This month’s gallery stroll artist is Dan Christofferson. If you follow Utah art at all you are already familiar with Dan and his wondrous works. Every artist I know envies his smooth style and unending inventiveness. But beyond his fantastic talent, Dan is just a fantastic dude.
One of my first days in college at Weber State I stumbled into the gallery and saw the graduating BFA’s show. Nothing really caught my eye until I found the back wall covered in red fabric with a triptych of portraits. The style instantly caught my attention and I went through college wanting to be like whoever painted those paintings. A few years later Dan moved in next door to me. I found out he was an artist and he invited me to come see his work in his basement, at which time I put together that Dan was the painter of those paintings I had seen at Weber State so long ago. I also found out that I knew his brothers, whom I went to high school with. He gave me a book on Joe Sorren and was a jovial neighbor. As I got to know Dan better I realized that he has a heart of gold and probably a brain of sparkly diamonds and magic tricks and curious kittens, history books and probably some boy stuff too, like crusty old sailors. Dan is fantastic and his work is fantastic and you are missing out if you don’t hit up gallery stroll this month.
I asked him some questions about his work. This is what he had to say:
Your shows seem to vary between paintings and printed/altered graphic design. Your style is always recognizable but you switch up your medium. What will we see at the Blonde Grizzly show and how do you decide what medium to use for each piece?
Well, I started as a painter, and only learned design in college when I found out my professional options were far more limited in the fine arts. I absolutely love painting, but making digital illustrations gives me a refreshing break from that slower medium, and a way to produce art in a way that is much more accessible and easier to reproduce. I love creating a bunch of options for different types of people to purchase and own accessible, original art. In that way I’m always looking for new mediums and different ways to tell my stories.
This show is a continuation of my on-going love affair with the great state of Utah. It’s a bit of a retrospective, I’m reprinting tons of my digital illustrations and re-coloring everything in red, white, blue, and gold to build a cohesive show. Every piece I’ve ever been asked about (“Hey, you should makes prints of this!”) will be there in full, patriotic glory. This show opens on July 19th, a few short days before we celebrate the 166th anniversary of the day the Salt Lake valley was settled.
You started your career as a graphic designer but now work for Big Cartel. Tell us a little about what you do there, and talk about being an artist who also has a full time job. You seem to pull it off with ease, but it’s got to be a lot of work.
The switch to Big Cartel from full-time design/illustration was a weird one at first. I realized really quickly though, that I had a knack for sharing my passion with others, and passing on a little motivation as I shared. Big Cartel has been an amazing platform for me to preach what I practice. I’ve always believed in the artist, the timeless trade of creating something from nothing with your hands. Big Cartel shares that belief entirely, and takes it a step further, encouraging artists to make money doing what they love. It’s definitely a lot of work to keep all the balls in the air sometimes. I’m always tired. Like, right now, I’m really tired. But even when it all becomes too much, it’s really just too much of a good thing and that ain’t half bad.
You often feature portraits and have done everyone from astronauts, sailors, Tom and Jerry, Ronald Reagan (and hanging in my kitchen) John Stockton. How do you decide who to paint? You’ve addressed Trichophagia and the inventor of Kevlar. Are these pieces just part of a natural curiosity or informed by specific events and or research?
I’m hungry for a good ol’ tall tale. I LOVE a good story, especially if there’s something potentially unbelievable about it. I love telling stories, and to be honest, I’m sort of a Liar. I tend to lie a little when retelling stories, completely convinced that a good, gripping tale is more important in the long run than the un-embellished truth. I just want people to spend a couple minutes every day in awe about something. I always hope if a story really gets under their skin, if the connection I make between images and icons feels like it could mean something more that it does, they’ll pass it on: spreading that story and, in essence, encouraging a chain of entertaining white lies that make life tons cooler.
I’ve worked really hard to catalog as much of the world around me as possible. Those things form connections and fascinations that evolve into images in my head. If I can’t shake an idea then I know there’s something there, which is when the research comes in. I often gravitate toward people or characters because of their stories, then attempt to retell those stories in my own way, and honor them the best way I know how.
Another one of your reoccurring themes (even on yourself in tattoo form) is Utah and Mormon culture or heritage. You’ve depicted Mormon symbolism, the seagulls eating the crickets, and Porter Rockwell. Why the specific interest and what makes you love Utah so much?
Utah history reads like a book of fables. There’s so much amazing stuff in there. A city built in the bottom of a desert valley, by exiled pioneers fully believing they’re plows and shovels are being directed and moved by angels. Mormon history IS Utah history and just when I think I’ve hit the bottom of the well, I dig a little deeper and find something incredible I can’t wait to embellish and pass off as fact. Whether or not you believe seagulls saved my ancestors from crickets, if the story is told right, you find yourself absorbed in the symbols, and myths, and realize you’ve just spent a minute more of your day with your jaw dropped and your eyes wide-open in awe.