Art & Design

December 21, 2016

The Artist Painting America’s Pacific Northwest

Dan Attoe has moved from neons to oils for his new Berlin show

  • Written by Nadja Sayej

“Cascadia” is the nickname of North America’s Pacific Northwest, a picture perfect place that includes the Rocky Mountains. Bridging the US states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho alongside the Canadian province of British Columbia, the landscapes range from snow-capped mountains with the Pacific Ocean.

American artist Dan Attoe, who has lived in this region for most of his life, uses the landscape as a point of inspiration in his latest solo show “Natural Selections,” which opens tomorrow at Peres Projects in Berlin. Attoe’s work plays with the idea of the travel photograph immortalised in photorealistic oil paintings.

DA14033-Beach with Cliff-2016-HIRES-2

Dan Attoe, Beach with Cliff, 2016, Oil on canvas on panel, 152.4cm x 121.92cm. Courtesy Peres Projects, Berlin

His new blue-toned paintings call to mind the chilly, northern winter, with mountain lodges, tall evergreen trees and icy lakes. These landscapes are more meditative than some of his earlier works, which include neon-lit wall works. Attoe talks to Amuse about Instagram travel photos, his Metallica-inspired art group and how Trump’s election has already affected his work.

Why did you decide on America’s northwest as a subject matter?
When I paint landscapes, they’re almost always fictitious (all of those in this show are), but usually based on places that have the most meaning to me. I’ve spent most of my life in the northwestern US at this point. I’ve lived in Washington for 13 years, Oregon for two years, and Idaho for 10, so the landscapes and the character of those places are in me.


Dan Attoe, Mountain Lake with Floaters, 2016. Oil on canvas on panel. 121.92cm x 121.92cm. Courtesy Peres Projects, Berlin

Do you make any connection between landscape paintings and the way travel photos are shown on Instagram?
Cameras are everywhere in relation to composing landscape images nowadays. I suspect people are influenced by a history of landscape paintings and while taking photos, one can take risks with compositions that may not be easy for artists who are moving more slowly with paint. It’s important for artists to be aware of what’s going on in popular culture, including Instagram, but I don’t look at Instagram that much and I don’t post often. My landscapes have always been as informed by photos, movies, magazines and stories as they are by art history.

How does it feel to look back on your Paintallica art group after all these years?
Ha! Paintallica is still alive and kicking. The group has always been an experiment in harnessing energy. At first it was scattered, violent and messy, but our recent work has become gradually more directed. We’ve gotten older and are more health-conscious, so work during the day and use less alcohol. Looking back at the old work, I love it and it makes me laugh. The whole process has been an absolutely instrumental part of my own development as an artist, and I think all the men and women of the group would say the same.

DA13960-Light Water with Fir Trees-HIRES-2

Dan Attoe, Light Water with fir trees, 2016, Oil on canvas on panel, 152.4cm x 121.92cm. Courtesy Peres Projects, Berlin

Has politics influenced your recent work since the presidential election? 
Politics have always been influential to me; social awareness seems like a necessity. I listen to NPR every day while I work, and this election has been on in the background during the making of this whole show. The frustration with the fact that it’s something that could be considered “political” influences the way the landscapes in these paintings are executed—full of holes, eroding and dripping. Additionally, it informs the text: “There’s nothing to worry about,” and “Everything will be alright” were both painted after the election.

What was the most valuable thing you learned from working for the artist Arturo Herrera?
I was on the installation crew and I worked with Arturo on a huge, complex mural of meticulous lines, where we’d talk, paint and listen to music from 9am usually until late into the wintery nights. One thing that really stands out about Arturo was just how generous, good natured and respectful he was with all of us who worked with him. He laughed often, and I remember him telling stories about how he had to wait tables to get by for a long time. That both comforted me and gave me hope. If I had to sum it up, I’d say I learned something about being a professional artist who exudes warmth and humility.

“Natural Selections” is on at Peres Projects in Berlin until 24th February, 2017.



Main image: Dan Attoe, Visitor Center With Pines, 2016, Oil on canvas on panel, 121.92cm x 121.92cm. Courtesy Peres Projects, Berlin.


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