‘Right Now, I’m Just Asking Questions’: Photographer Daniel Gordon on How to Stay Inspired After Decades in the Studio

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the Art21 "New York Close Up" film, "Daniel Gordon Looks Back." © Art21, Inc. 2016.

Like many artists, the Brooklyn-based photographer Daniel Gordon sometimes has trouble keeping things interesting. You’d think he would have a wealth of source material since his work involves a maximalist combination of collage, photography, and sculpture—but hey, he’s only human.

In an exclusive interview aired as part of Art21’s “New York Close Up” series back in 2016, Gordon reminisced about how his approach had changed since his early days as an artist.

Back then, I was trying to figure out what my voice was,” he says. “I really was trying to mimic reality.” Now, however, mimesis “is something that I have become less and less interested in.”

The artist, whose work looks like a cross between Matisse and Jonas Wood, builds two- and three-dimensional props from source material he finds on the internet. He photographs these tableaux—surreal still lifes populated by fish, colorful plants, and gaudy patterns—to make his lively images.

At the beginning, Gordon notes, he was trying to hide the hand-crafted aspect of his work. Now, he welcomes those cracks in the facade of perfection. 

Production still from the Art21 "New York Close Up" film, "Daniel Gordon Looks Back." © Art21, Inc. 2016.

Production still from the Art21 “New York Close Up” film, “Daniel Gordon Looks Back.” © Art21, Inc. 2016.

Like the generation from which he hails, Gordon’s work straddles two worlds: one is rooted firmly in the analog, the other fully invested in digital technologies. He describes his focus as on the “in-between things” that question the boundaries between photography, painting, and sculpture.

A new book published by Aperture—a work of art in itself—delightfully spans these mediums, featuring pop-ups of Gordon’s images. If a rut forces him to rethink his approach, he’s open to change—but “right now,” he says, “I’m just asking the questions.”


Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s series New York Close Up, below. The brand new 10th season of the show is available now at Art21.org. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org

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