Radio Maine Episode 47: Dan Daly

 

1/30/2022

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Hello. I'm Dr. Lisa Belisle and you are listening to, or watching, Radio Maine. Today, I have with me artist, Dan Daly. Thanks for coming in. 


 

Dan Daly:

Thank you for having me. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So, I want to start with an interesting commonality that you and I share.  I, many years ago, was the medical director for the Cumberland County Jail. And, apparently, you teach individuals who are incarcerated at the Maine State Prison. 


 

Dan Daly:

I don't presently. Because of COVID it all got shut down but I did it for a couple of years.  


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

How did you get into that? 


 

Dan Daly:

I taught at the college level in Boston for a number of years and I do private tutorials and things like that. And, someone knew of my work. They had a little nonprofit that was a community outreach in Rockland and they thought, well, there's a whole community down the road that's isolated - the prison. And these people can have access to college courses and stuff. And they did have an art program. There was an inmate who had some teaching experience and some art experience, and they said, maybe it'd be nice to get someone different in there to give them some other perspective. So they asked me and I said, yes, that might be different. I'll give it a try. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

What did you learn? How is it different from teaching in other settings? 


 

Dan Daly:

Well, theoretically college people are there. They want, they want to make a career out of it.  The inmates, some of them were actually tattoo artists before they went in, had interest in the arts. Some of them just needed self-expression and didn't quite know how to approach it.  It was a very interesting experience. There were some incredibly good students and students that really listened to me sometimes.  I found,  a number of the students were actually better students than what I had in college at one point. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

That's interesting. Why do you think that was?


 

Dan Daly:

They were hungry. They were very hungry for the expression, for outside input, and a different perspective. If you go in to an institution like that, the first thing you notice is the blandness of everything, the overhead lighting - which is all fluorescent, and the lack of  interesting lighting.  My wife is into decorating and she's very conscious about lights and where lights are and what kind of lamps. There's no lamps. Just that overhead light. And so, that evens everything out and you don't even have the drama of a side lit face. Randy Liberty, he's the Maine state commissioner of prisons. Now, he was doing all kinds of things; very open to innovation. And he let me bring in all kinds of art magazines like American Art Review which covers a whole spectrum of different artists. 


 

Dan Daly:

And that was like eye candy to these guys. It was like some of them had never been exposed to art history or anything like that. And so just seeing this range of stuff and, and seeing someone that,  I mean, a lot of these guys had preconceptions about what they should do, and it was very important to try to find their particular skill set. And then just encourage that instead of their preconceived notion sometimes was like, well, I ought to be doing it this way. You know? And, for them to see like an artist that worked just in a two dimensional, flat canvas kind of way, and a non-representational way, but emphasis on color and texture and stuff, it was like a revelation for them in some way. So it was like, you know, if your strength isn't real good draftsmanship and drawing, but your strength is color and pattern and,  something like that, go with it, you know, and it was a lot of fun seeing the growth of some of those guys. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I remember once interviewing an individual who taught writing within prisons. I think it was specifically to women who were incarcerated. And I think what I heard that individual say was that it unlocked so much for people that probably hadn't had that opportunity to experience creative freedom previously. 


 

Dan Daly:

Yes. Sometimes some of those guys had never had the exposure to that sort of thing at all. And to find that there was some validity to a sincere expression was very revealing for them. You know, it caused for some really interesting and tense conversations. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

The tenseness. Tell me about that.  


 

Dan Daly:

Well the lights, the first time I went in there,  if you've never been in prison before, and you would go into that institution and those big doors go, the dome, you know, behind each set that you go through and then you walk through this like austere courtyard, and then you get into the educational building, at least at the Maine State Prison.  there's the gym and there's all the workout guys there. And then you go into the education section. That first time that I did it, it was like, wow. 


 

Dan Daly:

You know? And then when I got there, I just told them who I was, what my background was,  where I was coming from, where I hoped it to go, but I wanted to know what they would hope to get out of it. And so we had kind of a question and answer, and I said, let's just take some time and I'll look at what you've done one-on-one so that I can get an idea of where you're coming from. And this one guy came up with this like 18 by 24 piece, he was all tattooed out when he was 30, 40 years younger in shape, and he holds up this piece and it's a hand holding a knife and it says kill on it. But it's very interesting. There's all these collage elements and stuff. It's an interesting piece and he gets right in my face and says, so what do you think of this? 


 

Dan Daly:

And I said, I liked the intenseness of it and the impact, but why do you have such a subdued palette? And he said, I knew it. I knew it. And I said, there's no bad decisions in this sort of thing, you know, go for it. You know? And he said, I thought it would, it would put it around the corner, you know? And I said, you might as well go for it. If you make a mistake, it's a mistake. You know, you can correct it. You can throw it out, do another one, but you've made a mistake getting in here you're not going to make a mistake here. He turned out to be an incredible student, an incredible student. He had some wonderful basis and he's out now and he's served his time. And, when he comes up this way, he lives down south. He visits sometimes.


 

Dan Daly:

So no, it was a good experience. I think some of the conversations and also like all good teaching, it's a two way street. You learn a lot. I mean, sometimes I can get – I've been drawing a lot my whole life, so I'm a decent draftsman –  you can get too clever sometimes when you're a decent draftsman and you, when you talk about impact and having presence in your work, and then you see someone that all they can do is put presence in their work, but they don't have the skill you appreciate the effort to put the presence in the work. And then having that dialogue of like, you know, when they get too worried about technique, you know. No, you don't want to worry about technique, technique will come. But that's that aspect of what I've done. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Well, I know that one of the ways that you've gotten better and better over time is by carrying all of these sketchbooks around. And you have one in your pocket right now. Oh yes. And you, in the material that you provided for us before you came in, you talked about the fact that you get your keys, your wallet, your sketchbook, and you just carry it with you like regularly. So when I'm looking at some of these scenes from many of your past sketchbooks, it just makes me think about the importance of being still long enough to capture an image wherever it is that you are. 


 

Dan Daly:

Well,  yes, sketchbooks, I do take a lot of pictures. In fact, at one point I was actually a photography major in school.  There's something about sketching and always having a sketchbook to record an idea,  there's just something about drawing that has always interested me ever since I was a kid, even though I took a long, crazy route to become an artist, drawing was always important to me and it allowed me to focus on something and to not only focus and interpret what I saw before me, but to,  to do whatever was in my head. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So when I'm looking at this piece in particular, and I just happen to open it up to one of the pages, this almost, this is drawn in succession as if it's, you know, you separate panels, almost like a kind of a cartoon progression. 


 

Dan Daly:

Yes, well that, that's kind of an interesting thing in that, these little things, I've always loved Edward Hopper. Edward Hopper and his sense of light and there's a certain melancholic isolation sometimes in some of his things, but they're also very definitely set in a time and place. There's a lot of Victorians, in the thirties, forties, fifties sort of thing. And at one point, I mean, I do a lot of quick sketches of people walking around or something like that, but at one point I got thinking about Hopper and I got thinking about: how do you distill a painting down to something very simple? At one point I was an abstract artist. I didn't ever do representational stuff; thinking about edge and shape and just general color and different things like that. And then thinking about Hopper, it was like, how do you do something that's more timeless that has that feeling that also incorporates space division, that's sort of abstract. 


 

Dan Daly:

And just having the figure with strong lights or there's just, well, that's the beauty of a sketchbook. If you get off on a tangent, you start following the tangent, see where it goes. And so all these things aren't meant as a storybook kind of thing, but they basically save space on the page and to think of individual paintings. And out of that actually has grown a whole series of paintings, that are still mostly small, of light, of that nature and entirely different from my landscape things or cityscape things and everything. It's good to jump around. And at this stage of the game, why not jump around? 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Well, that's true. I mean, I think the idea that you're continually thinking, well, I'm not done yet. There might be something else. I can look at things in a different way. 


 

Dan Daly:

Sure, sure. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

What is this piece next to us called? 


 

Dan Daly:

It's the island that's opposite our camp. This is actually what I look at when I'm on the camp porch or the dock, and I've done a number of drawings and a number of paintings. That island is,  sort of like what a mountain is to Sussan. Especially those two Pines at the end.  Sometimes the painting is more shifted over towards just those two pines.  But it's just an endless changing scene, you know? So the clouds that day were just so incredible. It was like, holy God, those clouds looking at the reflections.  It was originally actually a watercolor.  I did this nice little watercolor and I liked the watercolor so much. Watercolors are funny, you know, sometimes it works; sometimes the magic works, sometimes it doesn't. And I liked this little watercolor of that exact image and someone that had been staying at the camp above us saw it and she insisted on buying it. And I finally just sold it to her. And I thought I really kinda liked that scene. And I had a picture of the water color. So I said, well, I'll just do a big, you know, and that's where that piece came from. It was the original, the original inspiration was just that little watercolor in a very fleeting kind of moment. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

As you're talking about this, I think about the summertime when my family and I will go out to the goslings on our boat, off the coast and there is a kind of a series of interconnected islands because of low tide, they certainly are connected. You can walk across them, but there are a couple of trees that every time I go there, I look at those trees and it feels, it almost becomes like a friend when I'm out there looking at these trees. So when you describe not just this landmass, but there's this intimacy, this familiarity with this part of the landscape. It's almost as though it's become your friend. 


 

Dan Daly:

Oh, very much so. I've been involved in a lot of conservation stuff my whole life.  I proudly say I'm a tree hugger.  Yes, there's a hemlock on my walk from our house. I can walk down Aldermere Farm, and then go out to the outlook that looks over this pond and there's this humongous hemlock there and every time I go by it, I touch it and say, hello. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Well, you and I think are possibly cut from the same cloth every time my wonderful husband thinks,  I'm gonna cut down that tree because it's going to do something different for our landscape. I say, but you can't cut down the tree. It's a tree, there are little birds that live in it and squirrels, and it has its own personality. And, I think there is that connection that some of us develop with these trees and other bits of nature that are around for many years. And doesn't that lead to this idea that conservation is important. That we're all part of this ecosystem versus being separate from it. 


 

Dan Daly:

Well, obviously, you know, we use wood, we,  


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Yes, this table is not wood, it is some sort of not natural piece, but to, but to your point, yes, we do use it. Yes,


 

Dan Daly:

We do do it, but I think we need to do these things thoughtfully and to what extent and preserve like pockets of realness.  But that's a whole other subject that we could get very thoughtful about. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Well, and to your point, it's, I mean, obviously you can't keep all the trees. If we kept all the trees, then that would be problematic in its own way. But I like the way that you've put it, that there's a thoughtfulness that needs to take place around it. Yes. 


 

Dan Daly:

Yes. And there's, there's too much thoughtless mess, I think in the way people approach some of those things. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I guess that's the good thing about having people around us that we all balance one another. Hopefully if there are some people who think removing a tree would be good because it would create negative space; and then there are some people who are saying never remove any trees. Then maybe there's some way of coming to a middle ground that makes sense for everybody. 


 

Dan Daly:

Yes. Which, that kind of dialogue should probably be extended into politics too, of having a dialogue. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I completely agree. I think that is probably what I worry about the most is, you know, when I see patients as a doctor and I hear the different people's opinions and I allow them to have their voice,  I just, I think there's so much more mutual respect that's generated on a one-on-one basis. So I think you're right. I think that if we were to just start listening a little bit more and try to understand other people and where they're coming from, that would bring us to a better place perhaps than everybody getting very stuck in their own position and unable to see another side. Do you think as an artist, the idea that perspective is important, visually perspective is important when you're creating art. Do you think that that has contributed to this idea that maybe socially perspective is important as well? 


 

Dan Daly:

Are you saying technical perspective in a painting or perspective of where you're coming from intellectually?


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Saying both. Is there a connection, is my question? 


 

Dan Daly:

 Well, at one point in my art and still in places, I've been very interested in social comment.  When I was younger, I really liked pen and ink artists like Heinrich Clay. More recently, George Gross, Ben, Sean, Jack Levine, people like that, that did a lot of social commentary stuff. And, I still do that kind of thing. There was something that I did, there was a painting called, “Death Burning the Rainforest”, you know, when there are certain things that are just so outrageous,  you have to make a visual statement about it. I really got on a tangent of that for a while. And some of those paintings were really big. And at the time I was living in a condo in Boston, and after a while, when you already have the urban environment, that's kind of hitting you every day – and my part-time job was as a bartender at night. So there was an intenseness there. And then when all you’re doing all this intense stuff it becomes kind of disquieting, you know, when it’s hanging there and it’s all around you all the time. 


 

Dan Daly:

So some of that stuff I’d actually have to turn against the wall. And it was around that time that I started getting more back into landscape painting, and it was like, well, if it wasn't going to sell, and a lot of that stuff doesn't sell because who really wants to be looking at intense paintings all the time, except people that, well, it depends, you know. But if it's not going to sell, it's a whole lot easier to paint places that you love, you know, like camp scenes or fishing scenes or things like that, and it's like, oh yes, I look there's the island, look at the light there, you know?  But then I go back and do it just because sometimes you just have to.


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Yes. I mean, I think what you're describing is very familiar to me because I think there's a lot in the work that I do that is very challenging. There's a lot of people who come to see me,  who have a lot of sadness and trauma and grief. And so for me, when I leave my professional work as a doctor, I don't necessarily want to have a wall full of trauma and grief and sadness because in an effort to stay balanced, I'm always trying to kind of, kind of have a foot in both camps, I guess. 


 

Dan Daly:

Yes. But at the same time,  at least for myself, I wouldn't want something sacramentally sweet around as just a, you know, a total calming kind of thing.  I don't paint that way. You know, I like having some paint texture. If I do a landscape of Maine, I want something in the paint quality to reflect the ruggedness of the time and place. Yes. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So to be clear, I do not have like, you know, cotton candy, pink walls or anything that is a soporific that you know, but,  I think for me, when I look at this piece that you've created, there is something that just brings me back to a place of stillness and kind of a sense of more of the infinite, I guess, which is useful. I think sometimes when you get, your life becomes very micro at times. And when I look at some of these pieces that you brought today, for example, this, this piece that has two camp chairs in it, and it brings me back to my grandparents camp on little Sebago for many, many years ago but I suspect you have a different story about how this piece came to be. 


 

Dan Daly:

 Well, actually that image on that card is the watercolor and in our room and our dining room, the really big oil it’s 48 inches long or something.  We were visiting a friend who was having a show with the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain lake, and he had a little cabin he was staying at, and he's a tremendous cook, his wife is a tremendous cook, and they said, come on over to dinner.  we'll cook dinner and another couple's coming over and with a little bit of luck, maybe he’ll play the guitar as well. As it turned out, it was an incredible dinner, and with a little bit of luck, he did play.  His friend was Kenny Burrell, the jazz guitarist. So it was a very special time. And that was the porch at that little cabin. And the funny thing about that image is everybody thinks they’ve been in that camp, around that porch. To the point where we stopped at a yard sale down east, it was on the, I think on the other side of Cutler, and this woman had this kind of odd shaped frame. I decided to buy it and she said where are you ever going to find a picture that fits that frame?


 

Dan Daly:

And I said, well, I'll just have to make a picture. And she said, oh, you're an artist. And I said, yes, I paint. She said, what do you do? And I had some of those cards with me. And sometimes it's easier just to give somebody a postcard than try to explain, because sometimes I am all over the places we've talked and she looked at the card and then she turned it over and she said, what were you doing on my camp porch painting? And I said, no, I wasn't in your camp. That's not your camp porch. And she was adamant. She said, that's my camp porch. 


 

Dan Daly:

It says Indian Lake on it. And I said, no, that's Indian Lake in the Adirondacks. She said, that's my porch. She was so adamant about it. She said to the next person at the yard sale, it was like a group yard sale, she said, watch my stuff; we're going over to my camp. And she insisted on going over to her camp saying, you tell me whether you were painting here. We got there and it didn't look anything like it, which is so funny. And she looked at the card and he goes, oh, no, it isn't my camp. And I said, no, I was trying to tell you that. But the wonderful thing about that is that, with read number one and, but it brings out that thing. Being on that porch, I stayed at that camp. There's something special about camps, some certain cottages on lakes or the shore that just resonate with people. And it resonates with me because I would sell just about any painting I do. But that one, I won't sell 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Dan, you've you attended five different colleges, is that right? 


 

Dan Daly:

Yes. Five different colleges. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

And I think in reading about your life, you've been, we already mentioned the bartender. You've been a teacher. I think you, I think I read you had some construction experience.  How do you think that these, all of these different ways of, again, looking at the world or experiencing the world, how do you think that these have impacted art? 


 

Dan Daly:

 I don't know how they've impacted my art as much as how they've impacted me as a person and hopefully some of that comes through in the art. It probably does in the social commentary,  sorts of things. That's a tough question. I think,  I'm a much more empathetic person, a person that's more open to listening to another person,  especially some of my earlier things that I did.  The first time I dropped out of college to get money, to go back to college. I worked as a janitor at the Schenectady J E  the same,  place that Kurt Vonnegut worked, temporary relief, [inaudible] FIAR guy. And, I worked with the janitorial staff and took all my breaks with people. That was, and for a long time, it was almost a year of, six o'clock at night until six in the morning and it was very interesting working with people with whom I would have never had an association with otherwise and became great friends. When I left to go to college it was almost like the first son of a family going away to school. I could feel that they had something invested in it. You know, it was just good stuff. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Well, I've enjoyed our conversation today. It's always interesting for me to meet people whose art I've been seeing for a while, but I don't know the person. So whenever I make that kind of connection between the person and what they've created, I think it, for me, at least it becomes a very important part of the way that I experience art. So thank you for doing that with me today. 


 

Dan Daly:

Well, thank you for having me here today. 


 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I encourage you to go to the Portland Art Gallery website or maybe the Portland Art Gallery in person.  If you are interested, there are openings on a monthly basis and maybe Dan Daly will be there and you can meet him, to see what he's like as a person, as you're experiencing his art, the way that I have been today. This is Dr. Lisa Belisle, you've been listening to or watching radio Maine. Thanks so much for coming in today. 


 

Dan Daly:

Thank you.