Dan Attoe of Paintallica Talks About Collaborations, Barneys, And Making Art With Chainsaws

Dan Attoe of Paintallica Talks About Collaborations, Barneys, And Making Art With Chainsaws

PSFK sits down with the founder of art collective Paintallica to chat about their work philosophy and their new collaboration with Barney's.

Laura Feinstein
  • 27 july 2011

Sometimes the best part of researching a story, more than a final conclusion or narrative, is all the other facts and figures you come upon along the way.  Last week when we brought you the story of Adam Kimmel’s collaboration with Carhartt, one of our favorite aspects of the project was their inclusion of artist collective Paintallica, whose no-nonsense and hands on approach to making art proved one of the most fascinating experiences we’ve encountered in awhile. While high-end cocktail parties celebrating the worlds of fashion and art are a dime a dozen in NYC, rarely do guests get to mingle (and in this case have a Schlitz with) the artists while they’re actually putting together the pieces. That’s why we reached out to Dan Attoe, of Paintallica and Peres Projects, about what fuels the group’s artistic process, and how they came to link- up with prolific luxury retailer Barneys.

What is the story of Paintallica?

Paintallica started as a group of grad students at the University of Iowa – Iowa City who got together regularly in each others studios and tried to criticize our work until we hurt someone’s feelings. Eventually, it turned into adding to one another’s work, then getting cases of beer and staying up all night to see if the long hours would add to our delirium, and make our work and interactions more meaningful somehow.

Where are all of you from?

Most of us met in Iowa City, but now we’ve scattered all over. I’m in Portland,Oregon, as are a few of the other guys, some are still from Iowa City, one is from Chicago, one from Kansas City, Bozeman, Montana, Long Island, Lafayette, Louisiana, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and a couple from Minnesota.

Since you seem to live in different parts of the country, how do you come together to create group shows?

When we get a gallery show, or some kind of event I send out a call to everybody to see who can make it, and everybody gets there however they can. A lot of our shows have been out here in Portland, or on the West Coast, so much of the time everybody converges on my house where we hatch a plan, draw and make things for a few days before doing our show. Even when we had a show in L.A. everybody came to my house and we drove down. I used to live in a cabin in Washington, and it was a pretty great setting for partying.

How do you think your unique personalities have contributed to these larger works?

Everybody brings something to the work. We’re all accomplished in different things – mostly art, but we’ve got one mechanic in the group, and everybody does other things too – we’ve got two carpenters, a ceramicist, a few art teachers, and a few folks who are good with computers. Everybody in the group draws, and we can all swing a hammer, so we all start with drawing sessions, and think about what we’re going to build. Ultimately, it’s a dialogue that’s still based on the original idea of hurting one another’s feelings that we still follow. It’s broadened to maybe just trying to make things that keep us laughing, but the edge, and the energy is still there.

From an outsider’s perspective, it seems that a lot of the group’s art includes reflections on modern life with a humorous twist- with political correctness, Americana heritage, and war being major themes. How do you think being specifically American in this era has influenced your work?

Oh, you hit on a big one. We all come from blue-collar backgrounds, and two of the guys have been to war. As a result, issues involving working class, and imagery and issues surrounding the war are close to us. We all have attachments to different rural parts of the country and the history of those places, and a general interest in the history of our country. I think we all grew up in places that didn’t really keep up with what was considered current in culture, so often references to popular culture are sort of from an outsiders perspective – kind of like when your grandfather tries to talk about rap music.

What other sources or personal experiences do you mine for inspiration?

There are no limits on this. We frequently bring up psychological quirks in each other and in ourselves. We love to pick on, as you mentioned, an overly careful political correctness. We have all had jobs on farms, in factories, as janitors, construction workers or the like, so that kind of stuff comes up a lot, and the humor that comes from those lives. We talk about what we’re reading a lot, and give each other books. We talk about art we’ve seen. Most of us have vehicles that are special to us – I’ve got a three-wheeled motorcycle that’s sort of become a mascot for the group, several of the guys have normal motorcycles, many have trucks, so these bring meaning, and the places we’ve been with them. We also talk about girls a lot.

What makes the group decide to accept one project over another?

Since we’re scattered all over, and it takes a little bit to organize, and most of us have jobs and families, we have to pick stuff that is important to us. Up to this point, we’ve primarily chosen gigs based on visibility, and some kind of unique interaction with an audience. We really enjoy having viewers to mess with while we work. Much of our process is kind of boring, but we do have a performative side that usually just entails the way we pick on each other while we work – throwing beer cans, and wrestling, also the chainsaws are kind of dramatic to watch carve things.

How do your artistic practices differ when you are doing your own work, versus when you are working with the collective as a whole?

We bring things to the group that we think will hold their attention. We all have a meditative side to what we do on our own, but we don’t bring that to this group, except very peripherally. In this group, we need to say things and make images that will trigger something in the group and keep up an energy, usually based on humor or sometimes meanness.

PSFK: I understand that you had worked with Adam Kimmel prior to this collaboration. Can you tell us a little about it?

Adam came to visit me in Portland shortly after my daughter was born, and I had just moved to the city from a cabin that had limited internet and phone reception. Since I hadn’t upgraded anything when I moved, and didn’t have time to really research him with a brand new daughter, I didn’t completely understand who he was, but I liked him, and I took him and Neville Wakefield out on some logging roads in my four by four truck, and we did some shooting, then later I took them around town on my three-wheeled motorcycle. I also showed him my closet with lots of wool shirts, some old jackets from my dad’s days as a forester, and a bunch of biker clothes. As a result of these experiences and an interest in my work, Adam asked me to collaborate with him on some clothes. I sent him some drawings, and did a little bit of painting for him, and I still wasn’t prepared for the huge event that resulted from it in Paris, or the amount of beautiful clothing he made. It’s really a huge eye opener for me, and I still feel a little like a deer in the headlights, but I’m really grateful for it, and I don’t know how I got so lucky.

Seeing as how most of your shows have been organic, how did it feel to work with such a major luxury brand in such a specific capacity?

I think we all felt like aliens at Barney’s. However, everyone there, and Adamand all his crew made us feel so comfortable that we would do it again in a heartbeat. All of us took pictures of each other in the clothing and we were giggling like school kids. I don’t think any of us could believe it, and we wanted pictures to show our friends back home, who also wouldn’t believe it when we tell them.

What kind of thoughts and ideas were involved in creating your recent Barney’s installations?

We really wanted to do justice to the clothing. We’re all familiar with Carhartt clothes, and wear them for outdoors activities and different aspects of our work. We also wanted to make something that would be appropriate for a venue that is pretty different for us. So, we focused on sort of a Northwest woods theme, partially because that’s where we have fun when we get together in Portland – we go out for hikes, surfing, shooting and river riding, and partially because it seems Carhartt has a big presence in rural areas. We also wanted to make reference to what we see as historical window decoration, so we made the silhouetted trees as a sort of stage for the chainsaw carvings. More than anything we wanted to do justice to Adam and his vision for what we were doing there.

What was the crowd’s reaction to seeing such a profusion of chainsaws and hardware? It’s definitely not something most Barney’s shoppers see every day.

We heard only good things the whole time we were there. I think everybody really got into it. We had woodburners set up for people to work on our logs at the opening party, and so many people came in and burned little pictures on the logs – people in beautiful clothing were working on our logs – it was great. Lots of people took pictures with their phones while we were working in the window too.

If you could have one historical figure, alive or dead, become a member of Paintallica who would it be and why?

I think Hunter S. Thompson would be good. He had an understanding of his craft, he had an interest in messing with his audience and a way of poking at culture while appreciating it at the same time. He also had a way of tearing things apart, making what looked to most like a mess, but then pulling some kind of useful truth out of it. I think Sitting Bull would be good too, or maybe Gary Larson.

Check further event coverage at Barneys site The Window

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