Interview with artist, Linda Daniels

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LINDA DANIELS - Lives and works in Lompoc, California

The following is a correspondence with Linda Daniels on the occasion of her show, Splits, at Left Field Gallery in Los Osos, California. 


Keith Tolch: Splits.  When I read the show title, I was immediately reminded of the exercise that few people can do.  Can you talk a bit about the significance of Splits and how you arrive at titles? 

Linda Daniels: The paintings in this exhibition are part of a larger series that I have been working on since 2017.

When Nick (the gallery owner) called and offered me an exhibition I immediately knew what paintings I wanted to include in the exhibit.  I really like the gallery space at Left Field - it is an intimate space, tactile with some good natural light, you can see all the space at once but there are also different sight lines and changes in wall size - and there is a large window to the outside.  I really like matching a group of paintings with an architectural space.

So when I thought about the title for this exhibition I was trying to figure out what made this group of paintings different from the rest of the series.  The obvious answer (and why I originally thought of this group of paintings together) is that these paintings all have black in them.  Black does not occur in the rest of the series.  In making this work I  have been playing around with dividing the shapes in the paintings in half.  The black really emphasizes this "split".  So I came up with "Splits". I like the way the word looks - with the S at the beginning and the end.  I also like that it has multiple meanings and can be a verb or an adverb or even a noun as in your thought of the physical posture.  I also liked that this is a group of paintings that I made after I left Brooklyn and settled back on the central coast - and since you see the title with my name you get - Linda Daniels Splits - which is what I physically did.

How I title paintings has changed over the years.   When I am working  on a painting I usually have a nickname for it.  I have never used these nicknames because they are too specific and personal and I don't want to over describe things for the viewer.  I tend to overthink things and coming up with titles after I have finished a painting has always been hard for me.  So about 20 years ago I started developing a system for each series of paintings.  In this series it is the colors in the paintings (from left to right or top to bottom) and "with White".   Example - "Red-Violet Black with White".  I decided on "with White'' because it describes how I think the white functions in the paintings.  Of course how to choose what to name the colors is subjective so it is an open system.


Keith Tolch: Densely layered and considering your move from Brooklyn, there’s some humor in the title.  In splitting from the East Coast, you’ve come back to the region where you grew up.  Did you feel you returned to a specific Light and Landscape?  Was there a newness to the seeing and looking?   

Linda Daniels: It's funny when I was in New York people often commented that my artwork showed my California roots and now that I am in California people say my years in New York show in my artwork.  I guess both are true.

I did not exclusively grow up in California.   My father was in the Air Force so we moved around.  I was born in Florida and also lived in Illinois and Wyoming.  I went to high school and college in California.  My father was born and raised in LA and my parents retired here in Lompoc.  I have memories of landscapes from other places but I always felt a strong tie to the landscape of the California coast, especially the light.

Over the years I have spent time looking at the horizon of the ocean and sky.  The light on the horizon is a consistent desire.  It is where the light changes or where I become aware of the change of light.  In my artwork landscape is not a subject.  Ways of seeing that I experience when looking at landscape is a subject.

After returning to California there was no “newness” of seeing; it was more a continuation of a mode of studied looking.  I do have more opportunity to look at the horizon and I do get to the ocean a lot more.  I think the paintings in this show - the splits - happened because I have looked at the horizon so frequently since moving here.

Keith Tolch: That’s an important distinction to make, that landscape is not a subject, but ways of seeing that you experience while looking at landscape is.  To me that communicates a complexity that involves inhabiting landscape, it’s experienced not so much outside of you, but through your vantage point as a viewer or looker or seer.  That’s a loaded thing because it accounts for everything about you, including, most importantly in my mind, ambiguity, the ineffable, basically experience as an abstract process.  I’m thinking now about the shapes in your paintings.  They’re reductive, open and there’s a dynamic thing that happens where they’re shapes and they’re in this matrix that communicates something about how it’s formed. Is this what you mean by ways of seeing?

Linda Daniels: I think the simple way to proceed is to say that my artwork is about perception.  When I actively “see” something, what I see is optically felt and becomes visually known.  My art making is driven by this desire to experience the full intelligence of looking.

There is a Bridget Riley quote I like:

“Pure perception - untrammeled perception - is very surprising: startling, exciting, powerful and beautiful.  It is a kind of primary experience.”

Of course you can have primary visual experiences in many ways. For me, looking at the ocean is one of those ways.  I think looking at art is another.  There is the seeing and there is the making.  My process has developed so I can maximize the exchange between the seeing and the making.

I always begin with drawing.  I choose an organizational structure and play around with the components of that structure.  In this series I began with a grid of circles and explored how an overlap or a lapse can result in a shape.  After I choose a shape I will take an action to it to see what happens.  For example, rotating it or in this case splitting it.  I use this exploratory drawing process to produce a series of shapes.

To make a painting, a shape will find its own size and color and sometimes its own medium.  The finding is very intuitive.  I strive for a rightness.  I often use the same shape for different paintings, changing scale and color.  Shapes play off of one another resisting finite resolution.  This is why I like working in series, it makes me (and hopefully the viewer) aware that there are lots of possibilities.  Nothing is absolute.


Keith Tolch: It seems that all painting supports that idea that perception is primary, like it’s somehow built in because it’s visual, but that’s not really the case.  In your work, the act of perceiving and perception as an idea is explicit and it’s what generates the reciprocal process of looking at the art.  I remember my very very first thought about your paintings was that they were looking back at me, they actually looked at my eyes, a condensed and potent exchange happened and I was left thinking about just how subtle the process is. 

At first glance, the shapes themselves are figurative and look to be derived from life.  I see some organic floral forms, but then the positive shapes dissolve and they shift and I find myself no longer able to assume that I knew them in the first place.  They become unfamiliar openings that create their own formal spatial identity.  

I usually think of Hard-edge painting and Minimalism when I see your work, but I'd be really interested in hearing about how you identify with historical movements and how much value, if any, you place in that identification.   

Linda Daniels: Wow, I really like that you felt my paintings looking back at you.  I have often said I want the viewer to physically feel my paintings on their eyes.  It is important to me that people respond to my shapes as things that seem familiar to them.  I think a sense of familiarity makes people more invested in looking at the work.  All painting communicates through visual perception but I think often there is another subject or even narrative that can take precedence in the mind of the maker and the viewer.  I am referring to figurative work or landscape or still life….

However, even when I am looking at a painting with such a subject it can flip to pure perception.  This is the magic of painting.  A painting is substance and non-substance at the same time.  Substance being the paint film and support (canvas, panel, paper etc.) and non-substance being the painting space, illusion.  So painting is both a thing and an idea. Simultaneously.  I try and work with elements that emphasize this duality; a continuous paint film, a painting space that is flat but has a shallow depth, a strong color that feels tangible but changes with longer looking.  Ultimately, I want my paintings to be “things” in the room.  Creating and demanding their own space and location.

I don’t really like the categories of “Hard-edge painting” or “Minimalism”.  I think the terms are too simplistic and have become loaded catch-alls.  And I don’t like some of Minimalism’s didactic theory.

Obviously my work shares vocabulary with these movements but I am much more comfortable with the term Formalism.

Looking at art is a big part of my life.  I look at a wide range of things - not just painting.  Textiles, ceramics, Persian miniatures - to mention a few favorites.  One of the best things about living in New York City was being able to go to museums regularly.  I have looked at a lot of painting that is historically lumped into Hard-edge painting and/or Minimalism.  I really love artists that are considered part of those historical movements.  For example, John McLaughlin, Agnes Martin, Ellsworth Kelly, Bridget Riley.  But what I love is how their work is really about their own uniqueness within those categories.  How they are able to add and extend out the parameters of those movements.  This is what I strive for in my own work.


Keith Tolch: One last question, or two questions I guess.  You mentioned that black is in every painting in the show and it’s obvious that color’s important to you.  How does it function in your work? If color is tangible, then, like painting, does it simultaneously exist as an idea?

Linda Daniels: All the drawing studies I make progress from a line drawing on graph paper to a drawing where I fill in the created shape with flat black gouache.  This filling helps me see the shape clearly.  Looking at the flat black shape allows me to determine the color and size of the painting I am going to make.

Until this series of work I have only used black in drawings, never in paintings.  I think the color black is such a force.  Because I was focused on splitting the shapes in this series, I decided I wanted to explore the strength black gave the split.

There are many more paintings in this series - almost all of them larger - up to 50 x 80 inches.  I think the effectiveness of any color changes dramatically with how much of it there is in a painting.  I found that any painting larger than 30 x 40 inches a black split shape resulted in too large of an area of black - it became too dominant of an element in the painting.

It is funny that we have come this far in our dialogue without talking about color.  I think color is the subject of my art making.  It is both a tangible substance and an idea.  My whole practice is built around finding a structure for color to live in.  Color ticks all my boxes; pleasure, light, location.  It satisfies all my needs.

About Linda Daniels

Linda Daniels received her B.F.A. from the California College of the Arts in December 1975. Her work was first professionally exhibited in a group exhibition in 1981 at the University Art Museum Santa Barbara California. From 1981 to 1983, Daniels's work was included in group exhibitions in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Barbara.

In 1984, Daniels moved to New York City. The artist's first solo exhibition there was in 1988 at fiction/nonfiction gallery. She has subsequently had solo exhibitions in New York City in 1989, 1991, 1993, 2001, 2002 and 2009. From 1984 to present, Daniels's work was included in numerous group exhibitions in New York City, New York, Los Angeles, California and Palm Beach, Florida.

Linda Daniels's art has been reviewed in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Artforum International, Arts Magazine and Art in America.  In 1991 she received a Fellowship in Painting from the National Endowment for the Arts.  Daniels returned to the central coast of California in 2014. She is currently living and making artwork in Lompoc, California

Linda’s show Splits is up through June 26th.  For images, inquiries and more information, please visit: