Daniel Mark Cassity
I am a still life specialist, a glazer; it’s all about layering translucent paint. Though efficient at it, my procedures are relatively slow, without instant gratification. Yet I have learned by experience that I produce better results if I proceed in stages - allowing whatever time it takes - until I can no longer improve the work; that is a demanding process. I am committed to the idea of giving all that I have to give, satisfying an inner need, and so I hope my viewers receive an equal satisfaction - as if they have feasted on something dense and rich. Glazing in general, including my version of it, is not for the faint of heart. It is demanding, and in some ways, exhausting. So I do it only for the end result: not the journey, the destination. Of course, I learn a lot about myself along the way. The result of this is my series of oil paintings called The Kingdom. It is my imaginary world revealed in paint.
I grew up in Bastrop, Louisiana, where my father was an electrical engineer in the paper industry. My brother is an electrical engineer. My cousin, uncle, and grandfather were electricians. I too tinker with electricity when circumstances require it and have come to expect only a slight shock or two. Anyway, from the start I just had to make things. I would draw, write, shape modeling clay, and construct scenes with cut paper, but almost anything would do in a pinch. I was also influenced by comic books. Simply put, I have always been most satisfied when making things of my own choosing and remain driven to do so. For reasons I cannot fully explain, I have always been sustained by a sort of inherent confidence in this area. Conversely, during the very few occasions where this self-assurance seemed diminished, my experience has been frighteningly unfamiliar. If dark moments are the enemy, art is my vigilant sentinel. Likewise, if there is a "key" to my life, my happiness, it is staying in touch with eight-year-old Dan. Loved ones aside, artwork is the only thing that has provided me with sheer joy - goosebumps, in fact - and continues to allow me to visit those grandest of ever-elusive notions: meaning and purpose. Art explains me, I think, and I obsess over it, which strikes me as perfectly sensible.
Speaking of obsession, as any visit to my studio will demonstrate, I order what is around me to my liking, surrounding myself with not only tools, but also things intended to inspire. I suspect that this instinct is the same that compels me to visually organize my Kingdom paintings. They are staged: organized, fussed over.
Science & Fantasy
I was also attracted to science from an early age, and there is a bit of a mad scientist’s vibe to my studio, but conditions I now recognize as ADD, dyslexia, and dyscalculia (I also demonstrate obvious signs of OCD and am a lifelong insomniac) kept me academically limited. Dyscalculia was a big problem in school; the other conditions mostly seemed to be occasional annoyances. In fact, I believe some have assisted me creatively. After all, if OCD manifests as obsessing over my work: good. If dyslexia interferes with a normal sequential processing, reversing images, forcing different considerations: good. Insomnia? well - insomnia is just a big Jerk. On second thought, I think I'll mention the mountainous, monstrous, seemingly unsurmountable challenges that I had to overcome - the endless struggle - the obstacles abundant- the likes of which would crush most folk beneath a heel of, of... oh never mind. Just be sure I would have done important scientific stuff - BIG - if only I were capable of adding (beyond stink to a sock). Speaking of big, I remain captivated by the fields of astronomy and paleontology. As a child I dreamed of digging up a dinosaur and did my best to go about it after school, or sometimes during recess. Hoping for a stegosaurus or such, I did not understand at the time why I only found sea shell impressions and the like. I have a modest collection of found fossils and bought replicas, and you will encounter them within my Kingdom. Let's simply say that I am, as a blinking simpleton can only be, a science fan.
Pertaining to the navigation of life; I choose not to make claims that I can’t substantiate and am generally nonplussed by those who do. I have adopted this as something of a philosophy, or code, like the steadfast compass of my intellectual ship. Similarly, I am comfortable with the existence of unknowns in my paradigm and am not given to filling in various blanks out of convenience or comfort, as that strikes me as intellectually lazy. "I don't know," is a fine response in my opinion, valued in fact, and certainly preferred over claims of knowing what is unknowable (what is knowable changes, of course, but I hope my point is made). I am a “man of science” in that sense, deferring to scientific method as perhaps humanity’s greatest intellectual tool, giving way, even when it seems anti-intuitive. I respect rationality as a virtue and value the concept that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. This is an uncommon position in the artworld, but it offers a streamlined clarity that fits me, and after all, we’re all just doing the best we can, right?
I also appreciate fantasy - not necessarily swords and sorcery - but the act of imagining which does not depend upon rationality whatsoever. For the record, science fiction resides under the larger umbrella of fantasy, and I barely distinguish the two, but since we're on the subject of science (and now fantasy) I thought I'd throw that in. Hence, while my Kingdom may touch upon things scientific, it is saturated with fantasy undertones. Also, it's fun. It is also fascinating to me when such vastly different uses of the brain overlap, intersect, as when science fiction/fantasy inspires or anticipates what becomes scientific realty. Specifically, I want to make clear that my fondness for ideas fantastic does not indicate a tendency to believe metaphysical gibberish, however attractive or popular it may be. As to my thoughts on Bigfoot? (I thought you’d never ask.) I prefer a Monster in my woods; in fact I insist upon it. As to science and art, my common thread is that I am attracted to the notion of possibility, the fantastic, big ideas - but particularly to the power of an individual’s imagination.
What’s going on in there?
I also internalize a lot. I don’t like pretentiousness, braggards, or windbags (defined as I see fit, of course), and certainly don’t want to be perceived as one. I find the idea of selfishness distasteful, while recognize being self-centered, drawing a vast distinction between the two. Being self-centered I believe, is an artistic requirement and does not have to include wallowing in self-indulgence, or pomposity. I'm speaking toward knowing oneself - as a creative entity's best resource is oneself - and so it only follows to explore what's inside. Dig deep - vulnerably deep - find something worthwhile, and then give it away. I find this has no relationship to selfishness at all, and is quite the opposite. (Then again why listen to me? I don't have a badge or anything: I mean, I do, but I bought it in a flea market). Similarly, I attempt to examine the relationship between confidence and ego: if they are different at all. I internalize in the hopes of improvement, often trying to determine why I am what I am and why I do the things I do; at that, I might just then examine why I am examining myself.
This brings us to a point at which I will mention my fondness for absurdity. (I now tuck my thumbs under my armpits, protrude my breast-parts, purse my lips, and ponder the deep depths of my deepness.) “Methinks art,” I say to the wind, “is among mankind’s greatest achievements - with glorious, worldwide results!” Hmm, might just keep that. Anyway, regardless of quality, at its very worst in fact, art is a magnificent pursuit, and we discover something of our humanity along the way, individually and collectively, about our existence as beings on planet Earth. In my opinion, the "real artists" are motivated purely by compulsion. As to art most basic, there is something uniquely beautiful about the simplicity of mere pencil or pen and paper in the hands of a powerfully creative individual. Of course, everything we do is not precious.
Politics? You bet, I've heard of it. Firstly, I would like to state that I do not blow along with any prevailing wind - I stand for the individual - all one of us - and therefore am the cause of my own wind (wait a minute, I'd like to start over, please). What I meant to say is that I've never identified with any herd (I mean group), and so I best identify as a Libertarian. Libertarians generally can't wait to leave others alone to pursue their (ethical/legal) whatever. I prefer less over more centralized power: ultimate centralized power being a dictator, or King. From government, I want little more than security, fiscal responsibility, and the providing of an even playing field for all to have opportunity. Personal responsibility, however, is the key, and perhaps the limitation. For responsible individuals are needed to comprise a worthwhile collective from the inside outward, not forced from the outside in. Suspicious of social engineering, I possess no instinct to tell others how to live, even when I disagree with them. I value the individual above all else. So overall, I am an easygoing “live and let live” type of fellow (except when I encounter a jackass [which is almost constant these days]), not demanding or expecting that you be like me; just don’t expect me to take a bite of your steamy spoonful of stuff without sniffing it first.
A Good Start
My earliest memory of independent painting, a “plein air” landscape in acrylic, was done around age nine. At thirteen I received private instruction from Anne Goss Nelson of Bastrop, Louisiana, who challenged my perceptual rendering with the familiar “paint what you see” representational notion, introducing color theory with oil, watercolor, and pastel. I wish I could show her my current work. Validation followed with the winning of local art competitions. In fact, at thirteen, I sold my first painting to The News Star of Monroe, Louisiana, after winning a student competition they had sponsored, for the grand sum of $35. Accelerated public school programs accepted me, as did a summer retreat for young art students and musicians.
A B.F.A. was next from Louisiana Tech University. I initially studied Design and Watercolor, then Graphic Design/Illustration, being accepted into the Society of Illustrators’ 1986 Annual Scholarship Competition and Exhibition in New York. Shortly after, I committed fully to Fine Art. These were fruitful exploratory years, and so I then chose East Carolina University for postgraduate studies in the fall of 1988, thinking I might lean toward teaching on the university level. In the early nineties, however, my desire to teach faded, and so I withdrew from graduate school after two years.
Rookie Mistakes of a Spelunker
Along with some positive results, I also did every dumb thing a young artist could do - deeply embarrassing, mind-boggling things you’d barely believe - but I know you don’t want to get bogged down in such minutia now, so let’s just move on. By the mid-nineties, and artistically speaking only, I was doing the equivalent of living alone in a cave. Having no intention of plucking low-hanging fruit, I isolated myself artistically for around fifteen years in order to discover the most special thing I had to offer. You see, I was good at many artistic things, working in many styles on many subjects, but nothing had taken center stage. I had a landscape folio, a few abstract folios, a fantasy folio, a realism folio, and more (I also had begun to write speculative fiction). It was too much to manage. I did not interact with other artists. I had to find what was, to the extent that any such thing can be, most purely mine.
Along the way I consigned paintings to galleries, competed sporadically, and engaged in commission opportunities, a highlight being working on location on St. Thomas and St. John U.S.V.I. in 1993. I also sold fine art to such corporations as Pepsi Bottling Co. and Burroughs-Wellcome of Greenville, North Carolina, the M.C.V. Hospital of Richmond, Virginia, and later, Atlanta Foods International.
Within said cave however, in April of 2006 I began concentrating on the still life genre, completely oblivious at the time that there had been already underway a “realism” revival in the artworld (no foolin’, but what would you expect from a cave man?). But why still life? I recognized limitless content possibilities - could story tell - use my imagination. In a way I was back to being the little kid constructing scenes with cut paper, only now I would paint them. And I realized that the genre was perfect for demonstrating my highest level of painting skill. The truth is that I had always considered myself highly capable as a "realist" painter, but also had to admit that I had not proven it, and still life is a perfect opportunity to do so. I didn’t feel limited but rather challenged; there was a lot to work with. Most of all I knew that, if this were an artistic engine, it would demand everything I’ve got to keep fueled, allowing me to serve my interests, yes, but requiring that I hit on all cylinders without fail. Sounded like just what I was looking for.
In keeping with my mission to distinguish myself among tremendous painters, I then made the pivotal decision to not do what was most popular. And so even while so much of the world, including myself, was enjoying lush, buttery, brush strokes, I chose to eliminate them completely. This meant that from the start I began developing some unexpected techniques (not unknown, certainly, but new to me. I arrived at them “honestly” so to speak, in that I was painting in ways I had not seen before). With the techniques I developed to eliminate brushstrokes, a major, necessary career key fell into place: an instantly recognizable surface to my paintings - part of what comprises style.
My still lifes quickly garnered attention. “Huh,” I thought, then (and there should be an angelic choir inserted here) I stepped out of my metaphorical cave, shook the stale dust from my tattered, paint-flecked garments, ran a few dirty fingers through my mussed up cave-hair, and with the warmth of the rising sun upon my weary face, drew deeply a breath of endless possibility.
Intersections (or Enter the Dragons)
I returned to Louisiana after twenty years in North Carolina. Then something unexpected happened; I crossed paths with an old friend from Louisiana Tech days - Diana Garrison, a designer/artist - and we got together as a couple (eventually married). In the meantime, I noticed Diana’s son, Jonathan Slocum, folding an origami dragon. I mentioned to her privately, “I’m going to use that,” yet it was probably six months or more before I was finally able to conceptualize exactly how. And so near the end of 2011 began my Kingdom series (medieval trumpets) - where origami dragons rule! Another career puzzle piece fell into place.
For I now had a thematic form of subject matter - a muse, if you like - that was my own, for to my knowledge, origami dragons have never been utilized so in the fine art world. It felt right. I also recognized that the concepts of my Kingdom paintings were reduceable as subjects to notions that were primal, familiar to all of humanity: embarrassment, love, survival, fear of the unknown, or joy, for example. Primal sounds fitting for a caveman, right? I also knew that, like it or not, all artists (if discussed at all) are going to be summed up somehow, and so I asked myself if I could be content with such references as “oh yeah, that guy that paints the paper dragons.” It was a new experience to think “yes” to such a question.
The requisite blah, blah, blah
A few highlights from my resume include the Society of Illustrators National Scholarship Competition, The Artist’s Magazine’s Annual Art Competitions, Oil Painters of America’s National Exhibitions, the Art Renewal Center’s International Salons, and the International Guild of Realism’s Exhibitions. I also exhibited in the national museum exhibitions American Still Lifes, and the International Guild of Realism’s Masterworks Museum Tour. I have also been featured in Southwest Art Magazine, The Artist’s Magazine’s article, “The Kingdom of the Origami Dragon Guy,” highlighted on the cover of Juxtaprose Literary Magazine, and included in Manifest’s International Painting Annual, volume 7. I also have multiple pieces in the permanent collection of the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education: College of Osteopathic Medicine, Fort Smith, Arkansas, and have multiple Kingdom paintings in the permanent collection of the R.W. Norton Museum of Shreveport, LA. I am deeply gratified that my work has become nationally and internationally collected.
From our home in the Ouachita Mountains of central Arkansas, our little kingdom, I am now fully immersed in my still life studio - The Dungeon (above my workshop). I am surrounded by props, some used repeatedly, others patiently awaiting their chance on stage. In addition, I also offer Tales from The Kingdom, very brief fiction written to complement each painting - the inverse of how an illustration complements a book.
So that’s a bit of who I am: a maker of things, a painter, a storyteller, a science fan, a writer, a caveman. I was a (steroid-free) bodybuilder resembling Tarzan in my younger years; now I look more like Tarzan’s bloated corpse, I suppose. I’m an archer, and may be so called. Utilizing my definition, you may call me self-centered (on second thought, just don’t). I’m a mediocre-at-best guitar player, but a good songwriter; I play, but do not call me a musician, as that would insult real musicians. You could call me a reluctant singer, I guess. I do both to produce recordings. I like to fish, but don’t call me fishy. The very idea of hair-dos amuses me; call me whatever that means. Weirdo? Sure. Fine. I think the word salve is funny. I’m an individualist, call me that anytime. Call me mathematically challenged. I cannot speyall either. Call me Puddin’ Tane only if you absolutely must. Call me a biological entity existing on planet Earth; I can live with that. A quiet girl in tenth grade once called me an Igmo; she was grinning when she said it. If anyone calls me an artist, I’m simply honored. Call me to a seafood dinner anytime, please. I’m a dreamer, you can call me that. Or you might just call me the origami dragon guy.
Whew! It is difficult summing oneself up so; we are all more complex than a few paragraphs allow, but I suppose I can live with this for now. Anyway, I hope you will have a look at my work, and as I always say, “Should imperfections be perceived, feel free to point, snicker, or whisper conspicuously.” (consider this delivered with a stink-eye of epic proportions.) I now place one foot upon something defeated, pull at my whiskers, and revisiting the deep depths of my deepness, utter, “and so with my imagination as my compass, I strive to move ever forward... for an artist is an unstoppable force of nature – driven to produce (I raise my arms, fists outward, in a victory pose) - no matter what obstacles arise!”
Oh, yeah, now in my late-fifties (managing eye fatigue, high blood pressure, and diabetes), I seem to be inheriting my mother’s tremor primarily in my left hand.
PS: I paint with my right hand. It sports a pronounced callus on the knuckle where I anchor it. I also sometimes wear Batman jammies to work.