Maker Feature: Daniel Walden
During the week of May 20 – 28, 2016, artist Daniel Walden was basically living in a vacated office space one floor below Savage Smyth. The reason: a painting. A large painting — 72 by 60 inches — the biggest canvas Walden had ever worked on.
As for his makeshift studio, “it was perfect,” he says. “It had a couch,” which he admits to crashing on at least one of the nights that week, pushing himself to finish the painting in time for Savage Smyth’s first major event. The piece — mostly black with a large gold and white ampersand in its center — now permanently hangs in the Savage space.
“I’m super excited about it because for so long, everything that I did people couldn’t see,” Walden explains. “I can consider myself an artist now because of that piece.”
An interesting sentiment considering Walden — who has a quiet, thoughtful presence — has been creating art since he was young, following the example of his older brother who was always drawing. In undergrad at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Walden majored in graphic design and minored in photography.
After graduating, he pursued many forms of art — designing, developing logos, creating photo series and painting. Barring his experience in the vacated office space, he usually works in his apartment, which doubles as a studio. A place to churn out his varied and prolific work.
“It’s intriguing how so much of Daniel’s spirit and intent to create aligns with Savage’s mission,” says Savage Smyth co-founder Gabrielle Martinez. “We were meant to work together.”
Many of Walden’s pieces involve an ampersand — a symbol of significance for him, which has its own backstory. When he first moved to Chicago, one of his friends was performing improvisational comedy and eventually made it to the Second City Mainstage.
“She was my introduction to the improv scene,” he recalls. “It’s super interesting to see people create only in that moment…and it was this idea of ‘yes, and’ that I liked.”
He’s referring to the improvisation technique of saying ‘yes’ to your fellow players in a scene and then adding to whatever they’ve proposed. They could say you’re two monkeys in the jungle…yes, and you’re binging on bananas. In life, this technique translates as an openness to opportunity and a willingness to work hard and connect with the world.
For a while, Walden’s affinity for the concept remained just that — an abstract idea. Once he started painting more, he saw the chance to visually represent it. He made himself an acrylic ampersand stencil and set to work, creating a series of ampersand paintings.
They’re more than meets the eye though, literally. The black top coat of the canvas that hangs in Savage Smyth hides layers of more paint. Walden initially wrote, in white acrylic, a list of “everyone who has given some form of motivation or support or encouragement, whether intentional or not, but all connected to Chicago,” he says. “It was supposed to be like a thank you.”
On top of this list, he rewrote words from a decades-old article about the venue’s namesake. At the right angle, you can see these words rising up through the black paint. Given its symbolism, it would be difficult to find a more fitting painting for the venue.
“The meaning of the ampersand dovetails with Savage’s own belief in the greater power that can emerge when you unite people,” Martinez says.
Walden also created several pieces live during a Savage Smyth preview event. He involved the attendees — for example, asking them to share their favorite word, which he then incorporated into the work. He left this experience filled with a sense of possibility for the space. “It’ll bring people together, which only helps to spread ideas and collaboration,” he says.
Walden created four paintings during the event, all of which he hopes to include in an upcoming show. When will this show take place? His self-imposed deadline is before the end of 2016. But Walden has other projects in the works too, including a collection of cards featuring his photography and an invention that stores plastic bags in a space-conscious, multi-purpose cushion.
“I think right now in Chicago, it’s a great time to be an artist,” he says. “People are here grinding and honing their craft…that energy, you find that in all sectors — whether it’s food, music, visual art. People are always working on stuff.” He goes on, “there’s inspiration everywhere.”
Including at Savage Smyth itself. Walden sees the space as part of a new wave of support for Chicago artists. “You can use it for anything,” he says of the venue, “it just seems like nothing but possibilities and opportunities.”