Texas-based artist Dan Lam has made a name for herself innovating sculpture using polyurethane foam. Her alien works are known for their remarkable vibrant colors as well as their illusionistic appearance. Impakter spoke with the artist herself regarding her work.
Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you become an artist?
Dan Lam: I’ve always been making things for as long as I can remember. I grew up an only child to a single working mother, so I found ways to entertain myself after school and on weekends by drawing, writing, and just generally making things. I took art classes in middle school and high school, eventually getting my Bachelors and Masters in fine art.
How do you think people experience and approach your sculptures? Is there a particular way you want your work to be approached?
D.L: The reactions people have to the work are the best part. It seems to go ,“What is that?!” to “Can I touch it?” and then a close investigation of the piece. Most people either love them or hate them, which is excellent!
My hope is that the sculptures I make allow people to experience art on a very instinctive level—they’re attracted to them in a way that draws them in to take a closer look, whether or not they like art or “get it.” And after investigating, I hope that when they decide they love it or hate it, the question of “Why?” comes up. Why do I hate this? Why do I love it?
Could you tell us about the various materials and medium you use? Do you face any challenges using them?
D.L: The bulk of my materials is polyurethane foam, acrylic paint, and epoxy resin. The materials I use are not common (aside from the acrylic), but I love to find materials that are not traditional and use them in new and exciting ways. The challenge is just learning a new material, its limits, how to correct, etc.
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How did you develop your style and aesthetic?
D.L: My style and aesthetic has been building for a long time. I’ve established a visual language and fondness of material that can be traced back to my early days in undergrad. I focus on what I am drawn to and what I hate, questioning why, and then exploring that.
Your work is very fluid, almost amoebic in appearance. How do you develop the idea for them?
D.L: The foundation for this work really started as a dive into my own aesthetics. I’m easily able to make pretty things, I work with color and texture well, so naturally I had to ask “Why?”
How do you begin a new piece of work? What is the process like from idea to finished sculpture?
D.L: I start with the base form, which is made from polyurethane foam. I react to the shape and decide the palette I want to work with (though sometimes the palette comes first). I then spike and occasionally resin the piece. I work on multiples at a time.
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What kind of narratives or themes do you try to convey through your work?
D.L: My interest in beauty, attraction/repulsion, and contrasting concepts like control/lack of control, etc. drive this work. My work is also very influenced by the process; I’m constantly exploring the materials and how they react to one another, which often informs the next few pieces.
What factors influence and inspire your sculptures?
D.L: As I mentioned, process is key. I also enjoy hiking and going out into nature and seeing how things have formed over time, which I’ll translate into the work. I don’t reference anything directly in my work though, because I want to embrace the ambiguous nature of the pieces. This allows for multiple levels of interpretations, depending on the viewer’s lens.
Which other artists do you admire?
D.L: So many! Tara Donovan, James Turrell, Eva Hesse, Ron Nagle to name a few.
What would you say is your favorite work of your own work and what does it mean to you?
D.L: I don’t really attach myself to my work to have one favorite, but I do have pieces that I’m fond of because they were catalyst pieces, pieces that jump started a whole new body of work or direction.
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All photos: Dan Lam
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