David Platford is an artist who resides in Oakland, California.  His work www.daveplatford.com is very folkloric and mysterious to me.  His landscapes are very exotic and as it turns out, quite international.  I wanted to find out what inspires him.  Here’s our cool chat …

“… I know through the experience of teaching that anyone can learn to draw or paint, however to become great, obsession is necessary.  Obsession in the pursuit of expanding awareness and manifesting dreams ...” 

MICHAEL: Hello David, Your work is very intriguing.  It combines so many things: animated landscapes, architecture, figuration and in some of the works, a photographic quality.  It also seems geo-political and very environmentally-oriented.  Are you thinking about all of these things while you're creating?

DAVID: Yes, there is definitely an environmental awareness that inspires my art.  I love exploring the world and I must give credit to my mother who showed me the ropes; hitch-hiking on the hood of a tractor in the middle of Turkey, camping in the mountains of Nepal and we even drove all the way from South Africa to Kenya.  I went super-deep into some of the most remote parts of world and so naturally my soul was met with the challenge of trying to figure out how to express my vision.

I got serious about landscapes when I was a teenager hanging out in Ethiopia and Kenya.  At that time, it was daily practice with just pencil and paper to render the rustic village scenes.  A few years later, I found myself adventuring all over India with my paint box.  Painting became a method of communication for me, a way to reveal an essence that is beyond words.

MICHAEL: How have you been able to travel so much?  What have you learned from traveling?

DAVID: Where there is a will, there is a way.  I'm always curious to see what's around the corner or the view from the next mountain top.   Recently, I backpacked all over China searching for scenery.  After a few days of bicycling around Beijing, I took a bus to Datong and the Hanging Monastery of Hengshan.  Wow, it was amazing to see the way the structures cling to the precipice, some of the greatest architectural astonishments of the world.  The temple's history goes back more than 1500 years, hosting Buddhists, Taoists, and Confucianists.  The place was stunning for me as a landscape painter, but also to feel the history of cultural manifestation.  Many of my paintings are a contemporary reaction to the Eastern aesthetic tradition, displaying the dynamics of Yin-Yang polarity.

You might have noticed that some of my paintings are composed of natural and mechanical elements; that is the interplay of Yin-Yang.  The landscape artists of the Tang and Song dynasties were displaying the principles of Yin-Yang by contrasting "heavenly" fog over "earthly" mountain or perhaps water flowing over rocks.  What I am doing is stretching the same conceptual dynamics to juxtapose things like old wooden bridges with computer circuitry or an airplane wing to a rickety old stone staircase or a train yard where the only trace of nature is a tree on TV.  Does that make any sense?  Well anyway, it makes sense to me and the concept has guided me to paint in a way that continues to evolve.

MICHAEL: Where do you call home?  Are you inspired by your home surroundings?

DAVID: Yes, there are some really fascinating urban industrial landscapes where I live in Oakland, California.  The elevated freeways and cranes can be great compositional elements as they cluster, overlap and swoop across the sky.  While so much concrete can be a bit depressing, the complexity is intriguing.  Sometimes I perceive the freeways as giant arteries, like blood vessels to move energy.  I also like observing the contrast with nature, such as an old tree standing its ground beside a concrete pillar or cluster of barbed wire.  It's about seeing the reality and it's about Yin-Yang, seeing the unity of opposing forces.

MICHAEL: I'm hearing that artists are leaving San Francisco due to high rents.  Is that affecting Oakland?  What's the art scene like there?  Are you part of it?

DAVID: Oakland has a very diverse cultural arts community.  For the past few months, I have been showing artwork at the first Friday street fair, known as the Oakland Art Murmur.  It's a great way to reach people outside of the indoor gallery world and I like the consistency of going out each month with new creations.   I have a few cafe shows in downtown Oakland and I’m also donating a few pieces to an auction at the Oakland Zoo to help save the chimpanzees.  There is also an opening at the San Francisco City Hall.  It's all about building exposure these days, following up on exhibition requests that land in my email.  As far as landing that big time gig in a museum, well I'm still waiting, but I never stop painting. “Quality First” is my motto.

MICHAEL: Your work also has this mysterious, mythological quality.  It seems folkloric and far away.  How do you achieve this?  What's the point?

DAVID: Mysterious.  Yes, I suppose that's what happens when an artist gets inspired by misty mountains.  There is a far away feeling, but I try to balance that by juxtaposing close-up familiar things.  In a few of my recent paintings, I submerged a heartbeat graphic into the desert landscape.  My intention was to highlight the livingness of the earth, hinted by the rhythmic topography.  The heartbeat pattern is also showing up in a few of my street scene paintings, my aim is to paint people from all parts of the world connected by the same heartbeat. The idea came to me when I was sitting in the hospital reflecting on life while my mother was recovering from surgery.  Sometimes the ideas structuring my art are quite logical and other times, I just have the creative urge to paint, allowing intuitive discovery to guide me.

MICHAEL: Do you think you have a natural gift for painting or is it a skill that people can achieve through hard work?  Nature or nurture?

DAVID: I know through the experience of teaching that anyone can learn to draw or paint, however to become great, obsession is necessary.  Obsession in the pursuit of expanding awareness and manifesting dreams.  I drew a lot as a kid and then my vision was reignited in high school as I began to take an interest in street art which helped me develop an environmental awareness.  Kids growing up in the city develop an intimate knowledge of signs, logos and all types of graphic art, while kids in the countryside learn to identify all the trees, critters and animal tracks.  Observation is a skill that must be constantly cultivated and I would say the same thing for the discipline of putting paint on canvas.

MICHAEL: What role do you think art plays in the world today?  Is art necessary?  People don't seem to need it to live.  

DAVID: Art is about dissolving boundaries and pushing the limits of possibility.  'Art' is a very wide-open term, some of it is confusing and some of it is clarifying.  Either way it is necessary in the exploration of reality and the expression of what it means to be alive.  While some artistic objects might not be necessary for survival, it is necessary for artists to create art, otherwise insanity creeps in, first on the individual level and then throughout society.  For some people, creativity is exploring the remote control channel buttons for their television, for others it is innovating new technologies and solving problems which can make life on earth more sustainable.  For artists, it's a process of reflecting inner visions out to the world.

MICHAEL: Thanks David.  Cool chat.

DAVID: Michael, thanks for the interview.

Check out David Platford at www.daveplatford.com.