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. I think the results justify the effort of giving at my highest level. I want my viewers to feel satisfied, 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 am an occasional electrician (when circumstances require it around our studios and home), but I regularly have to correct initial wiring mistakes and am good for a slight shock or two on occasion. That’s what breakers are for; besides, I’m getting better at it. Anyway, from the start I just had to make things. Typical artist stuff. Simply put, I am most satisfied when making things of my own choosing, and I am driven to do so. Drawing was at the forefront of my activities from the earliest years, because it was so readily available, I suppose. I also enjoyed playing with modeling clay and constructing scenes with cut paper, but almost anything would do in a pinch. 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. Loved ones aside, artwork is the only thing in my life 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.
I like Science
I was also attracted to science from an early age, and there is a bit of a mad scientist’s vibe to my current 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. So, as an outsider to the field can only be, I am a science fan.
Pertaining to the navigation of life; I chose 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, not given to filling in various blanks just because I feel like it. Neither do I claim to know what is unknowable. I am a
“man of science” in that sense, deferring to scientific method as perhaps humanity’s greatest tool, giving way, even when it seems anti-intuitive. I respect rationality as a virtue. 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? Overall, I am easygoing, a “live and let live” type of fellow, not demanding or expecting that you be like me; just don’t expect me to take a bite of your steamy spoonful without sniffing it first. As to my thoughts on Bigfoot? (I thought you’d never ask.) I want 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 that way. I find the idea of selfishness distasteful, while admittedly being self-centered. Being self-centered, I believe is an artistic requirement. A creative entity may have only one resource, oneself. Dig deep - vulnerable deep - find it, and give it away. I find this has no relationship to selfishness at all. 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 as a discipline,” I then say to the wind, “is among mankind’s greatest achievements… not to mention the glorious, worldwide results.” Yet without regard for quality - at its very worst, I contend - art is a magnificent thing for humankind to do. We do it by compulsion. The results of this compulsion are produced for all to enjoy, but we discover our humanity along the way - about our existence as beings on planet Earth. 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.
As any visit to my studio will demonstrate, I order the world around me, surrounding myself with my tools and things that inspire. I suspect that this bringing-order-to-chaos instinct is the same that compels me to visually organize my Kingdom paintings. They are staged: organized, fussed over.
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, 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. 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.
Amid all of this, around 2006, and only after years of producing a wide variety of visual work within said cave, I began concentrating on the still life genre, completely oblivious at the time that there was already underway a “realism” revival. No foolin’. But why still life? I recognized limitless content possibilities. I could storytell. I could use my imagination. In a way I was back to being the little kid constructing scenes with cut paper, only now I would paint it. And I realized that the genre was perfect for demonstrating my highest level of painting skill. I didn’t feel limited; there was a lot to work with.
In keeping with my mission to distinguish myself among tremendous painter peers, I then made a decision to not do what was most popular. It was a pivotal decision. 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 development of my painting techniques which eliminate brushstrokes, a major, necessary career key fell into place: an instantly recognizable surface of my paintings - much 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 puzzle piece fell into place.
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 began reducing the overall concepts of my Kingdom paintings to something primal, familiar to all of humanity: embarrassment, fear of the unknown, or joy, for example. Sounds fitting for a caveman.
I also knew, like it or not, that all artists 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. 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.
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. I am deeply gratified that my work has become nationally and internationally (slightly) collected.
A few for posterity
Alone among my career developments is my relationship formed with the R.W. Norton Museum of Shreveport. I have three Kingdom paintings in their permanent collection, and that has given me a sense of gratification all its own. Unlike my father, my mother viewed them there before she passed in 2019. She was brought to tears by the experience
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. I was a (steroid free) bodybuilder, looked like Tarzan; now I look like Tarzan’s questionable uncle. 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 like to fish, but don’t call me fishy. The very idea of hairdos amuses me; call me whatever that means. Weirdo? Sure - I’ve got that goin for me. I’m an individualist, call me that anytime. Call me mathematically- and spelling-challenged. Call me by my secret, fake rapper name of twenty five years ago if you know it. 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 honored. Call me to dinner anytime, please. I’m a dreamer, you can call me that. Or you might just call me the origami dragon guy.
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.” (I considered delivering this with a stink-eye, a stink-eye the likes of which you’ve never seen before.) I now place one foot on 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, into a victory pose) - no matter what obstacles arise!”
Oh, yeah, now in my mid-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.