The Art of Dan Moran (pt 1)
Not familiar with artist Dan Moran? You’re only cheating yourself…
Dan Moran is a self-taught artist who has been drawing as long as he can remember. He was born in Connecticut, moved to Maine when he was 10 years old, and moved to Vermont when he was 17 to attend Goddard College, from which he graduated in 1992 with a B.A. in Liberal Arts (concentration in metaphysics). He spent a year in San Francisco in a Ph.D. program in Philosophy and Religion at the California Institute of Integral Studies, focusing on Tibetan Buddhism. He did not enjoy California (mainly because of the lack of snow and cold, which he enjoys very much), and so returned to Vermont to start a new graduate program at Vermont College of Norwich University. He earned his M.A. in Philosophy and Religion from Norwich in 1995.
Dan has worked with many mediums, including acrylic and oil paint, stone and clay sculpture, collage, etching, and of course drawing. Drawing is his favorite, and his weapon of choice is the black ball-point pen. Dan also does calligraphy, preferring ball-point or felt-tip pens for this (rather than calligraphy pens). He has done a large number of commissioned portraits and a few commissioned creative pieces, has painted some signs with both images and lettering, and has designed a number of T-shirts.
Dan’s horror work has been featured in print magazines such as Cemetery Dance, Cthulhu Sex, Chronicles, and Theatre of Decay, and in online magazines such as Strange Horizons, The World of Myth, and Horrotica. He has done artwork for some black-metal bands (some local, some from as far away as Greece), for the books of horror authors Ike Hamill and Mike Evans, and has also done illustrations for the role-playing games The Burning Wheel, Rangnarok, and Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Most recently he has done a large number of illustrations for Lucian Harke’s latest novel, Kiba Majo no Honshitsu (“Essence of the Fanged Witch” ).
Dan Moran was kind enough to take time away from creating terrifying images to answer a few of our questions. In fact, his answers were so fascinating and passionate that we split them into two parts–allowing readers to take time to consider the inner workings of the mind of Dan Moran. Here goes:
THW: We like to start our interviews with an easy question, so here goes. Horror—why?
DM: I’ve just always been drawn to it. As a young child I watched classic horror movies on TV after school, I read books about horror movies, and I loved Halloween. The interesting thing is that I did actually feel fear and dread associated with those things when I was quite young; I wasn’t one who laughed it off. I used to be too scared to go into haunted houses—and later, in my teenage years, I ended up working in one. I’ve just always felt an affinity with the darkness, whether it’s terrified me or filled me with wonder. Some of it is pure aesthetic taste; for me “horror” blends in a bit with Romanticism. If I look at a picture of a sunny villa and a picture of an enormous dark house with twisted dead trees in the yard, I’ll always end up liking the latter more. Some stuff just grabs me, and some doesn’t. Horror has always grabbed me.
THW: A few of your pieces seem to carry some strong religious imagery. What inspired this?
DM: Just as horror has always caught my attention, I’ve always been drawn to cosmic questions. Already in my single-digit years I always thought about time and death and what lay beyond the world of my senses (it always seemed that the worlds beyond were much bigger than the “ordinary” world I seemed to share with others). You can say that I was predisposed to philosophy and religion (and ultimately, this is the field in which I studied in grad school and earned a Master’s Degree). Naturally, that kind of thinking would pervade and inspire much of my work, especially when I was very young (nowadays, I can think about my art and create in a conscious way, but in my childhood it was always more like pure meditation). For me, religion has always been about metaphysics (all that social, ethical, historical, psychological, and cultural stuff I pretty much cast aside in favor of what I consider to be the real questions and issues of religion), and much of the best horror comes from those realms. A guy chasing you with a chainsaw is one thing, but eternity—now there’s the source of some scary thoughts.
THW: You’re clearly a fan of the zombie subgenre. What was your personal introduction to the undead?
DM: I’m not even sure. I do know that I liked skulls and skeletons before I knew what zombies were. When I was 5 I saw one of the old “Sinbad” movies on our little black-and-white TV and was absolutely captivated by a scene in which the hero has to fight a bunch of skeletal warriors. It was classic Ray Harryhausen stop-motion animation, but as a kid I had no concept of this and thought that somehow the movie had been made with actual living skeletons. I drew tons of pictures of skulls and skeletons after that, still awash with awe months afterward. I think the first actual zombies I saw were in old horror comics I’d find in boxes at used bookstores or even at flea markets. I’m not sure I saw a zombie movie until I was in high school, and I don’t remember which one I saw first because I saw tons of horror movies in high school (back in the 1980s, which I consider to be the last high point of horror films), and zombies were always a favorite theme.
THW: Who do you think has the best body of zombie-related work?
DM: I couldn’t say; there are just too many talented artists out there, creating awesome work in many media. Everyone has their own perspective on the theme, too, so as old a topic as it may be, they’re still coming up with new stuff. People can still keep rotting flesh, as it were, fresh.
THW: Your bio says that you are self-taught? Is that because you didn’t want formal instruction in art, or did you not have time with all the other things you studied?
DM: There wasn’t any conscious reasoning behind being self-taught, because the process began before I could really think very well. I was drawing before I could read or write, by age 3 (I was in kindergarten at age 4, and I know I was already drawing before that). It was an impulse that came out of me, and the more I did it, the more things I figured out and the better I got. Over the years in school, I did end up in some art classes, usually just the ones that everyone had to take. By the time I was in high school I figured I was good enough to just keep learning on my own. I did have a couple of artists along the way—one in high school and one in college—take an interest in me and offer some good insights and guidance, but it was all very informal. For college, I knew that I wanted a regular four-year B.A. in Liberal Arts, and not any art degree. For grad school, I pondered several fields of study—history, art, writing, etc.—but decided on philosophy and religion (partly because most of my other grad-level interests were things I thought I could just pursue on my own, whereas in philosophy and religion I could get the most benefit from studying with people more learned in that field). Anyway, overall I just had the fortune to be born with natural talent and have improved this by a lifetime of work and practice. I’ve also improved a lot by attending lots of life-drawing groups over the years (the kind with no instructor, only a bunch of artists pitching in for the cost of the model and the space). Those more than anything else have allowed me to perfect my technique of very subtle shading with a ball-point pen; when I show people my more recent drawings from groups like that, almost no one knows that it’s pen until I tell them.
THW: Who are your artistic influences?
DM: First I’d have to say my father—although I never spoke with him about art or saw much of his art. He died when I was 4, but it seems clear that his was the natural talent that I inherited. As for other visual artists, I don’t have all that many influences because I haven’t studied enough. There are a handful of artists whose works I absolutely love, and for some reason they seem to be relatively unknown. One is Caspar David Friedrich, who drew and painted many sweeping, intense landscapes, many with wild dead trees or ruined castles or cathedrals. Another is Gustave Dore, whose dark engravings illustrated many of the written works I love: Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” Poe’s “The Raven,” Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” as well as biblical scenes and stories from the Crusades. I also love the drawings, etchings, and woodcuts of Albrecht Duerer. The work I tend to like most is the stuff most like my own: lots of fine lines and detail, a realistic approach even with unreal subjects, and a general seriousness or even moodiness. I hadn’t encountered the works of these three until after I’d already been doing my own thing, so my like of their work is more like a recognition of things I think are cool, things I have in common with those guys.
THW: If you could put a piece of your horrific art anywhere in the world, which piece would it be and where would you put it?
DM: I think I’d pick my “Self Portrait #1.” This one is not technically my best or most creative, but it may be the most distinctively mine. It encompasses a lot of the things I want to be able to tell people when I get the question “So what kind of art do you do?” It shows some skill with realism, but is not a realistic piece. It shows my tendency to do horror art, but is not a simple horror piece. It’s more than a sketch, but less than a complete piece. It’s just a good, brief introduction to what I feel to be my specific style. As for location, I’d pick some building that isn’t primarily an art space—probably an old castle that happens to have some art hung inside. I’d put my drawing on a large stone wall in a huge and very dark room of thick stone with no windows, and have a single bright bulb shining on it. I think somewhere in Switzerland would be ideal.
For more of this great interview with Dan Moran, be sure to come back next week!