L'Officiel Art

Damian Loeb Explains His Approach to Abstraction

Ahead of Frieze New York, Loeb muses about all things art, inspiration, and touches on universal truths.
Reading time 7 minutes

Artist Damian Loeb’s new series, All Hope is Lost, chronologies a pivotal moment in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey.  Drawing inspiration from a trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the artist experiments with abstraction while using a solar eclipse as a source of inspiration for the unique series of work that is being featured in a solo booth at this year’s Frieze New York art festival.  The eclipse of 2017, while lasting in recent public memory, is a significant event that marks a turning point for Loeb, who was influenced by the uniqueness of the moment in which the event took place, relating to the singularity of The Hero’s Journey.

Although the ever-popular Frieze art show features many prominent artists, Loeb is no stranger to the art world, having his first solo art exhibition in 1999 at Mary Boone Gallery in New York. Loeb is treating his booth at Frieze as he would an individual venture, working around the clock to create a series of works for the four-day show that captures the very short analogous event of the Great American Eclipses’ 2 minute and 20 seconds totality.  In a conversation with the talented artist, he describes his process of creating and finishing his most recent series, as well as giving a unique perspective on the background behind the undertaking of this project. Damian Loeb’s work is currently on display at Frieze New York.

What inspired you to experiment with abstraction?

I have wanted to understand the raisons d'être of abstraction since I started making art.  So much abstraction seemed to pose its own rules, obviating anyone’s ability to connect, understand, or criticize it.  However, I believe the true tenets of abstraction are the same as for all art. It demands to exist (I could think of little else until it did).  Once it does, it should seem obvious, whether ‘right or wrong', it should explain itself without words, and each piece should confirm this understanding.


What about The Hero’s Journey did you identify with in order to produce All Hope is Lost?

The Hero’s Journey is universal: the evolutionarily designed format for which we compose our understanding of the random events that construct our lives.  We are all, individually and exclusively, ‘the “hero’ as far as our superego is concerned and that understanding informs our every interaction and decision.  It is a viewpoint which creates the notion that everything happens for a reason, directly, purposely, and intentionally for us. An incorrect assumption that is easily but incorrectly confirmed by almost all of our existence.  I am not immune.


What are you most looking forward to ahead of your Frieze art exhibition?

What am I looking forward to before the show is finished?  Returning to earth and recognizing the things I love, confirmation of the show's relevance.  A decent review... but really, a nice relaxing snuggle.


How would you describe your own work?

At worst I would describe my work as a very good try.  At best, based on my thoughts and skill set, my only decent response to finding myself in the middle of this unwinnable game.


Who were your biggest influences in creating this series?

The most influential people on the creation of this show would be, most definitely, my partner, Zoya.  Then Dr. Orrin Devinsky, whose patience and guidance, though first resisted on my part, made the show possible at all.  There is also an ever-growing list of inspirationally talented and productive musical and visual artists who raise the bar every day.  I have been listening to mostly Gang of Four, one of the few bands that managed to make great and catchy songs while still serving a political gut punch relevant even today and I especially appreciate that they re-recorded their hits a few years ago on the album, ’Return the Gift,’ and a few of the songs were actually improvements (a very rare achievement).  Wire, Velvet Underground, Bowie, Queen, Black Sabbath, Marc Bolan, and Joy Division lately. Recently, visually, I have been obsessing over turn-of-the-century, unabashed romantics like Enrique Simonet, Childe Hassam, Herbert Gustave Schmalz, Eugene Thirion, Thomas Cole, particularly their darker works, and as always, Goya, (this month specifically- his drawings).  The Jules Bastion-Lepage painting of Joan of Arc at The Met saved me from a very dark hole recently. I woke in front of it…


What do you hope people take from your work?

I hope that my work can prove, without me, that it deserves to exist, is a unique and relevant attempt at making sense of our experiences, and it helps inform our current generation's and future generations' thinking and feeling.


What is the most important part of being an artist?

The most important part of being an artist is simply producing work, honestly.  Then, to a larger extent than I want to admit, luck. So, clearly, being where luck gets off the bus and dressing appropriately are very important, too.

Where do you pull inspiration from?

I wish I had a universal (and a personal) understanding of our meaning and purpose.  Maybe I don’t. Knowledge is power, and clearly, in this case, knowing is horrifically painful) but I barely understand my own purpose and can only take inspiration from what I have personally experienced. I have had an incredibly lucky, and simultaneously normal, though undeniably unique life that I make every effort to capture and document while also living to the fullest. Experiences are all very important to me as inspirations, as they relentlessly and without sympathy, pour down on me.


How do you know when a piece is finished?

I don’t know when a piece is done until it is; when I stop working on it, and sometimes, even then, I am wrong.  It is usually finished when I can see there is nothing left to fix. Though, unfortunately, every now and then, I have had to politely recall a few paintings to remove the varnish and repaint.


How much time do you spend on each piece?

It takes months to years to finish most works, though this show had some unique constraints: the Eclipse’s totality was just 2:24 seconds at its longest if you traveled to an optimal location (Jackson Hole for me).  The captured images are just rune stones for me to discern reason and purpose from. The paintings took whatever time they took based on how long it was for me to understand and translate their individual meaning and purpose.


How do your early influences compare to now?

My primal drives are not unique. My primary influences from the past and those that drive me now are ostensibly the same.  I am emotionally-driven and affected by what I read daily the mood of my partner and the success of my search for answers.  It would be nice to be able to sum up one’s influences in a few sentences, but they are totally obscured by my desires, fears, and insecurities.  More frequently now my acquired knowledge and deeper understanding asserts itself and wins out. I am getting older.


What is next for you after Frieze?

After Frieze, I have a series of photographs I have been formatting for public consumption for a while, as well as a second painting series about my ongoing obsession with Zoya, and a landscape painting show, comprised of 3 years of work so far, that is almost halfway done.

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