Danny Larsen is a Norwegian artist who became a full-time artist after stepping away from his career as a pro snowboarder. His paintings depict timeless landscapes using pointillism, a time consuming process that becomes meditative which is part of the appeal for him.
Court Spencer caught up with Danny whilst he was in the UK for his solo show, ‘From the Shadows’at RedHouse Originals in Harrogate, UK.
Court: Hey Danny. Fab to meet you. The show is looking great! How are you feeling about it?
Danny: To be honest, it’s not really sinking in. I work in a continuous cycle, so it is really strange to see all these paintings together. I never have a theme for a show, it’s something I discover as I take a step back and see what I’ve made. I guess it is because I try to let my intuition dictate what I paint. So to see the show completed, and having it in its finished form is more of a discovery than anything else. And I do have to say I’m pleasantly surprised!
Court: Rightfully so, you should be pleased! I read somewhere that art and snowboarding were always your passions. You went from being a pro snowboarder travelling the word to being a full-time artist. How did that come about?
Danny: As I progressed through my snowboarding career I was given more and more signature products to design so my career evolved around my artwork. When we were expecting our first child I called all my sponsors to let them know I wouldn’t re-sign any contracts. I wanted to be at home for my child and wife.
So, I cut the lifeline with no plan on how to support my family, but it was really the only way. My wife wisely pointed out that unless I worked on something I was truly passionate about I would be miserable, and most likely fucking horrible to live with, haha. We decided that building something around my art was the best option.
I do want to point out though that at the time I was so desperate to secure a good life for my future son that without my wife’s advice I probably would have sacrificed my wellbeing, and also our family’s wellbeing, for a sense of security. It’s not until later that I realized how crucial making art is to me, and I’m forever grateful that my wife had that insight to insist I went that way.
So, the transition came really suddenly and I jumped in with both feet and it felt like the most natural thing in the world. I had no plans, no strategies, I just did what I felt each day and didn’t really think too much about it, almost like following a lit-up path in a dark forest.
Court: How did you come to use pointillism as a technique?
Danny: The turning point was when I had created this colorful design for one of my snowboard sponsors but was told there were too many colours and it would be too expensive to print so we had to scrap the whole idea. I didn’t want to end up in that situation ever again so I decided to rely on one solid colour only, black. There was nothing safer and cheaper than that. I was then faced with the problem of how to draw fog only using solid black. I was dead-set on drawing fog, and that’s how I figured out I could use dots. Later on I discovered that pointillism was actually a thing, I never gave it much thought, it came out of necessity and the appreciation of what working under strong limitations can offer.
Court: So limits really helped you flourish! Can you talk us through your process for making your paintings?
Danny: It changes all the time, and the rules I had for one painting are broken for the next. I have a few core rules I follow. First and most importantly is that I’m not allowed to rush a painting. I am strict about each mark should be put down with purpose, intention, and love. Second rule which is not as strict, is that I try something new in each painting. Small new ideas that I doubt anyone will pick up, but which will accumulate over the course of creating these painting. So over 10 canvases there has been an evolution of how I paint, some experiments stay, some are unique to that one.
I have a set way of choosing what I paint. I never seek subject matter, I just enjoy seeing what I see. When I’m walking, I’m aware of appreciating the beauty of it all and when I see a beautiful moment that stands out, I shoot a photo and it goes into my “amazing moments library”. When I scroll through these, some can stir up deep emotions and when I get a physical reaction as I’m reminded of that moment, that’s the picture I will use for my next painting. Obviously, the photo is insufficient to recreate that atmosphere or feeling, if it could I wouldn’t bother to paint it. So it works more as a framework as I hold on to that feeling I originally got as I recreate it on canvas.
Court: So you bring these images from nature back into your studio. What’s your studio like and do you have any routines or rituals you do to get you into a painting?
Danny: My studio is a 15 min stroll through a forest path with small streams, loads of animal tracks and an amazing variety of plants. In the wintertime I can snow surf (snowboard without bindings) all the way down. So I head down with my dog after I have sent the kids to kindy and school, get in and turn the coffee machine on. I make sure my dog has water as she lays down on my beaten-up leather couch, get that cup of coffee and look at what I’m working on to see how far I got the day before. I usually put on some music that fit the atmosphere I want to emphasize, and I work non-stop until I have to get home with the kids to make them dinner.
I used to work 15 hours a day, but I was ignoring the importance of rest, and it was just harder to take the right decisions in the paintings and work focused.
Court: I know you’ve spoken about mental health in the past and the title of your solo exhibition, ‘From the Shadows’, alludes to depression. Can you tell us a little more about how the process of making art helps your mental health?
Danny: I have struggled with that shit for as long as I can remember, and I just thought that’s how life is. When I met my wife, she sparked that first little ember that let me see that it could be better. Since then, I have actively fought to see the beauty of it all, every single day, and that is the basis for why I paint what I paint. It felt pointless to point out how deep the shade of darkness was, I wanted to point out that even here in the gloom there are moments of beauty if you choose to see it. It wasn’t until very recently that I got properly diagnosed and help for it. Not having to deal with this as intensely was suddenly like being able to swim without wearing a big puffy jacket and platform shoes.
Court: So when making your work, is the viewer a consideration or are you more focused on your own experience of the landscape you’re working on?
Danny: I consider the viewer. As in, I’m the viewer. The landscape itself is not as important as one might think, and to me there’s no real difference from a snowy landscape to a summery lake, or from Norway to England. It is how I chose to see the world that is important to me, and that is what I want to share. So it is completely my own experience I’m focusing on.
Court: What would you say inspires your work? It is your own experiences of life, other artists, historical artistic references etc.?
Danny: It is solely the ideas behind what makes my life better. Naturally it would be ignorant to say it’s not inspired by other things as well, but it’s not inspired by anything or anyone intentionally. It all comes down to an idea and philosophy that everything is subjective, and you can decide what your reality is. I choose to see the magical beauty in the mundane, and that is what I need to paint.
Court: As part of this exhibition, you made a book and the forward was written by Einar Duenger Bøhn who you do a podcast with. Can you tell us a bit more about him and the podcast?
Danny: Yeah, Einar Duenger Bøhn is a Norwegian philosopher, podcast-host, author and professor in philosophy. After my last solo show at the Th. Kittelsen Museum he hit me up to ask about my paintings, and suddenly we were friends. He had a very popular podcast tackling all of Nietzsche’s work with a Norwegian rockstar/comedian. He encouraged me to check it out and informed me that he was starting a new podcast [listen here] where he would invite guests to discuss important books on philosophy. I was invited to do Fyodor Dostoevsky. We’re three books in and god knows how many we’ll cover. So I have some reading ahead of me! Mind you, I had never read Dostoevsky before and failed the mandatory philosophy at university. But now I love Dostoevsky, and it’s wonderful to get to discuss these ideas and see how relevant they are today.
Court: That sounds like an incredible opportunity! Speaking of such things; as an artist, you’ve exhibited internationally, you’ve had sold out solo shows, you’ve collaborated with the Michelin starred restaurant Maaemo in Oslo. You’ve had some amazing achievements but what’s the career highlight that means the most to you?
Danny: To be completely honest, it is to be able to go down to my studio every single day and paint. I think it’s easy to get lost in chasing achievements, but the important part is to be able to make these paintings. I am in a position where I can spend my time painting and to me that is a dream I still can’t believe came true.
Court: I know you’ve been working on the show at RedHouse for a year or so now. So after a few weeks off, what will you be working on? Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?
Danny: I do have shows lined up, but I prefer not to think too much about that. Now I’m just going to do one painting at the time, by the time the new shows are approaching I’m sure I will have what I need to make another show that I‘ll get to discover as it’s being hung. It will be a wonderful period of just sitting down with a cup of coffee, music on in the background while I paint and my dog sleeps on my sofa.
Court: Fab! Thank you so much for your time, it’s been brilliant to hear more about your work and the thinking behind the pieces. And congrats again on the show.
Danny: Thanks Court!