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Artist in Focus : Dan Flavin

In this section for Art From Us, we pick one artist to showcase their work and creative journey so far. Today, we look at Dan Flavin.

Art From Us & Divvya Nirula introduce you to artists and their art. Underlining significant works, discovering creative practices. And giving you a glimpse into their studio.

Early Life

Whenever one sees the iridescent bands of colour, creating a visual symphony, one is reminded of American artist Dan Flavin’s iconic installations with fluorescent light fixtures. The man responsible for conceptualising the unique artistry of a simple band of light and investing them with personality, and creating unforgettable drama in spaces was Dan Flavin.

Born in 1933 in New York, Dan was brought up along strict Catholic principles, he even studied for priesthood at the Immaculate Conception Preparatory Seminary (Brooklyn) during 1947 – 1952. Dan had a twin David and soon after his seminary studies he enlisted for the US Air Force. It was while he was in training, that he experienced his brush with the world of art studies at the University of Maryland, through a distance learning program. At 23, Flavin read at Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts, (NY) and then New School for Social Research (NY) before joining Columbia University to formally study art.

Flavin had a somewhat unusual entry to the world of art. He worked several lower grade jobs at Guggenheim as well as the Museum of Modern Art. Were these years of prep that he was putting in – that would shape his vision? Was he understanding spaces and light and their relationship with
each other? It is not hard to conjecture as he had once rued how art wasn’t allowed freely to integrate with architecture.

“Work? Work? What’s that? Haven’t you ever read that one? I hate work.”

– Dan Flavin

Because by his own admission, he was completely committed to what he was doing and it gave him the greatest joy. Working the way he did, it was evident that he was completely consumed by the vision that he had.

Flavin and Minimalism

When he was asked if he considered his work decorative – “…But it’s not something that I really care a whole lot to dwell on. In the past, you can read, I was against spiritual and psychological outlooks on art….The facts of these constructions were more important than any language that was attached to them.”

This really formed the crux of Flavin’s personal theory of art, which aligns him to the Minimalists. By 1963, Flavin completely eliminated the canvas and he used fluorescent bulbs. His initial canvas paintings were representative of Abstract Expressionists, but he moved onto using the mass-produced, everyday-materials with short life spans for his creations.

Legacy

Dan Flavin’s creations paved the way for other light artists. It can be safely said that Flavin’s body of work looks beyond the movement, and does not restrict itself at the posturing of a Minimalist. Some of his most famous works include Diagonal of Personal Ecstasy (the Diagonal of May 25, 1963),
The Nominal Three (to William of Ockham) (1963), The Diagonal of May 25, 1963, Monument for I for V Tatlin (1964), Partial View of Untitled (Marfa project), (1996) and Pink Out of A Corner (1963) to name a few. Flavin’s works were exhibited internationally in some of the most prestigious art
spaces. But serious recognition came to him when he was recommended for an award from the William and Norma Copley Foundation in Chicago by Marcel Duchamp. And the Dia Centre for Arts opened the Dan Flavin Art Institute in Bridgehampton, New York, permanently exhibiting his work in
1983.

The world lost an artist of unusual insight and impeccable execution of ephemeral ideas, when Flavin died in 1996 owing to complications arising from his diabetes. He continues to live and shine through his work.


To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit the Artist in Focus archive.

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