You know an artist is perfect for an October pop-up exhibit when they throw huge Halloween block parties. That’s why we’re excited to have married artists, Daniel Mosher Long and Rebecca Clark, for our latest exhibition “Wonder Room” at 100 Pearl Street Gallery this month. It’s no surprise that the couple, married 25 years, are all about getting into the fall and Halloween spirit, and have a similar aesthetic that is complementary to each other’s artwork.
Both artists are influenced by Surrealism, specifically the juxtaposition of mementos and objects, and both are photography professors (Rebecca teaches Community College of Rhode Island and Daniel teaches at Manchester Community College). The exhibition is named after the traditional cabinet of curiosities, also known as a ‘wonder room.’ These rooms were the precursors of modern museums and held collections of extraordinary objects – both natural and man-made – that attempted to categorize and tell stories about the wonders and oddities of our world. Rebecca transforms details of old master paintings (such as expressions and gestures) into multi-layered compositions, while Daniel photographs natural objects and cultural artifacts often in juxtaposition to ward off evil.
We spoke with Rebecca and Daniel to learn more about their inspiration, artistic process, and – of course – their favorite season. Read on for more and join us for the opening reception of Wonder Room on Thursday, October 22 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Arts Council’s 100 Pearl Street Gallery.
What or who inspires your artistic process?
Daniel: I have drawn inspiration from the Cabinet of Curiosities, modern mixed-media, found art assemblage and scannography. I am fascinated by natural history museums and seek out the oldest and quirkiest when I travel. Somehow, in the process of photographing still life, I have bonded with René Magritte. Magritte often depicted ordinary objects and challenged the viewer with odd juxtapositions. I also like his idea of a “poetically disciplined image” that poses rather than answers questions. This project was also influenced by Olivia Parker’s work. I don’t think you can think critically about still life photography and not acknowledge Olivia Parker. J. Seeley (former Wesleyan University professor) also comes to mind. Fifteen years ago I bought a J. Seeley photograph and it has since hung prominently in my house. I think Seeley was one of the pioneers of scannography, that is, creating images using a flatbed scanner. Our images share some common ground – I shoot from directly above with a camera looking down, and using a scanner, he shot from directly below looking up.
Rebecca: My work is influenced largely by art history. My subject matter comes from old master paintings and the metamorphosis of the elements I appropriate is influenced by Surrealism. I visit museums to photograph details of paintings, then transform and weave the art historical fragments together into multi-layered compositions. The surrealistic juxtapositions of imagery are inspired by the form and concept of the photographs of the paintings, not necessarily the original artworks themselves.
What’s your favorite piece from your exhibit and why?
Rebecca: My favorite images are Fish, Orchids, and Nest because they inspired my ongoing body of work, Ladies in Waiting. At first glance the images seduce you with their prettiness but upon closer examination they become strange and disturbing.
Daniel: Tough question. Maybe the photo of the Tagesoidea Nigrofasciata, which is a stick insect. This bug from Malaysia resembles a stick until it spreads its bright yellow wings. It can go from blending in and unnoticeable to the life of the party in a flash. I placed the bug on an article from a 1875 issue of The Art Journal titled “Japanese Art” written by Sir Rutherford Alcock. The article reverently talks about how Japanese artists were inspired by nature.
Which piece of art do you think best reflects you as an artist?
Daniel: Another tough question. Perhaps the image I titled “False Memory.” The photo features two small bendable rubber doll figures that I found in Vermont, and two enamel clock faces I found in New Mexico and an 1876 print of brain anatomy entitled “Gehirn des Menschen” from Austria. The arrangement and placement of the objects on the anatomy illustration remind me of turtles. This image is playful and surreal. I was thinking about time and memory when I made it – photographing the mementoes of my travels, objects that help us remember.
Rebecca: Hummingbird, like the other images in the Ladies in Waiting series represents my interest in the constructed narrative. I question and subvert the original meaning of the painting by creating a fictional back-story for the woman represented. The art historical remix illustrates a secret, memory, or fantasy simmering below the serene surface of the painted lady.
What do you hope individuals will take away from your art (intellectually, emotionally, spiritually)?
Rebecca: I hope viewers will be tickled and intrigued to imagine their own narrative interpretation for each picture.
Daniel: I hope viewers get sucked in by the detail and intrigued by the larger than life scale and pleasantly confused by the juxtapositions. I like the idea that my images sometimes challenge people to think about what a photograph can look like in 2015. Sometimes viewers comment that my work doesn’t look like photography. But what does photography look like in the digital age?
What do you like best about fall in Connecticut and how does it inspire you?
Daniel: Fall is my favorite time of year and Halloween is a special holiday. In early Fall the weather is perfect for being outside in nature. We have long had an outdoor block party on Halloween – with a bonfire, costumes, drinks and hors d’oeuvres. The Day of the Dead is right up my ally, Catrina figures, skulls, dancing skeletons.
Rebecca: My favorite holiday is Halloween. Every year we host a neighborhood Halloween party. We decorate our yard with colored lights and jack-o-lanterns and gather around a bonfire. The circle of flickering light surrounded by dancing shadows and darkness is magical. I try to recreate Halloween’s spirit of enchantment in my artwork. Another reason I find fall inspiring is that it represents the beginning of a new school year. I have been teaching photography for twenty-five years and each fall students bring renewed energy, discovery, and creative challenges that inform and motivate both my work as a professor and artist.