“Even though they don’t necessarily look like landscapes, I always call them abstract landscapes,” says Bicycle Fine Art artist Danielle Voight, in reference to her oil paintings. She continues, “they’re emotional and physical landscapes, both of those combined.” The dramatic collision of these two extremities is staggeringly apparent when you witness Danielle’s powerful paintings, which are bold, daring, and vulnerable even in their minimalist color palettes. As a new mother, Danielle has gained fresh perspectives on her work, and found new interesting styles and mediums to explore–all developments which we had the pleasure to discuss with her in great detail.
From her home studio in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Danielle starts each painting by meticulously mixing pigments to create the initial base color for the canvas. As she builds her foundation, focused clusters of color emerge which Danielle isolates; recognizing it as an anchor point from which to begin working outward. She then blends new colors directly on the canvas surface using a palette knife, a process which often leads to completely unique, irreplaceable colors and leaves all but the initial jolt of color submerged. As she builds up the canvas’ surface, Danielle adds layer upon layer of paint, working towards her signature style–contrasting a sweep of placid, muted tones with small points of complex activity. Often deeply textured and vibrant bursts, these focused points on the canvas instantly capture attention and serve as “entry points” into the piece, showing vulnerable, emotional breaks in the canvas.
This dynamism is evident in her darker palette works which depict moody shifts in shadows across the paintings’ surface. In You Will Never Find Me, Danielle creates a swirling mass around a brilliant spot, which seems to emanate like a source of light throughout the canvas. The contrasting deep hues of this painting were inspired by the darkness of the night sky and the depth of a black forest. Danielle says, “It’s about the solitude and the comfort that can be drawn from the night. It’s this feeling I have in nature, somewhere removed, and it’s pitch black. It’s the comfort and the quietness and the peace of the dark and how it’s bigger and vaster than you.” The luminous point of the piece offers insight into Danielle’s intent for the painting. She observes, “I think that is ultimately about reserving that bit of yourself always for you and it doesn’t need to be found by anybody.”
Subtler contrasts are approached in Let Her Finish. Tinged with a greyer-blue than You Will Never Find Me, the absence of light and the consequent density of the canvas convey a strength that Danielle felt while creating the work. In both these works, the color points emerge after scraping away the paint and unearthing an earlier shade or hue, exposing a physical depth and tangibility to the canvas. There is a poignancy emphasized throughout the complicated textures of each of these individual paintings. Stark yet dramatically bold, Danielle’s brushstrokes reveal the dramatic and unique stories of each independent canvas. However, when placed together, their contrasting palettes create a dialogue that results in a meditative and moving moment.
Danielle was drawn to oil painting because of the possibility for techniques in building up the canvas’ surface, which you can see in brighter palette works like Maybe Here. Working from light to dark, jumping from positive to negative space, and then back from dark to light, Danielle builds several variations from this hue–essentially creating her own monochromatic palette while leaving a lingering wash of its initial inspiration throughout the painting. Since oil paint takes time to dry, the process leads to a focused deliberation and meditation on each new element introduced to the canvas. In Danielle’s paintings, you can see this intention at work in each layer, and how it tells the emotional backstory of the painting.
With works like Maybe Here, you can see the artist also processing through the “emotional” layers of paint. According to Danielle, Maybe Here is “about finding your place and that trial [in life] that happens along the way,” which she relates to one also being content with the effort and uncertainty involved. In the painting, Danielle points out a resonant image: “She’s a little, exposed, naked figure; there’s a bit about her that’s peaceful — though the head is slightly dropped and the shoulder is bent, it’s as if she feels defeated but is not giving in.” The swathe of red offers a striking contrast to the painting, almost like a sign. “Again, maybe, it’s that sign of something different, and Maybe Here is that place that’s different.” It’s with these feelings of coming to terms with “maybe” and being open to change, movement, and vulnerability that creates the beautiful intimacy surrounding Danielle’s work.
The incorporation of natural themes and elements helps to soothe the emotional conflict inherent to much of Danielle’s work. Raised as an only child in a rural landscape, Danielle has a deep attachment to nature and a true understanding of its simplicity. This relationship informs her technique and style, figuring both abstractly and literally in each painting. Danielle’s predilection for cool, earthy color tones, for example, reflect values found in nature. “Blues can be very healing,” she says, and the blue-gray of clouds or the blue-black of the night sky crop up often, hovering in a dusty hint over the surface of many of her paintings. While on solitary hikes, walks, and travels, she often gathers rocks, pinecones, and irregular moss as mementos from her time spent in the wilderness. These collections appear in her work, where pinecones even become her paintbrush adding a frenetic dimension to the layering.
The emotional resonance is also apparent in titles like Throe Awaits the Question, which Danielle shares is about that feeling of hesitance or fear when asking a question that you already know the answer to. The work is painted primarily in a wonderful, cool grey tone with complex darts of action dispersed across the center of the canvas, mixed with richly dark blues, white, and even black elements. The elusive and quick strokes dashing across the work show emotional hesitance in content but not in form.
In 2016, with the approaching birth of her son, Danielle began to explore possibilities in watercolor. Taking a reprieve from the time consuming constraints and even more emotive investment that painting in oil demands, Danielle sought a new way to express herself creatively. For her, watercolor is a freer medium than oil paint, and has a playful potential. “Some of it could be too that I don’t sit with the watercolors for nearly as long, I don’t have to invest so much of myself; with oil painting you really sit with something, you know you have to turn over those stones. I don’t think that’s to take away from those pieces, it’s a different connection.”
These new works draw greater inspiration from her lifelong icon Georgia O’Keeffe. Danielle notes, “I’ve always connected to O’Keeffe’s way of life, her approach to living, and her connection to the natural world…and in her work too, that it’s not as straight-forward as it might appear to be.” Danielle’s return to the studio and new body of work marks an even greater shift in her style. As she delves back into painting, Danielle’s work continues to draw heavily on her personal experiences and meditative landscape. She says, “I’ve talked to a lot of other mother artists too; motherhood completely changes the way you see and the way you create. I’m way more interested in bodies, and a tangible piece of that is a connection to what’s right in front of you, rather than distancing yourself by a focus on more abstract ideas and places.”
While adapting to the changes inherent in taking on a new medium, Danielle has not altered her creative approach. With her ever-present personal experiences and surroundings, Danielle Voight’s new color selections with watercolor, choice of medium, and future plans, continue to correlate almost directly to the changing shape of her own life. The work Danielle creates introduces an impactful and multifaceted quality that is deeply invested in the artist’s emotional journey. Whether in oil or in watercolor, Danielle’s paintings are at once introspective and beautifully complex, with her minimalist approach enhancing the overall design of a space as it simultaneously serves as a focal point for discussion. After putting her son down for an afternoon nap, Danielle whirls around the kitchen finally preparing her first meal of the day and shares new ideas for her upcoming works. Between balancing the responsibilities of motherhood and career, Danielle views painting as an essential creative outlet and release–there is a sense of calm amidst all the activity as she smiles and says, “I’m really excited to be making work again.”