Salt Lake City and New York-based artist Daniel Arsenault has made his living as a photographer. His stacks of portfolios full of photo spreads for Spin, Esquire, Revlon, adidas and Electra Records pay the bills, but he demonstrates little loyalty to the medium. His daily approach to what he creates is as automatic as brewing his first cup of coffee. “You just wake up in the morning and do whatever you want to do, use whatever you want to use,” he says. “You can paint or you can just find objects and glue them together.”
To confuse matters further, some of the photographs he will show at Finch Lane Gallery in a joint show with oil painter Jeffrey B. Clark are so highly processed that, at first glance, they may look like paintings. Arsenault describes his photos as “realism mixed in with my own character. I actually prefer painting to photos because even though photos are more real, painting is more emotional. I only use the photographic method because I like the accuracy of the photo, but I want to paint it.”
And paint his photos, he does. That is, if the mood that day strikes him to use film and acrylics.
At the end of October, Arsenault rushed to finish a sculptural shrine to the late Mexican wrestler El Santo for a Día de los Muertos show in a Manhattan gallery. The materials: found objects and still-drying glue.
At the time this story went to press, Arsenault was creating six-foot high ceramic murals. “I’m going to use stained glass,” he observes, “I’m going to use metal, I’m going to use photography, acrylics, glaze, clay…”
You get the picture.
Despite riding in what seems like an artistic revolving door, Arsenault’s work has stylistic consistency. Everything has layers. “Life is layered, like evolution,” he explains. “And paintings are layered. So is music. You can’t make the top without the bottom first.” What results is art-in-which-to-lose-yourself.
For his part of the Finch Lane Gallery show, Arsenault divides his artistic attention between Salt Lake City and New York. Like the time he splits between the two cities, his photographs reflect his double life.
Of the New York photos appearing in this show, Daniel explains, “All I do is take these pictures and I assemble them in a collage. If I’m walking down 28th Street from Broadway going down 5th Avenue on the south side of the street, I just photograph everything from that side, and then I just collage it together and put some color on it. And that’s it. It’s not like, tricky, or anything.”
He explains how the piece called “Patty” came to be. “I was walking around at about three in the morning. I think that was December. It was like two degrees outside. I walked all over.” He saw “Patty,” an animated wig stand, on the other side of a darkened shop window, and she became his latest and least-suspecting subject.
The Western equivalent of his strolling New York photos, Arsenault’s Salt Lake City photos were taken with the engine running: “I shot them from the car.” He doesn’t apologize. “I went out on Sunday—because everybody’s in church on Sundays—driving around when no one was looking. I didn’t even get out of my car. Most of the time I’d just roll down my window and shoot. I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to take all these pictures from the car and what I end up with is what I end up with.’”
Arsenault’s photographs capture Salt Lake City icons like old hotels and motels, vintage storefronts and signs. “Salt Lake is full of cool stuff. I could just shoot and shoot and shoot forever and ever. There could be a million, but for the show, I can only take 20.”
For Arsenault, from his first cup of coffee to walking the streets of New York, his art is effortless.