Daniel Wiener (2015)

Daniel Wiener

Wiener received a Tree of Life Individual Artist Grant in 2015 for Face to Face.


Daniel Wiener, who received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2012, grew up in Los Angeles but has lived in New York City for thirty-three years. A professional artist since 1977, Daniel’s first show was at the Stephen Wirtz gallery in San Francisco, held shortly after his graduation from University of California at Berkeley. In 1982, Daniel was awarded a fellowship for an unusually long stay at Yaddo, which inspired his exodus to the East Coast. Daniel’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally in both group and solo exhibitions, notably at Bravin/Post Lee Gallery in New York and Acme Gallery in Los Angeles. Though he is known primarily for his intense and viscerally arresting sculptures, Daniel also works in watercolors, pen and ink drawings, and 3-D animations. Recently, he has been included in numerous group shows, including Mac @ 20 at McKinney Avenue Contemporary in Texas and the BRIC Biennial in Brooklyn. In 2015, Daniel had a solo exhibition at Lesley Heller Workspace in New York City. He lives and works in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn.


Face to Face

What is more powerful than looking at someone face to face? While I am best known as an abstract sculptor, crafting intense, visceral and colorful sculptures, three years ago I began modeling and molding fantastical heads and faces. Originally, the intellectual scaffolding for this project was to re-imagine the political villains of our time as grotesques and demons, much as Phillip Guston drew Richard Nixon in "Poor Richard." I soon became entranced by both the formal possibilities and emotional power of facial structure. Despite distortion, two eyes, a nose, and a mouth create a form that is instantaneously and universally recognizable. As I tinkered in the studio to find forms to capture the dark inner-workings of modern day scoundrels, other influences took root: Romanesque gargoyles, the hellish gods of Himalayan cloth paintings, the Rat Fink comics of Ed 'Big Daddy' Roth, and James Ensor's paintings of masked revelers confronting death.

My project is to create a series of the faces installed together covering an entire wall. In the wall of faces each sculpture will have an individual identity, for example as an everyman, a gorgon, or a quiet wallflower, yet all together they will establish a community, a commonwealth of expressions. While the face sculptures I have made up until the present have been from nine inches square to approximately thirty inches square, I plan to create larger ones, up to five or six feet in diameter. Ideally, the wall would be comprised of over fifty faces, with a cumulative effect that is kinesthetic, visceral and emotive.

The faces are created by pressing Apoxie-Sculpt into molds, which I have fashioned by making plasticine positives. While "casting" from a mold is a reproductive process, I use around sixty molds to create variety rather than copies. I vary the color relationships, display the "verso" side of the "cast" (rather than the "recto"), combine several molds or add freehand elements. Often viewers will not notice that two faces are produced from the same mold. Manual reproduction, rather than mechanical repetition of shapes, draws attention to the variations of the face. Curiously, molds become a device for invention, instead of replication. The faces and heads I've made are far from traditional representation. They have a straightforward simplicity that my previous, faceless work does not, yet they live on the edge of abstraction. An amphibious approach has been central to my practice for many years. Each piece is formed somewhere between accident and composition, between selection and serendipity. They can be as monstrous as they can be beautiful. Like any mask, they expose and obscure emotion, often at the very same time.