In-Sync with… Dana Major (interview)

This post continues my series “In-Sync with…” aimed to get a closer look at contemporary artists and art professionals from Chicago and abroad. Read it, enjoy it, share it, and get in-sync with artist Dana Major.

It has been my pleasure for the last couple years to work in various exhibitions with Chicago artist Dana Major. She is a an extraordinary hard working artist who continuously questions her ways of working in order to fine tune her artistic direction. She is currently working on a major installation project for the Summer 2013 at the Zhou B Art Center. I had a chance to sit down with her and produce a video about her work. Check it out and also enjoy this great interview…


Sergio: Where did you go to school (college/university) and what degree you received?

Dana: I went to De Paul University for my BA in Philosophy and English, and to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for my MFA.

Sergio: Do you feel art school prepared you for the art career you have now?

Dana: Art school did not teach the business of art, but it did prepare me with rigor, thoughtfulness, and insight.

Sergio: What is one thing you wish you had learned at art school?

Dana: I’d like to answer a little differently, what do I wish I had done at art school?  I wish I had socialized more because school is rich with interesting people, inspiring people, and I wish I had met even more of them, because that reflection with another artist is vital.  So, the more friends, the merrier!

Sergio and Dana
Dana Major and Sergio Gomez

Sergio: What is your website?


Sergio: What are you working on and what inspires you right now?

Dana: I’m working on an exciting installation! I’m creating a walk-through environment of Shadow Matrixes, enormous, intricate shadows and their much smaller screen sculptures, lit with LED lights woven into the sculptures themselves. I plan to open on April 19, at the Zhou Brothers Art Center Third Friday Event.

I am learning about lighting, and I’m very excited about the different effects, including motion, and optical illusions, that I can get with specialized lighting.  And the screen sculptures remain compelling to me, not only the unlikely shadows they cast, but the objects as sculptures themselves, outside their role in the Shadow Matrixes.

How does a typical day in your studio/creative space looks like? I clock in every morning as if I worked for someone else, but when I get there I open my mind.  I meditate, research, experiment, and ultimately, of course, make art.  The studio is the place the art comes to me, and I have to be open, and alert, and relaxed, tuned in. When I am, my hands seem to be guided by something more elegant than myself.  When they are not, I call it a practice day!

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Sergio: Describe your creative process.

Dana: Like I say, I meditate, which for me includes but is not limited to sitting still, gazing.  Meditation is also when my hands are working seemingly on their own, when my mind is completely consumed in the world of the work. Let’s just say I identify with Joan of Arc, either a crackpot or guided by God, I am intensely driven to my work.  So, with that sort of mystical-ish experience going on, I can’t have a strict way of working (in case the work wouldn’t translate through it), but I do have studio habits: I draw when I’m visualizing; I clean my work area before I leave; when I am making a piece, I stop and look at it in stages as if it were finished in order to learn what it wants to be; when I am actively making, I take photographs of my work in progress and look at them at night; I maintain a formalized peer crit exchange with my buddy, Nicole Seisler, with studio visits every several weeks; I paint my door red for good Feng Shui.

Sergio: What type of mental/practical activities do you do when facing difficulties?

Dana: Sometimes I stare, even for days on end, when I know darn well the solution is to get the hands moving with the art. How is art going to come through me if I am not making art?  Most crucial, for me, is to not believe in the creative block.  It’s just a change in the water pressure, so to speak, of studio flow.  The work cannot possibly always be flowing, so, back to studio practices, if I am simply void of art, I clean, with open receptors to inspiration.

Sergio: Do you find social media to be a distraction or an asset for you as an artist and how do you deal with it?

Dana: I find out about most everything that I see and do on the internet, and a lot of that is social media.  That said, I don’t find out a lot.  I’m a bit of a studio hermit.  I think I haven’t checked Facebook in over a week.  It’s sort of a character defect of mine not to check in with the world more often. I am constantly finding out too late about shows I would have loved to have seen.  One of my goals is to make much more worldly contact part of my studio practice.

Sergio: What is your biggest challenge as a contemporary artist?

Dana: Ultimately my biggest challenge is to reach audience.  PR is part of a professional studio, and I am loathe to put my hours there, but I must!  So I do, in small increments.

Sergio: What’s next for you? 

Dana: I never know what’s next for me!

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Sergio: What excites you and dislikes you about your local art scene?

Dana: Chicago has a great mix of artists.  I love my art center, Zhou Brothers, because of the many different types of artists.  I’m not just talking about media or style, but how people live the artist life, what their art means to them.  I love that we have graffiti artists, traditional painters, sculptors, jewelers, free thinkers, and good looking people.

Sergio: What is missing, lacking or changing in contemporary art?

Dana: I think carefully crafted fine art has resurged. The human eye has always loved the finely crafted. Look at ancient art, at Renaissance paintings, the great art and architecture of ancient Greece, of Italy, of the Mayans and the Eskimos! People yearn to see it, they yearn to see the work of the hand of man.

Sergio: What is your take on the current emphasis on contemporary art fairs?

Dana: I think they are great. I think there is an emphasis on art fairs because they are perhaps a better way to go about “the art world,” that more closely serves the way we communicate and work. The world is new, how we find one another is new, technology brings us closer, and it only makes sense to conglomerate the work in one location. We are informed and stimulated by thousands of times more information in a day than when the practices of “the art world” were established.  We are more ready to see more art than ever before.  That said, it is a mistake to think of the art fair world as the entire art world.  That’s why I put it in quotations above.  Art Fairs represent the focuses of the curators, whether or not you agree with their selections. What you see there, though much of it is great, are the selections and opinions, and even the personal relationships, of the curators, and that is the way it has always been.  Look at it this way: if you drew a Venn Diagram beginning with all good art, and inside it drew three bubbles, one each for selections, opinions, and personal relationships of the curators, pretty much most of all the good art would necessarily not make the central, shared segment of the diagram.


Sergio: Do you believe gallery representation today is as important as it has been in the past?

Dana: For me the answer is yes yes and yes, because I want to be at work in the studio, whereas gallery people really enjoy bringing art to the attention of the public.  But, the question is about the importance of gallery representation today.  It’s not nearly as important because the public has been guided to look deeper for art, to the internet, to public spaces, to artist studios.  I think the world can find an artist without representation far more easily now, thanks to technology.

Sergio: How do you envision the art world would be different ten years from now?

Dana: As long as there is man, there will always be art, and it will always be somewhere.  Technology will likely make the distance between the viewer and the art more intimate in ways we’d say “wow” about if we knew them now.


Book… any Kurt Vonnegut

Art movie or documentary… How To Draw A Bunny, “a 2002 British documentary film following Ray Johnson”

Art museum… the MCA Chicago!  Go there!  See art!

Contemporary artist… Ernesto Neto

Place to be inspired by… the forest

One sentence advice for an art student… Go deep, meet people, sleep later.

Chicago cafe/restaurant… Wood on Halsted

YouTube video... Mandelbox


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