Welcome to the dreamscape of Daniel Bilodeau, one of the leading surrealism painters of our era. Molded by the distinct art colonies of Montreal, New York City, Florence, and Bali, Bilodeau has an unrestricted and multifaceted worldview that informs his outlook on creating art with a holistic purpose. A spectator of his works can appreciate the skillful complexities of his technical and artistic application, but to know his art, we must go beyond the canvas to understand the gravitas of his role as a visual truth teller.
How did your upbringing foster a future in art and how did studying around the world help put you on the map as a painter?
While not artists themselves, my parents fostered an appreciation for the arts and encouraged me when I showed an aptitude for painting and drawing as a child. We went to museums, especially when we visited New York City. It was the Montreal Museum of Fine Art, though, where I made an important connection. My fifth grade teacher had taken our class there to see the Marc Chagall retrospective. The work was free and childlike, which I could relate to, and also clearly important and respected. At the end of the exhibition, there was a room with art supplies and we were told, effectively, ‘Now it's your turn.’ That was empowering.
As to studying in different countries, it opened my eyes to the power art has to move and define a culture and it helped me to learn from the masters, an influence you can see in my work today.
How would you describe your style as an artist and how have your techniques evolved over time?
Disrupted Realism. This is a great term that figures as the title of a book coming out this year featuring my work and that of some amazing contemporaries of mine. In the evolution of my work, I've embraced everything I love. I've harmonized the reality effect to life over time, but I love to pour or dash on thick abstract marks rapidly as well. Counter-balancing these areas, such as playing with complementary colors, makes the piece sing. I paint people and things around me with respect and aim for freshness, a vivid sense of life in front of me.
Which artists have made an impression on your career over the years and how can we see their influence in your work today?
I wonder which ones haven't. Although I mess with Ingres and Bronzino a lot, I actually look at the masters of the Dutch Golden Age for temperature modulation and compositional cues. I look at Anselm Kiefer, some Gerhard Richter, and recently Adrian Ghenie in how they handle paint. I call modernists like Matisse and Picasso life-affirming and seek that kind of freshness. I like Cecily Brown, Cy Twombly, and Edgar Degas as well.
What’s your process for creating a new piece and where do you look for sources of inspiration?
I use whatever is at my disposal. I start with making thick, free marks with a knife. I also find old palettes and use their smudges as the start of a piece. With the figures, I sometimes get to work from life, and sometimes I take 500 photos for reference. With historical art references, I often play a game of telephone and use my last paintings as references for my next, instead of an image of the original historical piece. I also use collage in planning and in final works.
What themes do you play within your pieces and how do you express these emotions through texture, color, and subject?
Some of my works talk about the deleterious effects of our throwaway culture, in terms of the environment, our psyche, and of human rights. The way we are pulled in so many directions in our frenetic and digital age is also referenced in my figural abstractions. Things can get sticky literally and cerebrally, but in the end, I think in my paintings, love wins. They're ultimately love letters to life, the people I paint, color and form, and the artists who came before me.
You’ve traveled around the world, both as a student and now displaying your work in various galleries and museums. What city has made the biggest impact on your work as an artist and why?
Florence, Rome, and basically all of Italy has given me passion and helped give me artistic chops. All of Bali and Java moved my heart. New York City has done the most for me though, there is nothing like it. In New York, I go to the shows, see [the city], speak it, feel the energy of possibility all around me, create, and live it.
You’re currently traveling through South East Asia. What projects and exhibits do you have planned there?
I have some contacts there, but can’t make any announcements yet. I'm doing some reconnaissance, but that’s not the focus of this particular trip. For all of my adult life, I’ve wanted to see the incredible temples, landscapes, and people of this region. I'm visiting eight countries and so far it has been tremendously, personally fulfilling.
Where do you hope to be in one year, five years’, and ten years’ time?
One year is already scheduled. It starts with completing the trip I'm on; six more weeks in Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, and Myanmar. Afterward, I'm booked with commissions and group exhibitions in the U.S. and England. I will present my work to a gallery in Europe that shows the work of friends of mine. I also have a top-secret project I can't talk to you about yet. By the end, I will have reached a wide audience, made and shown paintings I'm excited about, and planned projects that reach into new markets for me.
In five years, I’d like to have a large space for making work I envision making, not only the smaller works I provide to collectors, but also large installations for public and commercial spaces. I’d have sustainable partnerships with galleries in the U.S. and two other continents. My work will have crossed over in collaborations with certain curated product designers and perhaps, the fashion world. Enterprising members of your readership, get at me, I would love to have some more museum exposure.
In ten years, I wish to be a ‘snowbird’— through my contacts and/or resources I will operate out of a couple of different countries, escaping cold winters as I go. My work will be placed in some great collections. I'll make ambitious work that moves me, that I would hope to be museum-worthy. I've taken this question to be about professional life, but of course most importantly of all, I will be healthy and in loving relationships with family, friends, and the world around me.
What’s up next for Daniel Bilodeau and what can our audience expect to see from you in 2019?
I just kicked off 2019 with a solo show at the Thinkspace Gallery in Los Angeles, and on the heels of that, we'll be doing several group exhibitions together. I'll have works at HeronArts in San Francisco in June, Red Truck Gallery in New Orleans in August, Vertical Gallery in Chicago in September, Moniker Art Fair in London in October, and the Scope Art Fair in Miami in December. The “Disrupted Realism” book comes out around summertime.