Last Thursday night, I'd been fantasizing about a quiet evening in my boxers, in front of the air conditioner, watching stop-motion Christmas specials on YouTube. But when I saw a new Facebook
notification regarding the closing of Duncan McDaniel's show of paintings at Belcourt Theatre, I checked my camera's batteries, grabbed my journal and headed out the door.
If you've been paying attention, McDaniel is everywhere right now: He just moved into his new space at the super-hip 100 Taylor building, and two of his designs were chosen to be fabricated into public bike racks — McDaniel's mixing-board-styled rack is an alleluia-worthy example of how a visual artist can nod to Nashville's music rep without imaging a guitar.
Please, God — no more guitars.
McDaniel's show of paintings at The Belcourt explores the idea of “the masses” in both its inspiring
and terrifying iterations. Sexy and scary, the paintings in Swarm feature hordes of individual figures converging into huge forms within larger narratives.
The red "sold" dots next to many of the exhibit's title labels spoke with crimson directness about its popularity, but I went to the artist himself, seeking insight from the source:
Scene: Exhibiting at a movie theater lobby is obviously very different from showing in a formal gallery. What was it like to have your art hanging during the Belcourt's Studio Ghibli retrospective?
McDaniel: I grew up watching Miyazaki films, so they've had a visual influence on me since I was young.
Scene: Which films in particular speak to Swarm?
McDaniel: Visually, the organic complexity of films like Princess Mononoke — it's similar.
Scene: Let's talk about “the swarm.” Is this a conceptual idea or more of a formal approach that appealed to you visually?
McDaniel: It's really both. It represents the sublimity of what it can mean to see countless human forms repeating over and over again. It's sublime, but it's also terrifying.
Scene: I can see the style of romantic painting influences some of these works, but what else did you take inspiration from?
McDaniel: The Hardcore History podcast. I'd work on these in my studio while I was listening to the fall of Rome.
At a watering hole meet-up after the event, the Scene got a tip that, due to a scheduling conflict, Swarm will likely hang for at least another week. See it while you can.