We had the good fortune of connecting with Daniel Finch and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Daniel, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
We tend to classify risk-takers in two distinct (though sometimes simultaneous) ways: they are either visionary successes to be praised, or regarded as outright fools. Knowing the difference in our own lives as well as the lives of others can be sometimes problematic. I’ve found that the distinguishing criteria seems to be the goal of the risk. Why is a risk taken in the first place? Ideally, it is because the goal is WORTHY. What makes a worthy goal is quite debatable and often falls along some very subjective lines.

In my own life, The choice to pursue a life and career centered around the visual arts always felt like a calling. Certainly there were people in my early life who would recoil in horror when I responded to their questions regarding academic and vocational pursuits after high school. I was blessed to grow up in a creative home with a sculptor/fabricator father and I had a very tangible picture of what I’d be both sacrificing and then gaining in the process of becoming an artist. To do anything else would’ve been an act approaching dishonesty at the time. The fruit that I desired was far from the trunk of the tree and existed at the more precarious end of its branches. I left high school and then spent 5 years earning my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Upon graduating, despite having grown as a painter and learning profound lessons about myself and my place in this world, I could not say confidently that I knew how I’d sustain myself financially, let alone support a family. Thankfully, I didn’t feel the need to. The next step in front of me was another risk: graduate school. It was there that I honed my craft, and began to build a network of like-minded people who would all be scattered across the country within 3 years. It was there that I truly received my calling to teach in higher education. The academic market is flooded with some very capable, gifted individuals, while the open positions are few and far between. There are simply no guaranteed career tracks for one who aspires to a professorship. Still, I heeded the call, and will be entering into my 21st year as a professor of painting this fall. No one is more surprised by this than me.

As a painter, and educator, the tension between risk and reward is a constant, high-wire, balancing act. It exists throughout every semester with new cohorts of students, as well as in one’s own studio practice.
Risk seems to be especially present in the production of a public mural. In the studio, a 3’X4′ panel painting could fall flat on its face, with no sense of resolve. Hiding it away in a corner of the studio, or painting over it can be done stealthily in sight of few (if any) witnesses. It never has to meet its public. But as soon as one signs that contract for a grand, public image, the sense of risk is palpable. There’s no motivator quite like the potential for public shame. I’ve awakened in the wee hours many a night, unable to return to sleep as my mind grinds through the gears of various design or logistical problems associated with a specific piece. I wish that I had some corrective advice for a young painter, but failing in the design, execution or install of a mural is simply not an option, and carries with it a minor terror. It seems to be the nature of the job. Even so, unveiling a new mural in front of an audience is among the most worthy and rewarding experiences of my professional career.

When I look back at the decades of my life and isolate those punctuated moments of genuine risk: BMX, rock climbing, whitewater kayaking, marriage, children, art school, exhibitions, public commissions, etc… in every case, whether overtly successful or not, I see a period of genuine growth in its wake. There’s an old saying that states: “where there is comfort, there is little growth, and where there is growth, there is little comfort.” It seems that if growth is a priority in one’s life, risk must become a way of life. Frankly, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I had grown up jumping my cheap, Sears bikes off of wooden planks set precariously atop discarded cinder blocks. There was nothing particularly unusual about this, but it was in my early teen years that I truly discovered the potential bicycle, and learned that with enough practice, creativity and risk, one could do things unthought of by previous generations. There were no rules, and outcomes were limited only by your physical abilities and propensity for bodily risk. The bicycle became the focus of my thoughts, creative energy, and I soon found myself part of a community of like-minded, misfit, BMX riders and skateboarders. We lived on the east coast, at a time when the epicenter of the BMX/skateboard scene was located primarily in southern California.  In the pre-internet days, we were starved for news about the pro riders, competitions and new bicycle parts.  The only way for us to connect with that movement was to seek out and devour print material from a small number of magazines and watch untold hours of old, grainy, rapidly-demagnetizing, VHS tapes that were passed from person to person. We did this with an almost religious fervor. These images were the only representations of various actions, environments, and identities that constructed a culture that I had yet to experience firsthand. It was the nature of these mediated images and the sparking of my imagination that created a vibrant mental space in which I could imagine and wonder. As a result, the nostalgic, kinesthetic, and even emotional connections remain amazingly strong to this very day and have become the subject of much of my work. .

These events and conditions throughout the course of my life have consistently drawn me towards the mythological hero, whether from classical antiquity or some of the more contemporary characters from popular culture:  Gilgamesh, King Arthur, Frodo, Batman, Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter, they speak to who we long to be both as individuals as well as a civilization. These characters consistently possess a determined, meditative focus upon their goals and passions.  Often, these are characters (whether real or ficticious) who take a single idea and spend their life seeking its full potential.   Bruce Lee famously states: “I am not afraid of a person who knows 10,000 kicks. But I am afraid of a person who knows one kick but practices it for 10,000 times.” The quote speaks to the sort of power that comes from this disciplined, singleminded way of living as one charts a course and remains upon the narrow path.

So it is in this sense that the heroic icons of both fiction and reality have affected my sense of identity (for the better and for the worse) and consequently developed much of my studio practice and imagery.  When I look back at the last 4 decades of my life and consider the ways in which the mediated imagery from film, TV, magazines, and videotape have mesmerized and compelled me, I‘m jarred back to reality by the fact that (with the exception of the bicycle) it was all outside of my own experience; I wasn’t actually there. I never saw anything other than the pale, grainy, flat image onscreen. I was just a sheltered observer, huddled around a fire, looking at shadows against the cave wall.   This is where the act of painting becomes a powerful force for me.  If I can take an event like Evel Knieval’s ill-fated jump over the fountain at Caesar’s Palace in 1967, isolate a still moment, adjust its formal qualities, and then painstakingly, rebuild that moment by hand over the course of many months, I have (in a very limited sense) inserted myself into the history of that moment. I’ve closed the distance between myself and the event/personage that is outside of my space and time.

My paintings become an active attempt to manually rebuild a mechanical image distorted and degraded by the processes of automation and transmission. Through my physical interaction, my greatest hope for both myself and my viewer is a reconnection with the primacy and energy of the initial event portrayed. It is no accident that the majority of my subject matter is taken from modern archetypal characters and events, whether historic or mythical: King Kong, Evel Knievel, Bruce Lee, etc. They were, for better or worse, powerful symbols for a young boy growing up in the wake of the sexual revolution, in the post-Vietnam 70’s.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Culture: The Galleries at Messiah University, The Susquehanna Art Museum, Hershey Gardens Recreation: The Steelton Skatepark, The Yellow Breeches Creek, Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area
Food: Sapporo East, The Pizza Grille, The Millworks, Yellow Bird Cafe

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
We all stand on the shoulders of giants, don’t we? My list is too long and diverse, but a few names rise immediately to the surface: My family, the grace of God, Westminster Schools of Augusta, Andy Jordan, Dr. Charles Shaeffer, Richard Olsen, Ted and Cathy Prescott, my incredible students, colleagues, and too many others to name within the brevity of this space.

Website: danielfinch.com

Other: dfinchstudio@gmail.com

Image Credits
Daniel M. Finch Bo Williams Stephanie Wollein

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutArizona is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.