Revisted Snow Flower
Interview by Hollis Ireland.
At the start of another hot, Texas summer last year, I visited the comfy yet bustling town of Austin in search of photography artists hiring traveling models to aid in their creations. When my photo shoot with David De Lara rolled around, I knew I'd get to do something fun and creative, but I had no idea what I was about to encounter when I showed up at his place just outside the busier part of the city.
One look around David's work space was all it took. Lush yet subdued hues and haunting female forms painted on canvas surrounded the area in which we were to shoot. I have no tattoos, but I knew immediately that the face of one of Mr. De Lara's “girls” would fit perfectly onto my upper arm if I ever chose to be permanently etched. Similar to the beautifully odd and innocent fantasy figures of Mark Ryden but somehow darker in their simplicity, David's work embraces a spooky feel that invites the viewer to see a bit of his or her own narrative in the blackened eyes of his imagined dolls.
Born in 1979 in Corpus Christi, Texas, David was always a creative kid who spent much of his time free time drawing. Pursuing an art degree was an obvious, natural choice. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art from Texas A&M University-Kingsville in 2003. After graduation, he moved to Austin to work for a small, non-profit arts organization, where he spent over 7 years before quitting to pursue visual art full time. Mr. De Lara's visible body of work extends back to his college days in 2001, where he began developing his signature style and unmistakable, ghostly femmes.
Hollis Ireland: How did you develop your style of painting, and how has it evolved into the work you're creating now?
David De Lara: I developed a certain style early on. It wasn’t intentional, but I do a few things in ways where the girls’ appearance isn’t technically correct. The eyes are large, the noses are long and narrow, and chins are pointy. Somehow everything works together and it just looks right. Even when I use photo references, the girls in the artwork still have those kinds of qualities. So in that aspect, I’m lucky to have my own style where people know that it’s my artwork as soon as they see it.
I did a lot of drawing early on. It was basic pencil illustrations at first and I worked my way to mixed media with watercolor, pastels, and pencils. Then I began painting more regularly around 2004 or 2005. I was able to start creating work that has a lot more visual depth. I used acrylics several years before switching to oils for most of my paintings. It may take longer to work with them, but I especially like oils for the richness in the colors and how I’m able to subtly blend paint from highlights to shadows. I like to think my style has evolved into painterly illustration. I’ll build up layers of paint then I’ll to the final details by drawing on the painting with pencils.
HI: What and/or who has most influenced your work?
DDL: It’s hard to pinpoint what or who has influenced my work. It’s more of a mix of things. As a kid I learned to draw by looking at comics, animation, and magazines like the swimsuit issue or old Playboys. All of those sort of mixed together into what I do now. Even though I’m an artist with a degree and I had some training in the fine arts, I guess I’m more of a pop culture type of artist based on my influences.
I also tend to create work that’s a little dark and macabre. Again, that’s not intentional. It’s simply a reflection of the kind of person I am. Tim Burton is a name lots of people have mentioned when they see my art. I’m a fan of his style and can see why people think of him. Although we have different subject matter, there’s a dark whimsy to what we both do.
HI: Does living and working in Austin, TX, a city with an enthusiasm for art and music, play a role in what you create?
DDL: Not necessarily. Austin is a great place to live and be a creative person. In fact, I don’t know many people who have a “regular” job. I know artists, writers, musicians, photographers, models, and burlesque dancers. However, as nice as it to be an artist in Austin, I’m not sure if it’s become a place to thrive as an artist yet.
The city is one of the fastest growing in the country and people come here because of its reputation as a great place to be. However, Austin is still a young town in terms of the median age and people aren’t able to invest much in supporting artists. I don’t go out to art shows as much as I would like, so I can’t say how galleries are doing these days (seeing how many red dots are next to artwork indicating they’re sold). I can tell you at least one major gallery moved to Houston a few years ago because there wasn’t much of an art market here.
Austin’s art scene has slowly been changing since I moved here in 2003 and many of the larger art initiatives are artist driven. Events like the East Austin Studio Tour are able to get the general public excited about art. On the other hand, a problem is that I don’t feel that enthusiasm from a business standpoint the rest of the year. While Austin doesn’t have a strong philanthropic aspect, there are plenty of people who love the arts and I hope they’ll contribute as Austin continues to grow and change.
HI: How did you begin to incorporate photography and models into your creative repertoire?
DDL: I always liked taking pictures and bought a decent digital camera when I could afford it. I mentioned earlier how model photography in magazines influenced my work. It’s something I wanted to do except I lived in the middle of nowhere until my early twenties and didn’t have access to many models. Shortly after I moved to Austin I began photographing models and started to do it more regularly in 2004.
Since the subject matter of all my work involves portraits and figurative work of women, the look of my photography shares a lot with my paintings. So doing photography was a natural extension for me. They’ve been separate aspects of my work and I’ve experimented with ways to tie them together. I’ve done several pieces that incorporate photography that’s manipulated digitally and/or with painting and drawing. My work can be a little surreal at times and those pieces definitely achieve something different that I couldn’t do with painting, drawing, or photography alone.
When I was a teenager I joked that I wanted to be nude model photographer. I guess I grew up and made that childhood dream come true. Fifteen year old me is still jealous of thirty-something me.
Spilled Recollection. Model: Dara.
HI: Do your models influence your photography and/or painting concepts?
DDL: Yes and no. The right models can bring concepts to life in ways many others can’t. I’ll have ideas I want to do but will have to search or wait for the right model. So in those cases the model doesn’t have much influence on the idea.
With that said, unless there’s something very specific I want to capture, I’ll let models be themselves and do the job how they see fit. It’s like that especially for photo shoots that are more glamour or boudoir style where more of the model’s personality can show through. So in those cases the models can end up influencing the direction of the photos.
There are also times I’ve tailored ideas specifically for a model just because of her look. Those are times where I had someone booked and had to figure out something for her. Then there have been instances where I went in with one idea but some of the other looks we shot wound up stealing the show.
Since I have a huge library of photographs on my computer, sometimes I’ll come across something old that catches my eye and use it as reference for a painting or even for a photo manipulation. So I suppose a model’s influence can be felt long before or long after a photo shoot.
HI: Describe one of your latest projects that excites you the most.
DDL: I don’t know if I can. I just sort of make it up as I go along and don’t plan too far ahead. I have lots of notes for ideas I want to work on and probably won’t get to half of them. I normally work on one painting at a time and might have a loose idea for the next one. There are ideas about directions I’d like to go in but we’ll have to see if that happens. Even after all this time I like to experiment. Getting stuck in a “formula” isn’t going to challenge me. Luckily, all my work seems to tie in together whether I’m trying something new or not.
Tragedy Champagne. Model: Carlotta Champagne.
HI: What would you like to incorporate into your work that you have yet to try, or is there another form of media into which you'd like to delve besides painting and photography?
DDL: I’ve dabbled in video. In fact, a short one minute film I made was included in the 2012 Seattle Erotic Art Festival. It might be something I’ll work on in the future. It’s a matter of having the right ideas and, more importantly, the time and resources to pull it off. I’m an independent artist and don’t have a crew of people I work with. So I handle everything myself on the production end.
I have one idea I like to refer to as my Chinese Democracy because I may never finish it. I have several parts of it filmed but couldn’t finish the main part that ties everything together. It was too complicated to coordinate everyone I wanted. So I sort of gave up on it and continued with my painting and photography. I might put together everything I have into several videos one day, but they might seem like extended cuts of a Vine or Instagram movie.
HI: Where would you like to see your art in the next 3-5 years in terms of media/gallery attention and the direction of your work?
DDL: Like many professional artists I’d obviously like to have my work in more of the types of galleries and publications that can take my career to another level and will help put me over as somebody whose work you should keep an eye on. Of course, I’m also realistic and know I might never be a big name that has sold out art shows and gets hundreds or thousands of likes online just for posting a doodle.
Sometimes I probably shoot myself in the foot because I’m not catering to any particular audience and put out the kind of work I want to. Whether or not that gets the attention of the right kinds of people remains to be seen. At the moment I’m content doing my work at my own pace and it’s good to know there are people who enjoy it because that motivates me to continue.
I’m sort of a journeyman of an artist. I’ve been around a long time already and been involved in well over 100 art exhibitions all over the country, won an award or two, and had my work published internationally. I’ve been in prestigious juried events and shitty one night only shows at bars. It’s an adventure and it’s hard to tell where things will go.
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