Daniel Boccato is a 25-year-old Brazilian artist living in New York and is the subject of his first New York solo show at The Journal Gallery, entitled Creepers. After studying at Cooper Union, he developed a style that merges painting and sculpture by utilizing industrial materials (Fiberglass and epoxy, resin, etc.) to create vague and opaque shapes that leave a multitude of impressions on the viewer. His work shares some characteristics with Justin Adian’s foam paintings, but whereas Adian’s work relies on a precision informed by art deco aesthetics, Boccato’s angular figures take on no obvious meaning. The New York Times has fittingly referred to his work as, “dumb, but in a smart way.”
The works on view at The Journal Gallery have a gloss and sheen that belies their harsh interiors and difficult to discern subtexts. Boccato’s work connects with the viewers on an individual level. It doesn’t force the viewer into reading his/her own perpsective on the work as much as it facilitates a more general aesthetic imagination boost. That approach has resulted in Boccato’s star rising: Ryan McGinley shouted Boccato out from Art Basel Miami Beach via his Instagram page: “New Discovery #danielboccato” reads the caption of an image taken of a couple of Boccato’s stylized forms. Daniel and I spoke at the gallery about his new show and finding his voice in an over-saturated art world.
ADAM LEHRER: When did you start becoming aware of or interested in visual art and creativity of any kind?
DANIEL BOCCATO: I was always drawing as a kid. My father is a musician so I always liked playing music and up until high school, those two things were really important to me. At a certain point in the course of my education, I was supposed to choose a path and go to school so then I chose to go to Cooper Union, but I still really liked to play music and it was just one choice.
LEHRER: Did you want to be a rockstar first?
BOCCATO: Well, maybe. I have this very cute picture of myself like banging on some tupperware.
LEHRER: I wanted to be a rockstar, for sure. Music was the first thing that I liked. I got my first copy of Rolling Stone when I was 7. Marilyn Manson was on the cover and I went through all those bad phases of music.
BOCCATO: It’s funny this idea of developing taste. I grew up with my father who is a jazz and Brazilian musician so that was definitely a very strong influence and it’s only fairly recently when I was living by myself or at least in high school that I really started picking out things for myself and started to question what I grew up with.
LEHRER: What is Brazil’s popular music?
BOCCATO: Samba, Bossa Nova - those are the more famous styles. But also more folk and pop. There’s a big mixture.
LEHRER: What got you interested in visual culture?
BOCCATO: I liked cartoons. That was my entry towards awareness of form. Up until my freshmen year in college, I was still doing experiments and playing around with [animation]. The first “job” I had was in an animation studio in Brazil of all places. [My boss] was an independent animator who was producing his first feature length movie. I was able to participate in that. I was twelve and I did it twice a week. It was just an internship at first and then it became more regular because in Brazil school starts in January. So because of that gap, I was able to not go to school for half a year just work and play music and draw and do animations.
LEHRER: That must have taught you a lot about professionalism?
BOCCATO: Kind of. When I was at Cooper, I took three semesters away. Throughout all of them, I was working for artists to not be stuck in a school environment. I think it’s very important to have this balance to be in this institution and then coming back in with a different critical perspective and going out again and continuing to develop.
LEHRER: When you were at Cooper Union, did you already have an idea of the specific medium that you developed for yourself using industrial materials and playing with form the way you do?
BOCCATO: It’s a very personal question, I can see a lot of connections with things that I was doing [in school]. I was doing a lot of sculptures then but in a more abstract way. And these works, they came out of that aesthetic in some sense, but I think they came together with this “caricature-esque” sense of form and color; something more deliberately formed. The work is more constructed from an initial idea. So this way of working is something that I started in the latter part of my school years.
LEHRER: What was it that drew you to using these types of more industrial materials?
BOCCATO: It was the necessity to achieve what I wanted to do. I do understand that the materials I used in the show you could categorize as industrial, but I see a difference in two kinds. One is the actual materials that I’m using that will remain in the piece: resin, fiberglass all that stuff. And the other is simplified DIY Home Depot material: tarp, plastic, tape . I look at them differently. Those materials allow me to do the piece and I need those materials for certain physical characteristics, and the other stuff is about the aesthetic and the texture, about shape and form. What drives me to it? I don’t know. I like the fact that they’re cheap and simple and give a certain kind of humble vibe to it.
LEHRER: What I find interesting about them is that they look kind of polished and they have a sheen to them. They don’t look harsh or aggressive.
BOCCATO: They’re very unassuming. It’s kind of a blank slate in which I can use to create these forms.
LEHRER: ‘Creepers’ is an interesting name for a show and you use titles rather interestingly. When you are using a title, does it become part of the piece in a way? Are you trying to express something that you find in your concept or is it an impression on a piece or do you just like playing with words?
BOCCATO: I like playing with words, for sure. Well the title has become like database entry where you need the dimensions, the medium, and the title is part of that as well. The title is perhaps the more significant information, but all of this database context is significant.
I like Excel a lot. It’s less of an interpretation of the piece. It’s a funny question because titles can have that function, but I look at it the same as using these other rows on Excel sheets like color, size. t’s not my reading of the work. Of course, everyone can have their own subjective relations and connections with what it sounds like and what it looks like the same you can have that with the color or the form or whatever. It’s just another element, another dimension.
LEHRER: I thought it was interesting reading the press release for this show and it says something about your work having “figuration and abstraction, but never anything in between.” What do you think about that reading and do you think that’s true at all?
BOCCATO: Yeah, it’s the idea that you can be in one moment or another and shifting back and forth between these two quite distinct things. Figuration and abstraction can be seen as a spectrum but it can also be seen as two different ways of thinking or approaching objects I like the idea that something arbitrary can be felt as not arbitrary. The same way that I like to talk about data: color and form are all just data. Data in some sense is arbitrary.That’s what this play between these two modes of figuration and abstraction mean to me. That you suddenly walk into this room and you see these shapes but then you start having an emotional and spiritual subjective relation to them because they become these sort of characters, they have their own souls in a way. But you can also shift back, backtrack from that. There’s something very compelling for me in this activity.
LEHRER: Is there an architectural element at work in this show? Do you always know exactly what you’re going to do before you start a piece?
BOCCATO: Because of the nature of the process I need to have an outline and I need to cut it. In that moment, to be able to cut it, that outline is pretty defined. I can’t really add to it or change it that much. As soon as I start painting—that’s the first step and then I do the mould and then I reinforce it with resin—there’s no chance to go back and to end it. So I need to have a good plan but there’s a lot of unexpected things that happen in the middle. For example, the walls of the piece, because of the weight of the resin, start to flop down or the piece starts to contort.
LEHRER: Yeah, that’s what I figured because it just seems like you have a precise handling of your process. Do you listen to Malcolm Gladwell’s podcasts ever? He has this one episode about how genius emerges and the two type of artists. He uses Elvis Costello’s fifth album, his shittiest album, but there’s one song on there that he re-worked several times and then it became one of his biggest hits so he argues that Elvis Costello’s an experimental artist: he really has to work at what he’s doing. Whereas a conceptual artist has their idea, knows how to carry it out and carries it out right away.
BOCCATO: Yeah but I think it begs the question: where’s the experimentation? And where’s the discovery? And where’s the delivery? And where’s the production? I think all those things have their own places. I do like very much the idea that I can be my own assistant in a way. That once I have a certain vision I’m also able to carry that out without having to be creative and sensitive all the time. I like the idea of having an idea and then being able to do it. Also I think you can be creative by by editing or deleting your choices.
LEHRER: Writing about the NADA Art Fair last yeah, Ken Johnson, writing for the New York Times, considered your piece one of the pieces to look out for and wrote that your work is “dumb in a smart way.” Would you describe that as a fair statement?
BOCCATO: I think it’s very a special compliment. I think it’s true. I like the idea of dumb and stupid, or even retarded, even if it isn’t politically correct. It’s cool to go slow, it allows you to see other things that you wouldn’t otherwise.
LEHRER: That’s true. And when I think of something that’s dumb in a smart way I think of so many awesome things: I think of John Waters movies, I think of Devo the band—
BOCCATO: That’s also true for most of the things I do. That’s why I think of it as a compliment.
LEHRER: What type of beauty are you trying to create? If you could describe it?
BOCCATO: Beauty has to do with form. So that’s the type of beauty I’m interested in. It’s what I was saying before: of course everything is arbitrary but it is the illusion, the idea that things aren’t arbitrary. That you can have a reason to make this thing or that thing is a beautiful idea.
LEHRER: Yeah, for sure. Just to finish up: as an artist of a certain age, I was interested in talking about what it’s like to break into the art market now. You’re twenty-five years old and you’re picking up heat in your career. Do you find that it’s easier to get your work noticed now? Or easier and harder to make a living? How does one break into the market now?
BOCCATO: I don’t know. Let me know when you find out.
LEHRER: Haha. This is huge though, getting a solo show. The way I think about it now, for all creative fields, is that it’s way easier to get noticed but way fucking harder to get paid.
BOCCATO: Well I think what’s easier is to disseminate but it’s harder to create a sense of history. There’s so much going on and increasingly less memory.
LEHRER: As a critic, the amount of press releases that I get on daily basis that I could never get to is totally overwhelming to both buckle down and make my art but also to stay tapped in. I wonder if our generation will have its Cindy Sherman, you know?
BOCCATO: I think that throughout wars and everything you have those who win and those who lose but that’s not actually because of what happened but because of how people narrate it and because of the future. So I think that will continue to happen but if you have a lot of people writing history then perhaps it will be different.
Creepers will be on view until January 15 at The Journal Gallery in New York. Text, interview and photos by Adam Lehrer. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE