A Conversation with Bizarro cartoonist Dan Piraro, Part Three of Three

Posted by on November 5th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Conducted by Marc Librescu

Part onePart two ♦ Part three


Fox News Special Report, watercolor and colored pencil, 10″x14″.
All paintings by and ©2010 Dan Piraro.


MARC LIBRESCU: In your personal artwork, there’s some reference to Dali. I can see that you’re interested in Surrealism. What other artists do you admire?

DAN PIRARO: I grew up in Oklahoma, where there was something of a cultural vacuum. My parents weren’t big art fans. There really wasn’t any art influence in my house, other than the encyclopedia, which had a section on fine art. It had probably 25 or 30 of the most famous paintings through history. We also had a big illustrated family Bible, bound in leather or something. It had all this Renaissance art in it. I also went to Catholic school and attended church 29 times a week. That had the stained glass, the paintings and the statues, which are all based on Renaissance and Baroque art.

Those were my earliest influences, and I still really love it. In my fine art, as you’ve seen from my book, I used a lot of religious imagery, even though I’m an atheist. I love to paint in that style. In fact, I taught myself to paint by reading about the techniques of Raphael. I taught myself to oil-paint in that same manner and was able to get similar effects as that sort of rich Renaissance/Baroque realism. Michelangelo and Da Vinci were my favorite artists when I was growing up.

I was a huge fan of Salvador Dali because he painted in the same style that I loved but he used stranger subject matter. Those were my early influences: the Italian and Spanish Renaissance painters and Salvador Dali. As an adult, I’ve come to like many kinds of art but those were my real artistic influences.

LIBRESCU: You’ve mentioned a number of times that you’re not a fan of Rothko or that type of modern art. What’s your take on contemporary art? Do you go to galleries? If so, do you see anything you like?

PIRARO: Yeah, I do. I don’t follow the art world very closely, so I couldn’t name many contemporary artists who I really like. I like Mark Ryden. I think his style is called lowbrow art. I don’t like fantasy art, but I like strange images, like an eerie waif standing in the snow with the image of Abraham Lincoln floating in the trees. There’s a certain kind of serious weird art that I really like.


Three Clerics Ignoring a Vision, oil on linen, 48″x48″, 1995.


I really hated art in the ’70s, which is when I went to art school. I had a scholarship to Washington University in St. Louis, but I quit after one semester. At the time, everything was conceptual. It was the only thing that you could learn in art school and it was the only thing you could do and get anything above a C for. This literally happened in one of my classes. A kid turned in a pile of broken glass with about a three-page explanation of what it meant and got an A, and I turned in something that looked recognizable and got a C. That was the day I thought that this was not for me. Back then, it was all conceptual art.

At the time, the art world had decided that since the invention of photography, there wasn’t any reason to try to represent anything artistically in paintings. So everything that looked like anything was just out. That has now reversed, as all trends do, and a lot of people are painting more realistically.

I don’t like strict realism. Well, maybe I do like it. It’s fine, but I don’t paint that way. I like to throw in a little trompe l’oeil. I like to draw freehand on top of the realistic stuff and combine different elements. That’s the sort of art that I really enjoy now, art that combines elements of realism with graphic line art or more abstract images.

When I say “abstract,” I’m not talking about Jackson Pollack. Jackson Pollack is not abstract. Abstract is changing an image to some degree, but you can still basically tell what it’s supposed to be. That’s true abstract as opposed to Rothko or the big red square. Most people say that’s abstract art, but it’s not. It’s conceptual or something else. I don’t even know what they call that.


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