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Daniel Freaker

Artist Spotlight

I have to admit I often feel like a slave to colour. Like it has a power over me. I’m inspired by the optical effects that colours can have together and the movement, distortions, and tension this creates for the viewer.

Daniel Freaker's captivating paintings often seem to be mere fragments of a broader narrative. They occupy a space between the abstract and the figurative, as their relatable subject matter is rendered through a rich tapestry of interwoven processes, both intentional and accidental, that add a complex textural quality to the work. The moments depicted seem reminiscent of movie scenes or more personal experiences, while the radiant colours evoke a longing for warmth, connection, loss, vulnerability, or loneliness. This constant juxtaposition between vibrance and darkness, accident and intention, order and chaos, is what makes his work memorable.  



Q. Did you always want to become an artist?

A. I remember reading about Belbin personality types, where a ‘planter' defines a person that tends to ignore incidentals or getting bogged down by details. They are unorthodox generators of ideas but tend to start without finishing things off. Looking at my own life, that is what I have done; I get very passionate and excited about problem-solving but don’t really have the patience for bureaucracy or logistics. I’ve also grown up in a counter-culture that is critical of politics, social norms, and corporate consumerism. The values of creativity, critical thinking, and the search for experiences have led me to become an artist.  

Q. Your work seems to have a strong narrative, almost cinematic, quality to it. Is there a narrative structure behind each piece?

A. Stories definitely drive me. I’m a very sentimental person and find thinking about past experiences both wonderful and painful. For example, I see images of my kids when they are smaller and I can’t help crying. I find it hard to accept that those moments are gone or that they even happened to me. Painting these moments captures them in a way that feels alive and allows for both loss and mourning, as well as celebration. The subjects of my works aren’t my own memories, but those I think many can connect with and of which it feels like we all had them. In relation to traditional narrative structures like Freytag’s Pyramid or a Fichtean Curve, I don’t think about a beginning, middle, and end, like a before and after the scene you see in the painting. I feel like life is much more fractured and senseless, so I’m certainly drawn to films that don’t have a simplistic happy ending or those with unusual structures.

Q. How has your interest in film impacted your work?

A. I’m certainly drawn to cinema and especially to music videos in a big way. Sometimes, I see a scene or shot in a film and it looks almost like a painting. Especially when those parts of a film don’t make perfect sense, but leave a very visceral feeling. There are also creative people who work between moving image and painting that have had a big impact on me, such as David Lynch. Sometimes, I wish I could share my work with music, like “here is the perfect song for this scene”, that would enhance the experience and might bring it closer to the feeling evoked by cinema or music videos. I just love the flicker and shimmer of light in film, it reminds me of dancing colours and textures on the surface of a canvas. During university, I started out by making short films and experimental artwork before really applying myself to painting. These were very experimental installations like sequences of film made through cherry blossoms projected onto the ceiling of the gallery. But I found that working in film and video requires a lot of organization and planning, whereas paint allows me to work more intuitively and impulsively.

Q. Was there a pivotal moment in your career as an artist?

A. There have been many intensely powerful moments of loss, both emotional and financial in my life. I think this moved me towards working self-sufficiently, relying on my hands to create value and meaning. Rather than a single moment or epiphany, the gradual realization of impermanence means I find value in the immediacy of working with paint. 

Q. Apart from the very recognizable subject matter, which draws the viewer in, you draw attention to the medium you utilize itself by introducing visible paint splatter or expressive brushstrokes. One could say that this diverts the focus again to the surface of the artwork and the ‘painting as a painting’ creating a certain distance to the viewer. What would you like to achieve by navigating this field of tension between drawing in and pushing out?

A. I’ve always felt that that the initial subject captures people, but the rich play of details, contrasts between gestures and tones is what really brings a work to life and allows the gaze to linger. It’s what makes me stand in my studio and lose hours of my life as my eyes work their way around and try to explore and consider the process of how things happened on the surface. The movement between being drawn in and moving back feels similar to looking at your own past. I think the tension is what actually draws the two things together - the subject and the surface - and this is where poetry starts to occur. My techniques change quite a lot between images and I spend much time working out which type of mark would support the potential in the image. I often work from found photographs in which I see something I really want to draw out through the use of experimental techniques.

Q. In this manner, you simultaneously strike a balance between the figurative and the abstract, what does this interweaving of techniques and modes of interpretation mean to you as an artist?

A. People, places, and experiences are what interest me. I read a lot of work by authors like Albert Camus, Alex Garland, Douglas Coupland, Michel Faber, and Michel Houellebecq. Their scenes start to form in my mind and I can practically feel the light and the colour and I can picture the people, but I can’t see the detail. In many ways, my painting process is quite similar in that I can find the people, and their general setting, but don’t want to pin anything down with too much detail. That would feel static and synthetic. The abstract and fluid gestures seem to provide a certain movement and presence that makes the work feel alive.

Q. Could you take us through your artistic process?

A. I try to challenge myself from the outset. I feel uncomfortable working on a next painting that is too similar to the previous one. I think that insecurity and surprise are what I live for and what bring me joy. I antagonise with what I am doing and how it is progressing. I always start with an image or collage of images that I have found somewhere. From this starting point, I create an experimental surface of marks and colours. I do have an idea of how this surface might connect with the original image and I want to draw it out, but it is still very loose and exploratory. I also try to create tension, by, for example, using a very complimentary and contrasting colour for the ground which evokes a disconcerting effect on the eyes. This optical effect is important. It also means I can’t plan exactly what the image will look like, which ensures it does not become a photorealistic image. The work builds up very loosely to start with and the additional layers then help to create form. This building up of the image is a quite playful process and the whole canvas evolves as one object rather than specific areas being finished separately.

Q. Your work seems to emanate a sense of longing or nostalgia. Is this something you consciously try to evoke or are you looking to convey something else entirely?

A. I make use of unusual processes that wouldn’t be associated with traditional painting. For example, someone said to me that my paintings sometimes feel like they have been left in the rain. As some colours feel washed out and some areas or forms feel dated and weathered. I do, in fact, often wash them down with a hosepipe in the garden, or large sponges, to establish an ebb and flow between building and removing. This leaves hints of shapes, forms, and colours on the canvas that are at once creative and destructive. The more layers and washes and different techniques are used, the more it feels like the surface has a lived experience. Like it has character, much like the lines on a mature person’s face. I’m generally drawn to these kinds of things and don’t feel the need for new, shiny, and ephemeral culture. This, in part, explains the nostalgia, but the longing, I think, comes from the tension between a static image and the impermanence of the experience.

Q. Your work often features a certain use of unusually vibrant colour combinations, what informs your choice of colours for each work?

A. I have to admit I often feel like a slave to colour. Like it has a power over me. I’m inspired by the optical effects that colours can have together and the movement, distortions, and tension this creates for the viewer. I’m not specifically drawing on Op Art, which is generally using geometry and lines combined with colours, but rather the intensity of experimental music videos, graphic design, and street art. I feel like I am constantly struggling for impact and visceral power through colour. It feels as if scars that have been left on me by those memories in the images. Colours also enable an experience of hope and optimism that I know I need in my life. They provide moments of pure wonder as the gaze moves around the canvas.

Q. You also teach art and design - what does it mean to you to work with the next generation of artists and do you think this has had an impact on your own artistic practice?

A. Teaching art and design for over 13 years has had a profound impact on my practice. The students always had that sense of joy and wonder about creativity and learning and exploring. Most of all, it is the willingness of art students to take creative risks that has left the biggest mark on me. That creative risk is very addictive. It can easily destroy something you have worked on for hours and that you have a very strong attachment to. So it’s very emotional, scary, and profoundly nourishing at the same time. I was able to teach across a lot of different subjects, from painting to graphic design and photography, from fashion to architecture, which has given me insight into lots of creative practices and I feel deeply lucky to have had those opportunities and means to find joy in engaging with many areas of culture. 

Q. Which other creatives or artistic movements inspire you?

A. I’ve touched on film, music videos, and literature that I’m fascinated by, but painters such as Cudahy, Armitage, Doig, Tuymans and Schnabel all create work that is absolutely mesmeric. I guess these creatives can be connected by a sense of narrative, history, and experiential colour work. My secret pill for productivity is intense electronic music. I grew up during the techno rave culture, from Berlin to Goa, and there is something about this mechanical rhythm that pushes me on and allows me to dance through disaster and terrible mistakes without getting down and losing motivation.

Q. Could you describe your work in three words?

I couldn’t do that for the work itself, but I can for the practice of creating it: cathartic - mesmeric - playful. 


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