In Daniel Correa Mejía’s paintings, the figures and gestures we encounter in the quotidian realm are transplanted onto a plane of reality which carries a dimension of mysticism. Vivid colours make his forms appear lit from within, potent and radiant. Unfamiliar landscapes undulate and move like living beings. Celestial bodies preside over human existence and interactions. Psychological, spiritual and emotional auras and energies become physically manifest in strokes of light and ethereal shadow-figures. For Daniel, these images seek to convey that towards which he is always striving: an “awareness of being alive”.
Inhabiting this awareness and observing the world from a place of solitude is a key figure in Daniel’s practice. Having uprooted several times, moving between Colombia, Brazil, Mexico and Berlin, much of Daniel’s artistic development took place during long periods of being by himself in unfamiliar surroundings. Perhaps it is this perspective that has sustained Daniel’s perpetual sense of wonder at the world around him – something he aims to translate into his paintings.
While Daniel’s practice endeavours to convey an existential pulse by uncovering a common human essence, his recent solo show, Soy Hombre: Duro Poco y Es Enorme La Noche (I Am a Man: Little Do I Last and the Night is Enormous) at Fortnight Institute draws together further threads of his work, in particular the personal experience of homosexual male identity. In paintings that present the naked male body, Daniel connects viewers to his own vulnerability as a gay man. And yet, by portraying these bodies as exuberant, spiritually harmonious and abundantly alive, he is also envisaging a way of being that supersedes identity and finds joy and empowerment in being connected to the elements, to nature, to one’s own body. Daniel’s pictures visualise a return to the simple, primal fact of existing.
AMM: Hi Daniel, was there a particularly defining moment in your early artistic development that led you to pursue art as a career? Or have you always been creatively motivated?
DM: I was always someone who was drawing a lot, and usually not paying much attention at class. In 2003, at 17 years old in Germany on a student exchange, I had a lot of solitary moments. I was always writing in my diaries and drawing. One day after finishing a drawing I saw very clearly I needed to start painting classes; that was the beginning of something more serious for me. But moving to Berlin in 2010 was for sure a decisive moment towards that deeper search. Seeing a whole art scene made me realise I needed to pursue my artistic career as something much more tangible.
AMM: How has living and working in different places affected the way you work?
DM: Moving to new countries will always be a big challenge – leaving everything behind and starting from the beginning, especially as a teenager. Moving from Colombia to Brazil and then Mexico was for sure not easy and it led me to be by myself for long periods without many friends. Those moments by myself have affected me in a very positive way to explore more of my artistic expression.
AMM: How would you describe the style of the artworks that you create?
DM: I do not pursue a style or think about it at all. I am just doing what I feel I need to do, trying to be as honest as possible with myself. I also don’t want to get stuck on a definite style; it will change if I feel it has to.
AMM: What role does symbolism play in your art?
DM: I try to pursue poetry in my work. Being sensible to every brush stroke, feeling the movements, the ups and the downs, as rhythms that are in dialogue with my spirit. Giving a symbolic content to the colours I use changed in all forms the way I feel painting. Since every colour has an essential purpose for the work, their dialogues and mixtures create a much more complex work that gives me a lot of metaphors, which really touch me. While I paint I can feel how essential elements of life talk to each other, and this resonates in me a very deep awareness of being alive.
AMM: There is a mystical quality to your images – can you tell us more about this element?
DM: The mystery of the reason for our existence makes me create these imaginary images. In my work I search for this and try to come closer to some meaning or answer to that enigma. But life will always be a mystery, so will my work also carry that mystical atmosphere, leaving space for the unknown and what is bigger than our own thoughts.
AMM: Tell us about your use of colour – your palette seems very intent on reds, blues and yellows, why are these colours important?
DM: Since I started painting, somehow I always was attracted to red. Every time I began a new painting, red needed to be the first colour on the canvas and it was difficult for me to add others. I remember with one of the first paintings back in 2008 I put an ultramarine blue next to an almost red painting – it was a visual electric contrast. Since then I love how both turn on each one, when they are next to each other, as if they need each other for reflection.
In 2017 I was observing and being very inspired by flowers. These moments were very important and changed how I approach my practice, because I started to see my surroundings with much more of a feeling of astonishment, with open eyes. Maybe because flowers don’t carry green, without deciding I started to paint with these four colours: red, blue, yellow and violet. And slowly the meanings to each colour arrived and are still present in my practice.
AMM: How does drawing intersect with your painting practice? Does paint as a medium offer you avenues for making that drawing doesn’t?
DM: I see both as parallel practices, but which feed each other. For me drawing is less scary than painting, since it is only paper and pastel. Usually I just draw for the pleasure that it gives me and the ideas that come from it. It is a faster medium for me, where I can develop unpredictable images. Drawing can also clarify ideas that I have on my mind and encourage me to translate them into painting.
Painting intimidates me more, maybe because it is an object that has been built and is hanging on a wall, and somehow it feels that if I do something wrong, the consequences will be bigger. Painting has something more sacred and respected for me. I feel painting is more difficult to catch and understand. Maybe that is why I honour it more.
AMM: What kinds of things feed into the images you create? Which sources do you look to most for inspiration?
DM: My own existence is feeding me with images all the time. Not in an egoistic way that is thinking about myself, but as a form of amazement for how incredible it is being alive. I try to be aware, to keep my eyes open to life and what surrounds me. I try to remember as often as I can that life has something very big and mysterious. Somehow I look for images to paint where I see the present moment.
AMM: Where do the figures in your work come from? Do you draw from life, photographs?
DM: They come from my mind, but are almost nourished by my life, the close persons that surround me and imaginary images that just come to my mind. I accept them as right, those that carry the message I am looking for.
AMM: In what ways is nature and the organic present in your work? Are you inspired by the natural environments around you?
DM: Nature is key for me to create art; this is where I find the answers and the most precious images. But we humans are also nature. By nature I mean that which has remained the same throughout centuries, millennia. Not the objects we create and which change from year to year, but the essence of nature is what nourishes my work. Humankind was and will always be touched by a sunset.
AMM: You’ve participated in numerous group exhibitions and worked on your own solo shows – what have you learned from working in proximity to other artists?
DM: We need each other so we don’t feel alone in this. Being an artist is a lot of solitary work, which is beautiful. But humans need reflections from time to time, to remind us we are on a good path. We need each other also for inspiration, because every artist is another world of images and there are so many good worlds to discover and be inspired by.
AMM: Can you talk to us a bit about the driving themes in your solo exhibition, Soy Hombre: Duro Poco y Es Enorme La Noche (I Am a Man: Little Do I Last and the Night is Enormous) at Fortnight Institute? We’re particularly struck by the contemplation of masculinity implied by your exhibition title.
DM: The driving themes of the show are what I mentioned in previous answers. There were a lot of sunsets and downs during my last year in Berlin; intimate moments with my partner and a lot of meditations on the fleeting aspects of time and life. The night has also been an inspiring element in my world lately. At night I think I tend to reflect more and be more sensible about the unknown and existential questions.
As a homosexual man, of course the male body carries sexual attraction for me, and it is something I like to express in my work. But the male bodies are not just erotic representations; they are often a reflection of being alive, reminding me that we are living-breathing bodies. While painting I try to go with my mind through the inside of the body that I am painting, and somehow I feel more connected to my own.
The title of the exhibition is an extract from a poem of the amazing Octavio Paz called Hermandad. That poem has been on my mind for some years and it carries a lot of the atmosphere of what I decided to create for the exhibition at Fortnight Institute. I thought for a moment that the use of hombre in the poem (which in Spanish is used for the meaning of humankind) nowadays could be interpreted as non-inclusive. But then I thought, well I am a gay man, and I am showing my vulnerability and my emotions through the lens of who I am. So I felt it was honest to let it stand as hombre.
AMM: Do you usually approach solo shows with specific themes in mind that connect the works or does the process of building up a body of work tend to be organic?
DM: I want my work to be organic; each working day gives an answer and the summation leads to building an exhibition.
AMM: When you’re taking a break from creating, what kinds of things do you do to occupy yourself?
DM: Making art is always present in my mind and there is never really a break. For me, being an artist is a way of living. My images are just a collection of moments that I think are important to add to the bag of my memory, and the search for these images never ceases.
I love routines and I get a lot of inspiration from them. In the mornings I try to go every day for a morning walk at the cemetery next to my home. There I observe nature, drink my first coffee of the day and maybe write something in my diary. After that I go back home and play the piano for a while; piano is a new passion in my life and now takes a lot of my time. I also enjoy cycling a lot to my studio, since I cross a beautiful park named Hasenheide and the Tempelhof Airport which is now a park. At night I love to observe the sunsets and walk through the dark. At home I play the piano again and if I have the energy, I’ll read something or watch a movie. I also love to swim, an activity I really miss now with lockdown.
AMM: What remains the biggest challenge to you in your practice and how do you envision your artistic development moving forward?
DM: In my opinion, fighting for time is the biggest challenge we all have. I hope I can continue having this space for myself, not just emotionally to be inspired to look at the world but also to have a slow and extended time within my studio practice.
Find out more about the artist: www.daniel-correa.com
Interview by Rebecca Irwin for ArtMaze Magazine.