advice would you give to new artists trying to cultivate a collector base?
My advice is make honest work. I would hate to crowd anyone’s wall with something that isn’t at least trying hard to be real.
What role does the artist have in society?
That of an oracle, a mirror and a magnifying glass.