As part of our Monthly First Friday Opening Events, IS: Fine Art & Design was delighted to host the phantasmal and grotesque works of local Bay Area artist, Daniel Samaniego.
Daniel’s large-scale graphite illustrations feature beautiful yet comically altered individuals that hover the line between natural and phantasmal.
Deconstructing the Graphite Illustrations
One of Samaniego’s most striking pieces, the towering, seven foot, Masque V, depicts the image of a fairytale-like Hag, peering down at the viewer. The hyper-realistic detail of the hag gives the illusion that her presence is actually real. The detail is so pure, that the viewer is able to see every wart, wrinkle, and blemish decorating her skin. Instead of the eyes of an old woman, Samaniego layered in the images of beautiful, young men peering out through jagged and cut layers of paper. The hybridization of the beautiful mixed with the grotesque and campy is done with the intention of challenging traditional beauty myths. As quoted from the artist, “the artificial and the real is an illusion of comic proportions”. This hybridization results in an image that embraces the juxtaposition between what is real, and what is artificial.
Q&A With The Graphite Artist
Q1) In the images depicted, do you specifically include the faces or features of people you know? Or are they a fabricated individual?
Q1a) If the images are of people you know, do their personalities represent what is being shown, or do you feel that what is depicted is something hidden within them?
My drawings stage a collision of appropriated images with images based upon my own photo shoots with studio models. I appropriate from fashion magazines as well as film stills, and my own photography re-enacts or apes those sources. For example, my drawing HEX is based upon a model I met who bares an uncanny resemblance to the actor Jean Marais who played Orphée in Jean Cocteau's film. My drawing CELOSA is based on a film still from the 1980s soap Dallas: the steely yet erotic gaze of actress Morgan Brittany who played the backstabbing half-sister archetype Katherine Wentworth with campy verve!
Q2) Do you interpret queer identity as hidden in terms of people wearing masks?
As your question implies, I'm engaging the mask in terms of queer identity politics.
My use of realism in my depiction of queer icons and stereotypes (drag witches, soap opera divas, hags, hunks and dandies) serves to highlight the fantastic (and beautiful) malleability of queer identity. I celebrate surface, facade, and the transformative potential of the mask through a repetitious, labor-intensive approach to drawing. But there is ambivalence and tension in the work through erasure, tearing, and the jagged cut silhouettes:
While queer persona and iconography are depicted through beauty, the shard and dagger-like silhouettes point toward the present in which queer culture also celebrates the shredding of the mask, coming out...unmasking.
Q3) Is the mask a choice or a necessity for survival?
In socio-political terms, we are living in times of great peril in which civil liberties and fundamental rights are consistently under siege. I would argue that we need every face at our disposal in order to survive our times. Each of us has many roles to play in our collective survival.
In artistic terms, I think the mask is a rich, multi-layered strategy in the celebration and exploration of identity, persona and the personal-political.
Q4) One face is completely untouched, from the comical grotesque imagery. Why is this?
The angelic dandy - drawn in a light tonal range is the perfect foil to the more aggressively drawn decrepit hags and seething witches! The play with opposites is pure mischief. Through tonal drawing, I equate these archetypes (and stereotypes) to insist the scrim between opposites (artificiality and reality, male and female, beauty and grotesque) is an illusion of comic proportions.
Camp Is The New Cool
Samaniego’s pieces explore campy horror, the allure of sexuality, and the queer identity through hyper-realistic graphite illustrations. These heavily detailed pieces explore current queer culture in a way that is relatable to the viewer.
Overall, the gallery event was a huge success. The diverse guest list included local San Francisco and Noe Valley Residents, some of our past artists, and even enlisted Navy Sailors that had visited our gallery during the Fleet Week festivities. Samaniego’s pieces were met with awe and excitement, as guests filtered in and out of the Gallery space drawn in by the grandeur of his images.