From a recent interview
Inspired by iconic cartoonists and figurative painters such as Ralph Steadman and Egon Schiele, Jersey native Dan Hargrove is on his way to iconic successes of his own. With vibrant india ink and Prismacolor markers, Dan's subjects are born through an exploration of geometric detail and intricate coloring. In each of his creations, Dan tells a story set in a surreal world, complete with pipe-smoking cats and couples dancing under purple skies on landscapes with open eyes. Life is rich on Dan's paper. His cartoon-like illustrations and "pop-out" style collages are anything but simple and never monotonous, despite a ritualistic creative process consisting of playing "Where Is My Mind?" by the Pixies on repeat. To experience his work is dream-like and entirely stimulating. How does one's mind contain so many stories and know so many people that are waiting to come to life under his master's pen?
Q & A
What do you create? Yes.
What mediums do you use and which is your favorite? I’ve played around with a lot, but mostly stick to a combination of india inks, prismacolor markers and watercolors. I prefer to use thick paper because I put it through a beating. Quill pens with india ink are my favorite medium due to the precision and permanent quality of the lines.
When did you discover your current artistic style? I think most of the “style” is a result of me trying to compensate for a lack of formal artistic training. I guess one characteristic of my stuff is that it’s super detailed. The only reason for that is I struggle to color large sections of a paper evenly. I make sure to fill in all spaces with detail so I can avoid having to do this. I make bodies and faces distorted and colorful because it’s easier than making them realistic. I wouldn’t say I ever discovered my style because it’s all I’ve ever known.
What is the first piece of art you remember being proud of? I made this drawing called “Celebration” during the summer of 2011. It’s nothing special, just a bunch of people drinking in a fancy room all dressed in colorful clothing. Before this point I’d say I mostly just copied other people’s stuff and used tracing paper. Nothing was original to me, it was all just for fun. But one afternoon, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with my dad, and saw this wonderful painting that left an impact on me. I have no idea who the artist was but to this day I can remember the image vividly. That night I rushed home and started working for hours on end, day after day. I think I stayed up all night. Haha. I’d never really felt that way before and that was definitely the first time I was proud of something “I” made.
What does your creative process sound like? This is gonna sound pretty weird but it’s what I’ve done for years. You know the song Where is My Mind? by the Pixies; it’s that song at the end of the movie Fight Club. Well . . . I listen to different covers(Trampled by Turtles and Maxence Cyrin) of that song on repeat for hours on end. I must have heard it thousands of times by now. I don’t know why, but it puts me in a trance like state. It’s mind numbing and rather meditative.
Where do your ideas come from? This is rather tricky to answer. It honestly depends on what I’m making at the time. Certain ideas I can link to personal emotions and experiences. There is a specific event behind most what I make. Other ideas stem from the people I surround myself with, they play a big role as well. There are a ton of strange and interesting people in my life that influence me. I hold them close and value them immensely in ways they may not be aware of. People’s perspectives have always been of great interest to me and I think that’s where the power behind the ideas come from. History, literature, current events are also obvious contributors but not necessarily to the focus.
What is something you’re looking forward to creating? One thing I am certain of is that I look forward to drawing girls. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true. For the life of me I can’t draw girls without them looking like a guys. I’m tired of making dudes. Other than that, I have a lot of ideas for things I want to make, but they never follow exactly to form, so we’ll see. In the future I’m trying to transition to larger work, and perhaps installation art. This is something I’m interested in pursuing but haven’t explored it because I lack the space to do so.
What are your greatest artistic influences? These artists immediately come to mind; Egon Schiele, William Steig, Ralph Steadman, Diego Rivera and Hergé. I think their influence overlaps in almost everything I do. Overall I’d say Russian Futurism and German Expressionism are really what I strive to learn from.
Where is your mind from? Where does it go? I’m a dreamer and a realist; definitely a product of my parents who are both lawyers yet so much more. I’d like to think my mind goes wherever I go, but I can’t prove that.
Where do you look when you are feeling uninspired? At times I read or listen to music hoping something will trigger an idea. If I’m really struggling to find inspiration after hours spent with a blank piece of paper, I often turn to other forms of creating by writing poetry and short stories. I go to the Art and Music Library (at the University of Rochester). That library has little to no cell service and no one is ever in the reading stacks, so it is a nice place to isolate myself. But if none of this works it can get really frustrating. I try not to dwell too much on the process because whenever I force myself to make something I’m not passionate about I never really like the end result. But when I do find that feeling of inspiration, I do my damnedest to hold onto it.
Tell me about a love-hate relationship (with anything) in your life. I’m an ambivert; meaning both an introvert and an extrovert depending on the time. People often misread me, and it can be straining trying to keep up with appearances. I do my best to stay consistent, but it’s hard to explain my mindset to others. I beat myself up a lot when I come off as shy or struggle to converse, but I don’t think I’d be as artistic if I didn’t have this component of my personality. So I really wouldn’t change a thing.
What do you see when you close your eyes? I see blackness, but sometimes if I look up at a light I can see orange too. Kewl stuff.
What current event scares you? There are many events to be worried about, but we are living in the most exciting and progressive time in human history; so it comes with the territory. I think what scares me the most are trends in human interaction rather than individual events. Judging from experience, I think I spend as much time interacting with a screen as I do people. I’m sure many others do as well. I make sure to utilize this to try and understand other’s perspectives, or at least I think I do. But this isn’t the case for everyone. The internet is a fantastic tool to expand one’s perception, but in many ways it does just as much to box us in and isolate individuals. People find sources/communities online that reinforce and justify their ideology because it is comforting and easy. There’s this quote that sort of explains my feeling, “what concerns me is not the way things are, but rather the way people think things are.” It seems these days like people are asking less and less questions and saying more and more. That’s what scares me.
Write the first sentence in the book about your life. He died happy.
What do you need to break up with? It may sound bad, but I need to care less for others. I can invest too much and lose myself at times.
What do you believe in? Reason and being wrong.
Art and the Unseen
Interview by Jen Roach
Like many college students at the University of Rochester who thrive on the school’s open curriculum, Dan Hargrove ’17 (KEY) has multiple interests that he pursues with equal vigor. When he appears this week at the Memorial Art Gallery’s monthly series “Hidden Passions,” the international relations major will be talking about two distinct pursuits.
The first is his art. With no formal training, Hargrove has honed his craft, creating detailed, colorful ink and watercolor marker drawings. His work, which he showcases in an online portfolio at Danielhargrove.com, features vibrant scenes of surreal worlds as well as collage-style pieces.
He’ll also be discussing the coral reef he created and has maintained in an aquarium at home since he was 14 years old. He says it took a lot of trial and error to find the right balance of proteins, light, and coral species to best sustain his small ecosystem. In addition to the coral, there are five fish living in the reef today—two clownfish, two eels, and a lawnmower blenny—which Hargrove describes as a comical fish with eyebrows.
His interest in art was piqued during his junior year of high school, after a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with his father. After that visit, Hargrove’s parents “gave him supplies and let him go.”
He notes that he comes from an artistic family. His great aunt, Riva Helfond, was an artist with the Works Progress Administration, the federally funded program that provided jobs to unemployed people during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Hargrove says his desire to spend time working on his art motivates him to finish his schoolwork. “I’m always doodling,” he says. This year, he’s serving as art director for ArtAwake, a student-run festival that aims to bring art to a vacant space in the city of Rochester.
As for coral reefs, that interest, too, began after a childhood outing—in this case, after a visit to an aquarium with his grandmother in Virginia Beach. Inspired by his experience interacting with stingrays and other sea life, Hargrove installed a 4x2x2-foot aquarium and created a coral reef in his room.
Since he travels home to Essex Fells, New Jersey, only once or twice a semester, his mother helps maintain the reef by scraping algae off the tank throughout the week.
Is there a common thread between his interest in art and coral reefs? Hargrove says it’s his interest in what you don’t always see. For art, it’s the process and inspiration behind its creation. In his coral reef, it’s the tiny creatures—such as a sea cucumber or sea serpent— that you don’t see when the tank’s lights are on.
“It’s like having a slice of the ocean,” he says.