On Dharug country, at the foot of New South Wales’ Blue Mountains, the artist Dan Kyle’s studio is flanked by two ever-flowing, pristine creeks. Built by his partner during the Covid-19 pandemic, the structure is made from two shipping containers bolted together with large double doors. “It’s heaven,” says Kyle. “Lyre bird song all day long, and last week I saw a wombat – first time ever on the property.”
As Kyle describes, it’s an ideal environment for creation. “It’s calm and quiet. It sometimes feels very strange, like I’m in this little sardine can of high energy in this pristine place, and all the animals are like ‘What the bloody hell is he doing in there?’.”
The natural world dominates Kyle’s artistic output (“I literally cannot stop painting waterfalls”). “The natural world is so, so neglected, and it constantly breaks my heart,” he says. “I’m so obsessed with all things nature; she’s so beautiful, so fragile but so resilient and strong. I’m just trying to keep connected to it, and that’s the problem with the world – so many people are so disconnected and it’s making us sick. I’m deeply interested in flowers, all kinds, indigenous and introduced they’re the life givers and we need them to survive. Water and flowers should be our top priority.”
Below, the Kyle opened the doors to his studio and answered the T Australia Artist’s Questionnaire.
What is your day like? How much do you sleep, and what’s your work schedule?
It changes from day-to-day or week-to-week. I’m pretty inconsistent with everything I do. Fortunately, I’m a pretty good sleeper, up at 5am-ish every day and then always in bed about 9pm. I need it! Some days I’m in the studio working from 8am-4pm, and then maybe back in again a little later, with a wine. Some days I don’t even open the door, I go bushwalking or I’m gardening or I’m at ballet class which I started this year and I love it so much. It’s hilarious.
How many hours of creative work do you think you do in a day?
It varies dramatically. I feel like creative work isn’t defined by studio time, painting or making. My brain is always ticking.
What’s the first piece of art you ever made?
I used to draw Ariel from [the Disney film] “The Little Mermaid” obsessively. My mum still has one of the first ones I ever did folded up in her wallet, I was seven, apparently.
What’s the worst studio you ever had?
I’m currently having my studio renovated so right now I’m working in the worst studio I’ve ever had: My living room. It’s really dark and I feel like I’m going to go blind and the house smells like solvents.
What’s the first work you ever sold? For how much?
The first painting I ever sold was at a local restaurant, I think it was maybe $200. The chef let me put some paintings up after I told him the walls were dreary. It was a good gig, I sold maybe 10 all up while I was still at art school.
When you start a new piece, where do you begin?
Definitely the funnest part. With any new canvas I just go absolutely wild; “no worries” kind of painting. No conscious decisions, I just grab whatever is closest to me in the studio, whatever colour, whatever brush or spray can and just go for it. It’s high energy, some sort of music blaring its loudest. Feels like a workout.
How do you know when you’re done?
It’s quite strange, it just happens. There’s no check list or anything like that, there’s no criteria for a painting to be finished its just a feeling that comes over and I’m like, “You’re done”.
How many assistants do you have?
Technically none but I get my partner Andy to help with the heavy stuff, he built me an enviable storage rack last year, it changed my life, He’s the best.
What do you listen to when you’re making art?
There’s always something on, I kind of hate the silence when I’m working I get in my head way too much. I love podcasts about artist or featuring artists. “TalkArt” is my favourite; the boys are so funny and really let the artists they interview have the floor.
When did you first feel comfortable saying you’re a professional artist?
It took me ages. I used to say “I’m a painter,” and then never correct people when they thought I painted houses. I almost gave a quote to a girl from school I ran into to paint her house. Cash was at an all-time low.
Is there a meal you eat on repeat when you’re working?
Not really, but I don’t buy bread anymore because I literally eat toast all day if I do…
What’s the weirdest object in your studio?
It’s probably not that weird … I have boxes and boxes of every flower I’ve ever painted with – I can’t let them go. They’re so beautiful, all dried and covered in paint, and some are really mouldy, but I look at them almost every day.
How often do you talk to other artists?
I talk to my best mate Annalisa Ferraris every day. We met at art school and were just navigating this whole art world thing together. I’d either quit or lose my mind if I couldn’t bounce everything off her.
What do you do when you’re procrastinating?
You’ll either find me opening the fridge every 10 minutes or I take myself for long bush walks. Bushwalking kind of feels like you’re doing work but, slowing down and looking deeply, thinking about work, life, everything. It’s all relative.
What do you usually wear when you work?
Most of the time it’s what I slept in, everything eventually crosses over from painting clothes to pyjamas, or vice-a-versa. It’s cold about 10 months of the year up here in the mountains, so getting out of bed and getting changed into something else doesn’t happen very often.
If you have windows, what do they look out on?
In my good studio I look straight out into the bush. Through the trees I can see the distant escarpments, it’s magical. The filtered light pours in.
What do you bulk buy with most frequency?
Wine and titanium white oil paint – I go through a lot of both.
What’s your worst habit?
Automatic self-doubt, habitually saying no to everything is a real problem I’m slowly working on.
What embarrasses you?
Of course I think about some dumb stuff I’ve said before, but so does everyone. Honestly though, not much, which now that I’m thinking about, is pretty great. Life is too short, and I finally feel pretty comfortable in my skin.
Do you exercise?
I try to do something every day, I do run a lot but if my energy is low I just take a leisurely bush walk. I’ve recently starting Pilates which I think is really psychically helping my practice, I stand up all day so I think my lower back is getting stronger!
What are you reading?
I just finished “Call me by your name”… again, I’m obsessed with Timothée Chalamet, and I can now picture Elio as him in the book so it’s even better, even hotter.
What’s your favourite artwork by someone else?
“A Rainbow” by Howard Hodgkin.
What do you love about it?
So much. It’s so crisp and so brave. Its initial painting feels so slow, so meditative, and then there is this blast of hot energy over the top, three swipes of paint; like a few deep breaths which could have either made it or broke it. I admire the artist so much for that. I also ran into him in a hotel lobby in Delhi a few years ago which was like my biggest fan girl moment. The painting is also owned by an Australian, which is pretty cool to know.