Dan Climan

Montreal artist Dan Climan explores voyeurism and the serenity of simplicity

We spoke with Climan ahead of today’s opening of his solo exhibition The Look Says It All at Galerie Youn.

Dan Climan is a graphic designer turned tattoo artist turned painter, and when he’s in his studio surrounded by his work, that really shows. 

The Montreal-based artist gave Cult MTL a preview of the pieces he’s going to have on display at Galerie Youn from April 21 to May 23 — his first solo exhibition. They are large, all faithful to the same colour palette of pastels and blues and red, with wide open compositions that reveal Climan’s level of attention to his work. Everything feels so carefully placed.

Dan Climan
“All Mine” by Dan Climan

“I really like simplicity. I always like the idea of less is more,” he says. 

“There is also the omission of detail in the work, and that makes it so that the person looking at it can have more of a personal connection to it. I don’t have to tell you what kind of car it is, or exactly what the person looks like or exactly what the landscape looks like, and that way you can figure it out for yourself.”

The exhibition, entitled The Look Says It All, explores themes of “looking” and voyeurism. Sometimes the perspective invites the viewer into the painting, and sometimes the separation between viewer and viewed is more fixed. 

“I have this feeling that we live in this kind of ‘looker’ generation — people don’t read as much, they really like to get the information from looking at things.” It’s not hard to understand why he comes to this conclusion, as our social media networks, our journalism, progressively go the route of video. “I find for myself with so many voices and so many things that are being put our way visually, it’s nice to kind of find visual spaces where we can really feel a sense of calm.”

A car driving through an open landscape. A boxing match on TV. A dog admiring a sunset. Dogs and cars are a recurring theme in many of the 13 paintings. Climan says he is interested in the relationship between a human and their dogs. He also likes the notion of freedom that a car represents.

“You grow up in the city, you get your licence, you can finally drive to the country or get out, and it’s like this stepping stone in your life when you can just go where you want to go and experience this calm,” he says.

Dan Climan Montreal artist
Dan Climan. Photo by Sztella Muzslai

There’s definitely a serenity to every scene, and the openness of many of them are a much-needed remedy to the collective claustrophobia we’ve all lived through in the past two years. Climan notes that since human beings are predators, wide-open spaces lower our blood pressure and relax our threat detector, inducing a feeling of calm. 

His favourite piece, called “That Would Be Great,” places the viewer in a car with the door open, with a Dalmatian peering in. Maybe he’s happy to see his owner; or maybe he’s not sure he’s ready to return home yet. The dog’s expression leaves room to speculate.

“With these scenarios, I really like to set up this idea that it’s up to the viewer to decide what the story is,” he explains. “There’s no beginning, middle or end to what’s happening, they’re just these little snippets of a story.”

The artist says he works in his studio eight hours a day, six days a week. He works alone now, doing what feels right for himself, but it wasn’t always that way.

In his former jobs as a graphic design and tattoo artist, he was “always working with other people’s ideas, and figuring out ways that I can insert myself into their passion project. I always had this painting background when I was doing the other work, and finally, with making painting my main focus, it’s me. I’m taking all the shots, I’m the art director.”

He has managed to sell a lot of his work since he started painting full-time, and his paintings can be found in some Montreal-area restaurants: Gia Vin & Grill, Vin Mon Lapin and Pizza Toni are some.

“That Would Be Great” by Dan Climan

While Climan has a BFA, and his paintings are earning him increasing success and recognition, he is decidedly not the “art snob” type. He joked about the inaccessibility of some contemporary art — “when you look at the artist’s statement then look at the art, and it doesn’t make sense,” with a laugh. 

“I can have my reasons for making the paintings, but if you look at the painting and you feel something from it, that’s what’s important to me.”

He spoke of the slight feeling of amazement of actually “making it” in the art world in a difficult time for all creative industries. Though this exhibition at Galerie Youn is his first solo show, it will undoubtedly not be his last. ■

The Look Says It All by Dan Climan is on at Galerie Youn (384 St-Paul W.) through May 23.

For more Montreal arts coverage, please visit the Arts & Life section.