Rarely have I seen the work of an illustrator and felt simultaneously overwhelmed and comforted as I have with the work of Dana Maier. Her themes are focused, but her thoughts surrounding these themes are sometimes sardonic and sometimes playful; sometimes straightforward and sometimes like a winding maze. That’s the greatness of Dana’s work. She perfectly illustrates the madness of a visual thinker, but refines those thoughts by her distinct style, in a way providing a key. So if you take the time to read the map, you can relate. I think that is why my favorite of her themes is her maps of museums and cities. She particularly captures the feeling of being alone in a crowd. I think, to some extent, we can all relate to that, but particularly artists whose job it is to observe from the outside.
If you’re not a visual thinker, here is your entry point by way of a fascinating mind…
You currently have 57 drawings hanging at DCAC centered around a museum experience. From what I can tell, you’ve been consumed by museum “studies” for some time. What led to this focus? Tell us about a discovery you made while working on this theme. What is your favorite response to the work so far?
I don’t remember exactly why I started drawing museum scenes. I was working on a series of hand-drawn maps, and that led to hand-drawn-museum maps, and that led to drawing the actual stuff you find in a museum. I like the loaded symbolism of pedestals. You put something on a pedestal and automatically you are saying, ‘hey look, this is important.’ So if you put something ridiculous or unexpected on a pedestal, you can experiment a lot.
I discovered that I actually have a lot to say about museum-going. I think the psychology of looking at art is fascinating. You have a place where you can see amazing work on display, but often when you go the context is all wrong–you’re surrounded by crowds of squishy tourists, or you find yourself being indifferent to something that you know is Very Important (or else why would it be in the museum?) and feel like an asshole. Or it’s the just the opposite. You go at the perfect time, or with the perfect companion and see something that hits you just right, and feel blown away and humbled and–I don’t know if this is the right word or not, but I can’t think of a better one–cleansed. I always feel clean after going into a museum and looking at art. Like I did something good for my soul.
My favorite museum is the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. I always leave that feeling as though I’m re-remembering the whole point of doing art in the first place. And I love any artist who makes you feel as though their inner life is an interesting place.
As for my favorite response: one of my drawings depicts a painting that is thinking, “Oh, shut up” over a crowd of museum patrons [attached]. My friend Sarah, who works as a museum educator saw that and said, “I think that all the time when I listen to other people talk about art!” So that was nice to hear.
You are so prolific, I assume you have excellent habits. What habits are integral to your practice? Do you have any habits you want to break? To form?
Oh, am I prolific? That’s nice to hear. I feel as though I spend most of the day doing stuff that has nothing to do with art, which means that when I actually am drawing, it’s never work or an obligation–it’s always more fun than anything else I could be doing. My habit is to draw either in my studio or around DC–museums, bars, cafes, anywhere I can find a good surface–and listen to audiobooks. That, or I’ll eavesdrop. The odd time I get an idea for a cartoon I’ll draw and write it as soon as I can, so that I don’t have time to talk myself out of the idea. But you can’t be vague in a cartoon the way you can be vague in a “fine art” drawing so those tend to be a bit more labor-intensive and harder to get right.
My worst habit, artistically speaking, is probably overworking drawings. You know that quote from Six Degrees of Separation? About the teacher who takes the drawings away from her students before they have time to ruin them? I need someone like that to stop me before I think, “oh, just a little more cross-hatching won’t hurt” for the millionth time.
What are you thinking about for your next project and what is your professional goal?
I’m always trying to figure out the best home for my work–like, should it be in a gallery? In a book? On a wall in an alleyway? My work is on the border between cartoons and fine art, so it’s hard to know where it fits best. But I tend to like venues that are more accessible.
I’d love for my museum guide to be shown in an actual museum gift shop, but that’s been an uphill battle so far (one museum did not appreciate my jokes about touching the artwork, because they take that sort of thing, “very seriously.”) And there are always fun projects I’d love to do that are in the back of my mind, if someone gives me the money and/or space; drawing label for wine or beer. Or a coaster for a restaurant. Or another big-ass mural. Or just publishing a book of my drawings and cartoons.
Have you made any discoveries in your practice as a result of becoming a member of Project Dispatch and making work for subscriptions?
It makes you remember one of the things about art you don’t think about very often; how art is a means to connect with other people. That’s the hope, anyway. And physically sending them art is a nice reminder of that.
If you could pick three artists from the Project to subscribe to, who would they be?
Tough call, but I’d go with Dasha Tolstikova, Chris Chen, and Christopher St. John.