Daniel Sprick: Standards and practice
The typical reality for creative people of all kinds – musicians, artists, comedians – is that they have to take their show on the road to be fully appreciated. It’s much harder to make an impact on the hometown folks.Not so for Daniel Sprick. The 54-year-old painter could hardly be more of a Glenwood Springs homeboy. Though he was born in Arkansas, he was raised in Glenwood and, apart from spending his college years studying art in New Mexico, New York City and Greeley, has spent virtually all of his time at the lower end of the Roaring Fork Valley. The big move in his life came some three years ago, when he and his wife moved from one side of town to the other; they now live on a hillside above West Glenwood, where the main attraction is an uninterrupted view of Mt. Sopris.Yet, for all this familiarity, Sprick is still treated like a precious asset in the town. At his current exhibition of new works, showing through June 9 at the Colorado Mountain College Gallery on Glenwood’s Grand Ave., there is a sign-in book for visitors to leave their remarks. The reviews – like Sprick’s still lifes – are glowing. And many of the comments center around an appreciation that the artist is a local guy, showing in a small storefront gallery that is basically around the corner from where he lives and works.The warm reception has much to do with the fact that, though Sprick is very much a part of Glenwood – his parents and some siblings live there as well – his career has outgrown the town. The paintings in the CMC Gallery are not for sale; virtually all are headed to New York, for a November show at the Arcadia Fine Arts gallery in the upscale Soho neighborhood. Sprick is also represented by galleries in San Francisco and Denver, so his work is not often available to local audiences. (Wanting to make his art more accessible in his hometown, Sprick jumped at the invitation to show at the CMC Gallery.) The chance to see the work in a museum setting, however, is just down the interstate from Glenwood. The Denver Art Museum’s permanent collection has a room devoted to Sprick, featuring several paintings, as well as the objects, including a human skull, that appear in the work.
Sprick himself looks at the work with a more critical eye than his neighbors do. On the walls of his spacious, well-organized home studio are numerous examples of his work. Many of them are there not so much for enjoyment, as for Sprick to reassess what he has done in the past, and learn from what he considers mistakes. In one painting, of his wife, Andrea, a yoga instructor and dancer, lying in bed, Sprick considers that the parameters of the image are too wide, and he wonders how much tighter it should be to be a more effective piece. Another work, from a decade ago, he says he took back from the owner, a friend of his, so he could rework it, whittling down the number of objects and colors.”To advance in arts, you have to be pretty self-critical,” said Sprick, who speaks about his art with a low-key intensity and thoughtfulness. “The only thing in common with all the work I do is a satisfying sense about it. If it satisfied me, it satisfies viewers.”Financial success has been a comfort to Sprick, both outside his career and within it. The relative lack of pressure to sell his work means that he can rework a painting, sometimes for as much as a year, until it feels just right. “I’m able to be more honest with myself in recent years, about what really works,” said Sprick.But financial comfort and honesty with oneself are double-edged swords. For an artist intent on pushing himself, having the ability to improve translates to a mandate toward perfection. Or as Sprick puts it, “High standards are inconvenient. But all I want to do is maintain high standards. And if I don’t, I hope someone will hit me over the head with a skillet.”Sprick traces his drive to his father, Charles, who made false teeth for a living. (Sprick also traces his fondness for images of skulls and skeletons to his dad; those objects were most familiar to the artist.)”He held himself to maddening levels of perfection,” said Sprick. “I admire that, even if it drives you crazy. Because it’s born of an idealism. His clients, the dentists and patients, wouldn’t have even known if he had done it at a lower level. That’s a way of thinking that resonates with me on every level.”Whether it’s a sane way to be, I don’t know. It was hard on him. His own standards were hard on him. But worthwhile accomplishments aren’t going to be easy.”As for his own perfectionist tendencies, Sprick says they can get to him: “It can make me mad. I’ll get myself in a hole with a work I have in progress, and I think, ‘I should have known better than this. But I followed it anyway.'”I wouldn’t wish this on just anybody. It’s a blessing and a curse.”
Sprick long ago settled on still lifes and interiors as a specialty. (His paintings of human figures are exquisite, and he would do more of them if he didn’t need to rely on models who are willing to stay still for hours on end. He does the occasional landscape as well.) His palette of subjects has remained fairly familiar over the years: skulls and skeletons, flowers and fruits, vases, cloths and mirrors.But tied up with the motivation to keep getting better is the desire to continue pushing into new territories of painting. Within the territory he has staked out, Sprick find an endless variety of corners to explore.
“There’s a lot of different directions that tug at me,” he said. “That’s a difficult part of being an artist – selecting. Because there are so many things that interest me, visually.”The current exhibit is marked by a monochromatic look, with objects typically bathed in a muted bluish-gray light. Much of that comes from a technique that Sprick has been experimenting with, simultaneously using both direct light and light reflected off a mirror wrapped in blue-tinted plastic wrap – what he calls “diminishing,” or “wraparound” light. Sprick says the blue tone – what he calls a “distinctive temperature” – doesn’t reflect a personal inner mood. In any event, the recent work is a “side route,” and he is already onto a new path, one that is represented, to a lesser extent, in the Glenwood show. The objects in these painting are being pulled closer to the foreground, giving an exaggerated separation between object and setting. The effect works well in “Red Amaryllis and Landscape,” and even to more striking effect in “Andrea,” a portrait of his wife in which the face seems to burst forward from the canvas.Sprick’s technical skills can be mesmerizing. But he hasn’t lost sight of the fact that the technique – like the meticulous standards, and the desire to keep examining new facets of light – merely serve the experience that occurs between a painting and a viewer. Even the objects he captures – beautiful flowers, ominous skulls – are beside the point he says. What he seeks is an emotional reaction.”I think emotion comes down to something very simple,” he said. “It’s real primal. Warm light and cool shadow – right there, that triggers emotion. “You can get the most information you can about something, and then discard it all. Emotion is what we really use.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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