Meet

Dan Covert

Where are you from and where do you reside?
I grew up in Ohio, went to art school in SF, then came to NY in 2004 and now live in Brooklyn.
What is the most difficult part of the artistic process for you?
I am super meticulous about my work and I want my paintings to be as flawless as humanly possible - like they were screen printed or mass-produced by some other means. So, the most difficult part of the artistic process for me is taking a sketch and turning it into a finished painting.

I don’t use any sort of masks in my work, so all it takes is one wrong brush stroke to mess up a painting. I’ve ruined countless pieces when I was on the last few shapes, or botched something trying to go back and fix a micro detail that nobody would ever notice but me. Now, I’ve learned to stop while I’m ahead if I am getting tired or the vibes aren’t really flowing, and pick it up another day.

How do you choose your materials?
Over the years I’ve done a lot of research and experimentation to find paints and mediums that are very flat and super opaque - reminiscent of screen printing ink. I settled on gouache for when I paint on paper and acrylic cel vinyl when I paint on canvas. I want the finished work to show as little of my hand as possible and both of these paints can hide my brush strokes pretty well if used a certain way.
Are there any necessities you require when making your art?
The only constants are a steady stream of podcasts or Charlie Rose, and a candle or two burning in the studio.

Are there any aspects of your process that are left to chance?
I used to sketch forms directly onto whatever surface I was working with and found my way as I went. But that took way too much time, and left little margin for error if I messed up, or if things were out of proportion or off-center. Now I start each piece on the computer, in Illustrator, so everything is easily editable until I’m 100% satisfied. Then I transfer the drawing onto whatever surface I’m working with and the battle for perfection begins.
How important is spontaneity in your art?
For better or worse there’s very little actual spontaneity in my art, though I don’t like it to appear that way. I want the shapes that I’m creating to feel very fluid and spontaneous, when in fact they are methodically planned out and painstakingly crafted. I pay a lot of attention to both positive and negative space, and to visual balance, so the compositions feel resolved yet still have a tension to them that seems just a little off.

Slant
I want the shapes that I’m creating to feel very fluid and spontaneous, when in fact they are methodically planned out and painstakingly crafted. — Dan Covert
How has your work developed in the past few years, and how do you see it evolving in the future?
I used to work in the corner of my small Brooklyn apartment, but after a few years moved to a bigger spot where I have room for a proper studio. With the additional space I began to work larger and to paint on canvas, which was something I hadn’t done in 20 or so years. I’m also building out a little shop so I can make more wood pieces. In the next year or so I’m hoping to make a few murals, which would require me to dust off some skills I haven’t used in a while.
Is there something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I almost went to West Point.
Are you formally trained?
I went to Ohio State University for a few years without putting much thought into it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, so I studied engineering for a bit, then marketing, but neither felt right.

Since I wrote graffiti and was obsessed with early streetwear a friend recommended that I try graphic design. I fell in love with it, but couldn’t get into OSU’s design program because my stuff was pretty cheesy and too heavily rooted in graffiti for their rigid Swiss-based program. I got rejected twice and the rule was you couldn’t apply three times. But they were nice about it and recommended an art school called California College of the Arts, CCA, that I should try. It was the best thing that has happened to me and totally altered my life trajectory.

My mentors were all on the design side of things, prominent West Coast designers who put California on the map by creating vibrant Post Modern work that was mostly a reaction to the rigidity of Modernism that corporations had usurped. They all owned their own businesses and taught me to be more expansive about how I viewed and thought about design. It was way less of a trade school mentality and more about looking at design as a way of thinking that can be applied to any medium.

Do you admire or draw inspiration from any of your peers who are also working now?
I follow a lot of artists who are around my age, but tend to be more inspired by the people who are a generation or so older. Like the artists associated with the Beautiful Losers movement and the Mission School in SF—Barry McGee, Stephen Powers, KAWS, Mike Mills, Geoff McFetridge, Ed Templeton, Margaret Kilgallen, folks of that ilk. But I’d totally collaborate with the right person.
When did you begin your current practice?
I painted a lot when I was younger, but fell off for a long time before picking it up again full force in 2012 when I started to draw for ten minutes or so every night to end the day. I eventually drew some stuff that I was stoked on and began to make small color paintings.

Color gouache is pretty rough if you don’t know what you’re doing and I was figuring it out as I went, so paintings would take me months. I stripped all the color out to streamline my process and really liked the graphic quality of the black and white paintings. Then I began to experiment with shapes that were connected, and not connected, shapes that were outlines, then filled in, then knocked out of another shape, then cut out of wood by hand or with machines. Ever new step lead to a series and I’ve been bouncing around ever since. Dipping back to an old technique, then onto something new, and on and on.

Do you remember the first work of art that captured your attention?
I was more drawn to design than I was art when I was a kid. Logos and graphics for streetwear and surf companies in particular - Stussy, Rusty, Fuct, X-Large. These Southern California brands selling the dream of West Coast life with a smart ass aesthetic - I ate that up in suburban Ohio. I was also inspired by dudes like Haze, Seen, and Futura who were rooted in graffiti, but had some crossover success in the art world.
What are some themes you find recurring in your pieces, intentional or not?
Since I spend so much of my life trying to communicate concrete ideas in the commercial world, the notion of abstraction has always seemed very refreshing to me, yet made me uncomfortable at the same time. I am a rational person who was raised in a pretty binary environment, so the thought of creating art where on first glance there isn’t overt meaning took some time to get comfortable with.

A lot of my art school experience was teachers pushing me beyond the literal into the unknown. They urged me to create work that demanded you take time to experience it. Stuff that elicited a more visceral response or emotional reaction, rather than a one line idea. Now it turns me off when art is too straightforward, or when you “get it” and there isn’t really much left to sink your teeth into beyond the initial reaction.

Ultimately, I am interested in conjuring responses from the juxtaposition of order and abstraction. And the paradox of using analog means to try and pursue a perfection that can only be obtained with digital or mechanical processes. The idea that no matter how hard I try to hide my hand in the work it will always be visible if you look close enough.

Slant
I am a rational person who was raised in a pretty binary environment, so the thought of creating art where on first glance there isn’t overt meaning took some time to get comfortable with. — Dan Covert
Where do you find your day-to-day inspiration?
I try to stay decently up to date with what’s happening in the art world and see shows in NY and LA, or wherever I am shooting. When I look into an artist that I like, I try to read as much as I can about their process and way of thinking. If they are older and their work isn’t as easily accessible, I buy up as many of their catalogs as I can get my hands on - these are a big source of my inspiration.
Do you see your works as unique or as part of a series?
I have a few different series going on at once, so I definitely see each piece as unique, but a part of a larger body of work.

I saw a sketch book of Keith Haring’s at the Brooklyn Museum where he had drawn hundreds of symbols so he could quickly reference them when he was painting fast. I liked the idea of standardizing my process by creating a language of forms that could operate as a framework. Then challenging myself to evolve the work over time by developing new forms, or exploring different media or techniques.

Slant
I saw a sketch book of Keith Haring’s at the Brooklyn Museum where he had drawn hundreds of symbols so he could quickly reference them when he was painting fast. I liked the idea of standardizing my process by creating a language of forms that could operate as a framework. — Dan Covert
What’s one of your favorite objects you own? What’s the story?
I have a painting called “Konono no. 1” by Brian Lotti that I could look at forever. He’s a former pro skater, who later went to art school. He does these amazing landscapes of LA that are reminiscent of Wayne Thiebaud’s work. The painting is of a back alley that winds up into a hill covered with houses. The piece is really loose, almost to the point of abstraction in some parts, but it feels like a place you’ve been. The colors are also gorgeous and I see something new every time.
Is there any artwork on display in your home and studio? Whose is it?
Yeah, I’m pretty addicted to collecting. It started when my grandmother passed away in college and left me a few hundred dollars that I used to buy a James Marshall (Dalek) painting. It makes me think of her every time I look at it, which is pretty cool. After that I caught the bug and have been at if for 15 to 16 years since. I try to pick up a few pieces a year rather than flossing out on other stuff.

I tend to stick with an artist as their career progresses and if possible get a few pieces of theirs before I’m priced out. I have work from Adrian Tomine, Geoff McFetridge, Parra, Alec Soth, Tyler Keeton Robbins, David Shirgley, Brian Lotti, POSE, Andy Rementer, Grotesk, Mike Lee, Stephen Powers, Charley Harper, Cleon Peterson, Mr Kiji, Mike Mills, Todd St John, Jim Joe, Vivian Maier, Leanne Shapton, Don Porcella and a few others.

Are you influenced by any author or non-visual artist?
This is a random one, but Charlie Rose is one of my biggest influences in life. I watch his show religiously and love that he can bounce from talking to a rapper, to a tech CEO, to an artist, to a foreign dictator, then back to a movie star. The dude knows so much about everything. I’ve learned a lot from watching his show and spent countless hours on his site digging through the archives.

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