I, for one, was a little intimidated by Dan. He was a wonderful painter, philosopher, Renaissance man (it was rumored he built his own computers, and wrote a book on design, for instance), and sometime oracle. Sporting a Cheshire cat grin, he would expound thoughtfully about our work, art history, and whatever else might be tangentially related. Admittedly, some of it went right over our heads. But among the things I think he was trying to convey was that he didn’t offer any shortcuts; we should look at as much art as we could, observe the world, work hard and think deeply about what we wanted to say and where we wanted to go with our work. Somebody in our class did a sketch in the manner of an Egyptian wall panel, wherein we were all little people waiting to present our work to Dan, who pharaoh-like, was twice our size. I still kind of think of him like that.
Although they may not be exactly the lessons he was trying to teach us, here are a couple of things that I took from Dan.
The subconscious and the accidental are often where “art” is born. Much of Dan’s earlier work seemed to come from a Rufino Tamayo-esque approach. Shapes and colors applied to the canvas would gradually suggest objects, figures, or landscapes. He had a masterful painting in his stairwell of silver-blue trees reflecting on a quiet lake. When I mentioned how much I liked it, he told me it had started out as two women in fur coats. Later, he developed a technique in which he would project slides onto a canvas and try to reproduce the image in the dark. The result was surprisingly painterly and beautiful. The inability to see accurately what each stroke looked like in that intense light created a ragged, soulful realism. Art.
“Art” is pretty much everywhere if you look for it. At my first graduate review, Dan – and the other resident genius, Roger Winter – let it be known that they resented the fact that I had a preconceived idea of what art was, and what my subject matter was going to be – western landscapes. They wanted me to really observe my current surroundings – in this case, Dallas. “How do you make art out of Dallas?” I wondered. Looking at Dan’s paintings gave some hints – paintings of the diner next to his loft, construction sites, and backyards in the snow. I began to roam the funky parts of the city in search of subjects, and have been looking down alleys and side roads, and into storefront windows and state fair midways ever since.
Blog post: Brian Cobble, MFA 1977, SMU
Image: Dan Wingren teaching students in Dallas Hall, photograph by Clint Grant, ca. 1960s
Courtesy of Jerry Bywaters Collections on Art of the Southwest, Bywaters Special Collections, Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University.
Exhibition, Dan Wingren: The Image and Magic, on the 2nd floor of Hamon continues to May 31, 2021.