“The privilege to take risks is obligatory,” artist Daniel Eugene proclaimed Wednesday night, his eyes widening slightly as he took a sip of tea and walked toward the front of Studio Feruvius, his light-dotted work space at Erector Square. He cocked his head slightly to the side, assessing a new free-form hanging of drawings, and picked up his thought. “I need to be taking risks,” he said.
From the floor and walls of the studio, old works and new digital prints perked up, as if listening for what would come next. They didn’t have to wait long.
In the past year, Eugene has already taken some serious risks with his art, exhibiting spiritual vitamins and deeply meditative drawings with “Inner Reaches of Outer Space” at Oak Haven and a piece at Artspace’s spring gala. Wednesday, however, his statement was focused on a specific task before him: 185 pen-and-ink drawings, each 3.5 x 2.5 inches, that are the subject of “Kind-of Chronological 2015: An Exhibition of Words and Images by Daniel Eugene.” The show will take place this Saturday and Sunday at his Erector Square studio.
Like “Kind of Chronological 2014,” the exhibition will present a year’s worth of works from Eugene’s “One a Day” series, a daily — or daily-ish — journaling and drawing exercise that challenges the artist to come face to face with his most intimate and evolving philosophical, sexual, and artistic thoughts. Practicing the mantra that “the personal life deeply lived transcends the truths that are universal” — a task that Eugene readily admits is not always easy — the artist has named his journals for his philosophical frame of mind at the time writing begins. Book one is the Book of Life, book two, The Book of Life and Death, book three, The Book of Life, Death and Rebirth, book four, The Book of Love, and so forth.
Since 2010, Eugene has amassed about 1,300 pages of writing over about 12 different journals, through each of which he has changed and grown personally and professionally. This year, he says, a large part of the series has been learning to give himself a sort of permission to fail, take risks, and meditate on the quality of line.
“I’ve surrendered gracefully to the fact that sometimes I’m going to miss a day,” he said. “Part of my process is about surrendering to imperfection and allowing it to be something that moves you. Appreciating the imperfect moment constructively. If the goal is 365 a year and you only do 200, then you thank the goal.”
“The [goal of the] writing is to really be truthful for yourself, because self deceit is the beginning of all deceit. It’s about parting the veils of self deception, and that by and large happens through reflection,” he said. “We live in a culture of final drafts, and it’s a little bit dishonest to me. You see the sketches of Leonardo and Van Gogh, and you’re like holy shit! –– you see whimsy, you see development. I try to really value and honor that.”
It should not come as a great surprise that the works are heartfelt and astounding, and feel far weightier than a simple meditation on one’s daily state of mind. Inspired heavily by the writings of Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller, as well as the photography of Walker Evans, they are transcendent and earthly, baffling and seductive. One, dated February 24, 2014, morphs into a flower before the viewer, thick petals whirring around a speckled pistil. Another, from January 29, proclaims THIS/IS/NOT/THE/CENTER in simple, slightly curling letters that wrap around spokes and a rectangular wheel. A third from April 2 spells out bird and birdsong alike, an almost audible pulse of feathers melting into dripping, succinct lines. Still another from July 9 recalls Sappho’s fragments as a heavy, inky drip collects at its corners and a vulval shape rises, slowly, to greet the viewer.
While Eugene does not see himself drawing on particular visual artists, the works also channel several aesthetic figures of the 18th through 21st centuries. Whispers — and shouts — of Giovanni Piranesi, Niki de Saint Phalle, Lee Bontecou, Josef and Anni Albers, Sol LeWitt, and even Maurice Bernard Sendak all appear on the exhibition wall, winking out at the viewer willing to take note.
Together, the drawings and their accompanying text comprise what he calls a “visual diary, or a diary of visual art.” All 185, together and apart, hold a message that he hopes his viewers, in looking at the works this weekend, will take to heart. It is one that Miller, who he feels a deep kinship with, first instilled in him years ago: “Art must be lived in order to be alive.”
“Kind-of Chrionological” will take place this Saturday from 12 to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 12 to 5 p.m. at Eugene’s studio, 315 Peck St., Building Three.