I first met New York-based artist Danica Lundy when she was about 11 years old, and I accompanied my dad on one of his semi-regular trips to Salt Spring Island. The daughter of a friend of a friend, Danica was bright-eyed, competitive, feisty and a driven soccer player always sporting a bruised knee or two. But her creative talents shone through like a beacon even then.
Fast forward 15 years, and the 26-year-old artist has a Master of Fine Arts from the New York Academy of Art and is a 2017/18 Chubb Fellow — the highest honour the school can bestow upon its graduates — and she is selling art and making a living as an artist in one of the world’s major arts centres. In February, she had a solo show of her ballpoint pen drawings in New York, while a month-long solo show of her paintings opened March 1 in Milan, Italy. In August, she’ll be exhibiting back home on Salt Spring at Steffich Fine Art.
These accomplishments are not surprising to anyone who’s ever been introduced to the artist. But as we sit and chat now, she says it all still seems a little surreal to her.
“Getting into the school was a huge accomplishment,” she says, shaking her head. “I couldn’t even dream of it for a while. It felt closer to Hollywood, just a fantasy … That place is full of people I admire.”
The April before her program started, Danica, along with a few other students, was invited to the school’s prestigious Tribeca Ball, where she spent the evening surrounded by the glitz of celebrity and fashion and art. In New York for several days, she remembers finding herself in a tiny alley, watching a handful of leaves caught in the chaos of a ceaseless whirlwind.
“There was this parallel feeling inside.”
Once the masters program began, however, she was grounded, fast and hard.
“Your first year is boot camp,” she says. “You’re in classes from nine to six, work until midnight, then you go home and work some more.” She smiles and a shrugs. “It’s stressful.”
The summer between first and second years, she was chosen for a residency at the Leipzig International Art Programme, where she spent two months living and working on art in an old, repurposed cotton mill, before returning to school with a new sense of urgency.
“Being in New York, it’s such an invigorating, visceral place. You can’t not be propelled by that.”
Work on her thesis continued in earnest, as Danica laboured on painting after painting, as well as an eight-foot-wide ballpoint pen drawing.
|An eight foot wide ballpoint pen drawing by Danica Lundy|
Danica’s hands fly in front of her as she tries to explain why she loves what she does, what she sees, how her work changed while in New York. She stopped painting from life and photographs, turning instead to the depths of her imagination, learned how to focus and “how to squish the spectrum of light into the spectrum of paint.”
Her pieces explore the complexities of adolescence, of connection, of that feeling of being an outsider, those “painful, awkward moments that we all pivot off of.”
“I love how in painting something can be two things at once,” she says. “It can fill you up. It can empty you. I don’t necessarily paint things I like.”
Rather, she’s pulled to give a voice to things that hurt, or are jarring.
Magnificent in their complexity, her canvases hold no playful poppies or soothing seashores to be displayed in a hotel lobby. Her work is visceral, complicated, physical, uncomfortable. She walks a line of contradictions with every stroke of colour: the sublime and the grotesque; intimacy pressed against voyeurism.
“That dichotomy between repulsion and attraction is so important to me,” she says. “I walk that line constantly. I want the viewer to feel uncomfortable, to wonder if maybe she shouldn’t be looking.”
Now as a Chubb Fellow at the school, Danica has the time and studio space to further explore those relationships and continue unearthing her own voice while mentoring incoming students.
The latest development in Danica’s artistic evolution was her Italian debut at the C+N Canepaneri Gallery in Milan, Italy, which ran until April 6. The solo show, “The Ghost I Made You Be,” includes a significant number of her most recent works, the majority of which were created specifically for the exhibit.
“The title…comes from a Leonard Cohen lyric from a song called ‘Treaty’ off his final album before he died last year,” she says. “The full line is ‘I’m sorry for the ghost I made you be/only one of us was real and that was me.’ Leonard, a fellow Canadian, has occupied a spot close to my heart for a long time. I think he was an exceptional poet who spent his whole life clawing at what it means to be human.”
“This line struck me as incredibly poignant,” she continues. “To me, it relates to the power structures built in the space between people, and the slow unfolding of oneself into another person, and back. I think it relates to the work I’m doing right now.”
The gallery — which has purchased two of Danica’s pieces already — describes the work succinctly, as representing all of us: “uncertain and fluctuating identities suspended between amusement and latent violence, pleasure and abuses, freedom and surveillance, frustration and unexpected poetical impulses, individualism and communion.”
“I am grateful for their confidence in my work, and very much looking forward to this show,” adds Danica.
Though still at the beginning of what is surely meant to become a significant and impactful artistic career, Danica has already honed in on a delicate balance of contradictions in her work, and she’s done it through endless hours of practice.
“My process is probably brutal. I’m scrappy, like I am in sports,” she laughs, and I’m reminded of her “Bruise Bank,” a photographic collection of her battered body post-soccer games, which she ended up felting into “fuzzy badges.”
Possessed of an incredible talent, kind-hearted, gorgeous, Danica has an otherworldly quality that shines through until it seems as though sparks should fly from her fingers as she talks about her passions. But there’s no mistaking, this woman has a core of iron.
“It’s a bit of a battlefield,” she says of the art world, with an offhand smile. “But I’ve always been able to make it with drive and determination and work ethic.”
- Story by Angela Cowan Photography by Lia Crowe