Daniel Sprick

Born:

May 1, 1953, Little Rock, Arkansas

Education:

AA-Mesa College, Grand Junction, CO; 1973
Ramon Froman School of Art
National Academy of Design, New York, NY 1976
BA-University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO 1978

Residence:

Dan lives and paints in his studio in Denver.

Selected Public Collections:

Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock, Arkansas
Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado
The Evansville Museum of Art and Science, Evansville, IN
National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
The Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga, TN
State of Colorado, State Capitol Building, Denver, CO
The Denver Post, Denver, CO
Holmes, Robert and Owens, Denver, CO
Montgomery, Little, Young, Campbell and McGrew, PC., Englewood, CO
North American Equities, Denver, CO
U.S. West Communications, Denver, CO
United States Court of Appeals, Byron White Courthouse, Denver, CO
Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, MA

Selected Solo Exhibitions:

2003: Mariani Gallery University of Northern Colorado - Greeley, CO
2002: Evansville Museum of Art & Science, Evansville, IN
2001: Merrill-Johnson Gallery of Fine Art, Denver, CO
1999: Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO (brochure)
1998: The Merrill Gallery, Denver, CO (catalogue)
1996: Barney Wycoff Gallery, Aspen, CO
1995: The Gerald Wunderlich Gallery, New York, NY
1994: Carol Siple Gallery, Denver, CO
1993: Hunter Museum of Art, Chattanooga, TN
1992: Louis Newman Gallery, Beverly Hills, CA
1991: Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, CO
1990: Bishop Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ (drawings)
1990: Glenwood Springs Center for the Arts, Glenwood Springs, CO
1989: Sherry French Gallery, New York, NY (catalogue)
1989: Mariani Gallery University of Northern Colorado - Greeley, CO
1987: “Contemporary Realism-Exhibition of Drawings and Paintings,” Clara Hatton Gallery, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO and The Art Center at Appalshop, Inc., Whitesburg, KY (catalogue)
1980: Capricorn Gallery, Bethesda, MD
1978: Students Center Gallery, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO

Selected Group Exhibitions:

2003: "Fifth Annual Realism Invitational" Jenkins Johnson Gallery - San Francisco, CA
2003: Salon d'Arts, Colorado History Museum, Denver, CO
2003: Foothills Art Center's 35th Anniversary Exhibition
2003: "Magic Realism" Sangre De Cristo Center for the Arts
2002-2003: San Fancisco International Art Exposition
2001: The Art of Illusion, LA County Fair, Millard Sheets Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
2001: Representing Representation, The Arnot Art Museum, Elmira, NY (catalogue)
2000-01: Group Exhibition, John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, CA
2000: Realism Today, Taos Art Museum, Taos, NM
1999-02: Realism Invitational, Jenkins-Johnson Gallery, San Francisco, DA
1999: John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, CA. Drawing Exhibition (catalogue)
1999: Trompe’oeil, Art & Illusion John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, CA (catalogue1996: Realism ’96, Fletcher Gallery, Santa Fe, NM
1994: Contemporary Realism, Gerold Wunderlich & Co., New York, NY (brochure)
1994: Arvada Center for the Arts, Arvada, CO
1993-99: Governor’s Invitational, Loveland, CO
1993: Contemporary Realists, Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO
1993: Contemporary Self Portraits from the James Goode Collection, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
1993: Still Life: 1963-1993, Gerald Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, NM
1991-92: American Still Life Paintings, Minnesota Museum of Art, Minneapolis, MN
1992: Two person exhibition: Daniel Sprick and Mark Daily, Carol Siple Gallery, Denver, CO (catalogue)
1990: Colorado 1990, Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO
1989-90: Love and Charity: The Tradition of Caritas in Contemporary Painting, Sherry French Gallery, New York, NY;
traveled to Dowd Fine Arts Gallery, SUNY Cortland, Cortland, NY; The Noyes Museum, Oceanville, NJ; Roland
Gibson Gallery; SUNY Potsdam, Potsdam, NY.
1989-90: Trains and Planes” The Influence of Locomotion in American Painting, Sherry French Gallery , New York, NY;
traveled to Arts in the Academy, The National Academy of Sciences., Washington, DC; Roberson Museum
Science Center, Binghamton, NY: Evansville Museum of Arts & Science, Evansville, IN
1989: Colorado Artists at the Kennedy Center, Washington, DC
1989: The Food Show, Grand Central Art Galleries, New York, NY
Revelation and Devotion: The Spirit of Religion in contemporary Art, Sherry French Gallery, New York, NY: traveled to Triton Museum of Art, Santa Clara, CA; Art Gallery at Gustavas Adolphus College, St. Peter, MN; Valparaiso University Museum of Art, Valparaiso, IN; Arnot Art Museum, Elmira, NY
1988: Collector’s Show, The Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock, AR
1987-2000: Artists of America, Colorado History Museum, Denver, CO
1987-88: Contemporary Realism, Grand Central Art Galleries, New York
Art for the Parks, National Park Academy of the Arts, Jackson Hole, WY; traveled to Smithsonian Institution,
Great Hall, Washington, DC.
1987-89: The Tradition of Vanitas in Contemporary Painting, Sherry French Gallery, New York, NY; traveled to Silvermine
Guild of Artists, New Canaan, Ct; The Noyes Museum, Oceanville, NJ; University of Arizona Museum of Art,
Tucson, AZ; University of Utah Museum of Art, Salt Lake City, UT; Triton Museum of Art, Santa Clara, CA: Schick
Art Gallery, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY; Tyler Art Gallery, SUNY Oswego, Oswego, NY.
1986: Art USA, Western Colorado Center for the Fine Arts, Grand Junction, CO
1985: American Artists National Competition, Grand Central Art Galleries, New York, NY
Artists of the West, Pioneers’ Museum Show, Colorado Springs, CO (catalogue)
1984: Gallery Group Show, Carson-Siple Gallery, Denver, CO
1982: Colorado Oil Painting, Foothills Fie Arts Center, Golden, CO
Annual Exhibition 69,70, Allied Artists of American, Inc. National Arts Club, New York, NY. Allied Artists of
America Gold Medal recipient

Selected Bibliography:

McConnellogue, Kieran, “Portrait of the Artist as a Craftsman,” University of Northern Colorado,
Spectrum Magazine, December, 2001
Daley Ann Scarlett, “Like Flying,” The American Spectator, May 2001.
Spears, Dorothy, “A Still Life,” American Artist, April 2001
Gangleholf, Bonnie, “The Nature of Beauty,” Southwest Art, May 1999
Rosen, Steven, “Artistry: Paintings Ring of Surrealism,” Denver Post, March 31, 1994
Hill, Hart, “Real Still Life,” Westword, March 23-29, 1994
Coronel, Michael and Patricia, “Daniel Sprick: Reflective Realism,” Art Space, November-December 1989
Pontello, Jacqueline, “Daniel Sprick,” Southwest Art, May 1987
Eicher-Dixon, Peter, “Daniel Sprick,” American Artist, August, 1987
Douslin, P.A., “Daniel Sprick,” Art Gallery International, November-December, 1986.

A Still Life

Despite spending the greater part of his life in and around Colorado, Daniel Sprick had always wished to live near the ocean. In 1999, as he and his wife drove along the coast of central California, they came upon a small town called Pacific Grove, not far from Monterey. “We just stumbled upon this place,” the artist recalls, “and got kind of dazzled by it.” The discovery sparked a decision to take a year’s sabbatical, and the family rented a house high on a hillside overlooking the ocean. Sprick was eager to discover the myriad ways in which such a change of scenery would affect his paintings.

Months later, Sprick is rueful about his naiveté. After all, having honed his craft for 2 years, he’s clearly a seasoned painter. Sill, apart from the odd foray into plein air painting, the effect of living in California “was next to nothing,” he admits slowly. “I could have been anywhere.” He continued to work exactly as he had before transforming everyday kitchen refuse – broken egg shells, oranges, discarded Chinese food containers, and withered flowers – into objects of eerie metaphysical beauty.

Back in his Glenwood Springs studio of 18 years, Sprick has finally accepted what he’s probably always known: His imagination is sparked not by the goings-on outside his window, but by looking inward.

Sprick’s studio boasts, as he dryly puts it, a grandiose view of his backyard. There are mountains and trees but in most respects the view is typically suburban. What matter most, in terms of his work, are the four large windows facing north. Indeed, the key to Sprick’s vision seems to lie in this one fact: he uses only natural northern light in his paintings, and northern light, as artists know, is the most constant. This constancy, combined with the immutable nature of his chosen subjects, provides Sprick what he calls, “the luxury of time,” or the ability to sustain the prolonged study that has emerged as his trademark.

Working slowly, applying layer upon layer of paint to Masonite primed with gesso, the 46-year-old artist has produced paintings about the process of contemplation, the odd associations one makes, and the way one’s inner world may spontaneously ignite as a result of one’s prolonged interaction with a fixed subject. In order to grant himself this inner freedom, all the eternal aspects of his environment need to be tightly controlled. Only then will structure yield to crystalline vision.

In spite of the restrictions Sprick places on himself and the two months he usually spends on each piece, his paintings do not feel claustrophobic or overworked – far from it. The clusters of objects set right or left of center against expanses of gray-white space have ample room to breathe. There is an ethereal quality to them, a weightlessness. The images hover. Milk cartons carry cryptic messages. Bowls and flowers sit precariously close to the edge of a table. Objects float, as if endowed with supernatural powers. Willing participants of a sorcerer’s magic, they playfully call to mind the role of artist as master illusionist.

Part of the seductive power of Sprick’s work is that comprehension of it remains just beyond one’s grasp. Objects appear familiar and, at first glance, hyperreal. Upon closer examination, one notices that some key attribute has been withheld or altered. Oblique philosophical references appear like codes that stubbornly elude the viewer’s deciphering. Supports tend to be invisible or swathed in sheets or oriental carpets to indicate mass, but what lurks beneath resists easy identification. A sense of mystery emanates, like a perfume one recognizes but cannot name.

Although Sprick has used photos in the past, for the most part, he eschews them. “Part of the reason I do still lifes inside,” he explains, “is because I can paint subjects I don’t need photos for.” For inspiration, he looks back beyond the photographically well-documented 20th century to the Old Masters, such as van Eyck or Vermeer. In fact, Sprick’s still life Calcium refers explicitly to Vermeer’s The Concert. The painting, which was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990, stares out from the side of an empty milk carton like the face of a missing child.

Sprick bases his initial observations on what he sees before him, but he almost never paints things exactly as they are. Rather, he strives to create harmonious relationships. With this goal in mind, he develops the paintings as ideas occur to him, and he welcomes these mental surges as well as the unexpected places where they may lead him. Sprick paints cultural refuse or mental residue, what’s left behind or considered marginal; he retrieves the leftover traces of our times and by recycling such throwaways into art, makes a lasting statement that all but ensures their survival.

Sprick insists that he paints whatever happens to be in the refrigerator or the garbage. “I’m lazy,” he confesses. However, he amends this a moment later, noting, “Those first things you stumble onto have validity.”

One could say the same about his experience by the ocean. “After you’ve been painting for so long,” he says, “you kind of know your inclinations.” If he hadn’t set up a studio in California, he may never have felt convinced that this was true.

Dorothy Spears
Former Curator of Leo Castelli Gallery
American Artist, April 2001

All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49) - “A Dream within a Dream”

It is a view both familiar and strange.

Here are the homely commonplaces of after-school snacks and the canned raw material of home cooking. Here are remnants of dinner out, those little trapezoidal cardboard boxes that entomb Chinese leftovers. They are the same kind of boxes in which dime stores once sold doomed goldfish to hopeful children. Here is the detritus of the studio, jars of gessso and flyspecked still lifes. Here are spent wine bottles, beer bottles, a Ukrainian Easter egg, the used up milk cartons that in reality bear a plaintive entreaty: Have you seen me? Empty, empty, yet full of meaning. Revealed by a tarnished-silver light are loveingly neglected, straggly indoor plants and slightly dusty fruit. Gorgeous flowers sip from impossibly delicate vessels and sometimes hover, imperishable, in midair.

Enter stranger, the world painted by Daniel Sprick. An inheritor of pictorial tradition that goes back at least as far as ancient Rome and later compelled the best efforts of such Northern European masters as Roger van de Weyden and Jan Vermeer, Sprick finds much yet to be revealed in the still life and the interior. His ultra realistic oil paintings continue and expand old dialogues about appearance and reality, the relationship of art and life, the revelation of the multiples in the simple. Although he is a man who is devoted to the meticulous representation of everyday things, Daniel Sprick’s career as a painter began with visions of flight.

“I began drawing,” Daniel Sprick explains, “at age four. Dad showed me how.” Airplanes were a passion. The youngster associated their graceful contours with movement and eventually made elegance in drawing the equivalent of flight. Balsa wood gliders, looping and banking, focused Sprick’s imagination on the beauty of line. To this day, Sprick relates an “exquisite line” to being airborne. Each painting, he says, is his search for “just the right launch,” and exercise that must conclude in a perfect landing. Today he is both a widely recognized artist and an experience pilot. His exhilaration in flight informs such affectionate bits of iconography as the DC-3 (buzzing Leonardo da Vinci’s canon of human proportion) on the side of a milk carton, and the precarious feats of levitation performed by knives, eggs, and other unlikely objects in Flora Spirited and other works.

Tensions between interior and exterior, tradition and experiment, distance and intimacy, charm and weirdness, and literal representation and emotional expression fill Daniel Sprick’s paintings. Viewed through this works, the artist’s world is a small one—studio, hallway, a studio table, a window—yet it encompasses a kind of cosmic vision. “I didn’t know you could be a professional artist until I was in my mid-twenties,” Sprick recalls. “I thought it was too late for me.”

Nevertheless, Sprick began with an energetic examination of historical painting styles. He studied with Ramon Froman, a flower of John Singer Sargent, who introduced him to Sargent’s slashing, illusionistic technique. By the mid-1970’s Daniel Sprick began serious work as a plein-air impressionist in New Mexico. A lifelong love of drawing and native technical mastery of paint led him in retrograde fashion to Hon Ruskin-like close observation of nature in 1980. He started with a series of botanical subjects. However the great tradition of figure painting was something about which Sprick felt ambivalent. “Transitory things are hard,” he observes, “and portraits and figures can be a pain.” (His inspiration, John Singer Sargent, would agree.) Since he paints relatively slowly, Sprick concludes that asking a living model to pose” eight hours at a stretch day after day” is not practical.

Although Sprick shies from discussing a codified iconography for his paintings, he is indebted to earlier masters. The painters of the Northern Renaissance, Robert Campin (the Master of Flémalle), Roger van der Weyden, Hugo van der Goes, the van Eyck brothers- Jan and/or Hubert- “leave me feeling both helpless and empowered,” Sprick says. So does Giovanni Bellini’s almost hallucinatory style. The archaic and modern qualities that seem to converge so effortlessly in the works of these early painters continue to fascinate Sprick. He admires the ability for these artists to create a believable look at invisible realms and supernatural happenings. For example, the miracle depicted in Jan van Eyck’s Virgin and Child with the Chancellor Rolin (1433-34) occurs in a luxurious room but is ignored by two passer-bys seen through the balcony window. Such tangible yet elusive apparitions live on in secular form in Sprick’s vision of a hovering egg in Flora Spirited, or in the artists’ own shadowy personal appearance reflected in a mirror in All We See or Seem.

Sprick paints with intensity and even joy. He keeps an eye out for signs of transcendence in the everyday, yet he has a completely contemporary sense of irony that is illustrated by the following parallel. The Master of Flémalle and Roger van der Weyden furnished their imaginary (but convincingly painted) interiors with the same props again and again. A certain kind of bulbous, blue-figured import ceramic made a regular appearance in both artists’ works, usually as a flower pot for the Virgin’s symbolic lily. Daniel Sprick updates this familiar motif with prosaic but no less beautifully decorated milk cartons. In Dusk and Vapor, one milk carton label reads, “Vapor Calcium Fortified,” while another proclaims, “The Dusk Fat Free Milk, “ Daniel Sprick enjoys these near-surreal enigmas and plants them frequently for viewers to find , a kind of hide-the-thimble game folded into his beautifully realized works. In Calcium, another carton is embellished with the androgynous creamer of Edvard Munch and stuffed with partly disarticulated human bones. Despite its macabre overtones, Calcium could well illustrate Walt Whitman:

My foothold is tenon’d and mortis’d in granite,
I laugh at what you call dissolution,
And I know the amplitude of time.
(Song of Myself, 2)

Another source for Sprick is Jan Vermeer, the Dutch baroque painter of intimate domestic interiors. In Vermeer’s inhabited, yet extremely quiet, rooms and corners, magic comes from an earthly, not supernatural light. Yet magic it is. A Vermeer-like glow infuses many of Daniel Sprick’s paintings, often falling on objects from some unseen source. It spreads arbitrarily through his interiors, picking out this tangerine and that bottle, causing their color and form to bloom, submerging other parts of the painting in warm shadow. From Vermeer too, comes the suggestion of worlds within worlds. Oriental rugs imply distant exotic places (and perhaps Sprick’s obsession with flying via magic carpet as well). Paintings and fine art prints tacked to walls, tantalizing reflections in a blank television screen, figures half-seen through distant doorways enhance the notion of time and distance. Daniel Sprick also revisits the tradition of the still life as memento mori. Yet again, in these contemporary works, the traditional images of decay and dissolution –faded flowers, broken china, eggshells, a human skull---are leavened with humorous elements such as nibbled cookies and a seeping stain that spreads from a paper bag to the book it stands on.

For all his devotion to the realist tradition in painting, Daniel Sprick’s views are entirely contemporary, and he emphasizes the abstract underpinnings of his and others’ work. “All art is abstract, of course. The art is to extract the parts of reality we can use and leave the rest.” While the content of his paintings reaches for transcendence, Sprick is pragmatic when he describes his works’ formal properties, and the preparation he makes for each one. He is not enamored of laborious painting techniques. The smoothly pained, jewel-like surfaces of Daniel Sprick’s images belie the simple, shortcut methods he sues. He paints on masonite primed with gesso. For smaller works, Sprick makes a charcoal sketch directly on the support before beginning to work; larger paintings demand separate studies and preliminary drawings.

“Painters who go in for verisimilitude need to start with things that cooperate,” he says with a smile, explaining why he rarely paints anything in motion. And he makes light of his choice of still-life material: “I’m fundamentally lazy. I don’t have to look very far for things to paint. I like the shapes of milk cartons because they look like architecture, diminutive houses. And I enjoy inventing the calligraphy. In that way, I guess I’ve been influenced by Pop Art- though I really don’t have much sympathy for it!”

This is another example of the equilibrium of an artist who rarely paints people, yet who admired and learned from both the flamboyant portraiture of Nicolai Fechin and the restrained and detailed works of Han Holbein. “Much of my drawing experience comes from portraits,” Daniel Sprick says, “and painting is really nothing but drawing.” A note of pride rises in his voice then fades. “I should do more drawing.” He remarks softly.

---- Jane Fudge
Jane Fudge is assistant curator of modern and contemporary art at the Denver Art Museum, and a visual art and film critic. This Exhibition was organized by Dianne Perry Vanderlip, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Denver Art Museum.