THE magazine October 2014

Page 62

Daniel Sprick’s Fictions: Recent Works

Denver Art Museum 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, Denver

THE SELF IS LARGELY A CONSTRUCT, YET FUNDAMENTALLY REMAINS one of the most powerful fictions to which humans are prey.

Living and working in Denver, Sprick embodies for

We constantly invent ourselves, and others invent what they see

me something of the Rocky Mountains, though he does

of us. Daniel Sprick’s oil portraits ratify the immanence of the

not specifically portray the majestic nature we associate

individual while positing identity as a mysterious mix of essence,

with rugged western wilderness. For some years Sprick

chance, and choice. The use of Fictions as the title of the show

painted primarily still lifes. The Denver Art Museum

suggests the artist is as exhilarated by the freedom to invent as

owns one, a large memento mori painting—Release Your

he is bound by the duty to reproduce what he sees.

Plans—which is on display in a room near this exhibition.

Sprick’s technical mastery is the result of his being

Included is an adjoining reconstruction of some of the

deeply rooted in an academic tradition of painting that goes

painting’s mysterious elements and a video of the artist

back to the Renaissance. His respect is for the craft of artists

talking about his work. Release Your Plans embodies an

who, as he says, “painted with no limit on the amount of labor

enchanted space with the quality of a Vermeer interior,

[the work would] take to accomplish.” Especially intriguing

but with a subtle but palpable animation—as if some

is seeing this commitment alongside a confidence and

kind of force were whirling through the space. (Imagine

freedom that are utterly of the moment. Sprick’s precisely

the hair and draperies of Botticelli’s figures—Venus or

rendered models practically shimmer within a thoroughly

Spring’s dancing Graces—and how they seem to flow

contemporary field of vision that gracefully points to its own

in an imaginary wind, a zeitgeist.) Some of the figures

effacement without hitting us upside the head with irony.

of Fictions, for example Moses, Homeless, reside in a

Expressionistic brushwork in the background foregrounds the

similarly animated environment of their own. Ketsia

lucidity of representation, tempering photographic perfection

seems to be morphing, not like Bernini’s Daphne, into

with seamless swerves into expressionistic scufflings at the

a tree to escape Apollo’s lust, but rather dancing in the

edges of the figures, their hair trailing off into wisps, clouds,

sheer joy of being, between the worlds of photorealism

jangles of paint flung outwards.

and abstract painting. All the images in this show are striking. There are skulls, a reclining nude, a reclining skeleton, a window with mirror, a partial view of a figure in a chair, a painting called Jared showing a young man in dreadlocks, which has been acquired by the museum. The paintings portray people of both sexes, and a wide range of ethnicities, ages, body types, and apparent social circumstances. Beijing Man and Chief Ironshell were two of the figures I found most captivating, perhaps as they were more “exotic” in the sense of being farther from my own sketchy identity tags (white, female). On the other hand, a painting called Tom M., which shows a remarkable physiognomy, was even more intriguing to me precisely because I am slightly acquainted with the individual portrayed. In resonance with what he refers to in an interview as “complete conviction… a real palpable belief in the importance of the work” that motivated artists such as Holbein, Vermeer or nineteenth century landscape painters, Sprick’s gravitas in the handling of oil paint is evident both in precision and looseness, truly manifesting a kind of painterly middle way. We are fortunate to have access to such a fine intersection of disciplined craft and that masterful whim sometimes called grace.

—Marina La Palma

Daniel Sprick, Moses, Homeless, oil on board, 21” x 20”, 2012. Photo: Wes Magyar & WM Artist Service Daniel Sprick, Ketsia, oil on board, 20” x 24”, 2012. Photo: Wes Magyar & WM Artist Service

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