Artist Spotlight: Dan Mackerman

“A Trip to the Peace Garden,” Dan Mackerman
Oil on Panel, 9″ x 12″

Dan Mackerman, WBCA oil painting teacher extraordinaire, began his career as a teacher in 1984, fresh out of grad school. He received his MFA at the University of Minnesota where he majored in painting, drawing, and art history. While working as a teacher he also delved into the world of museums, working for the Walker, the Northrup Gallery, the Art Museum of Minnesota, the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the commercial gallery CG Rein Gallery. 

But when Dan realized there wasn’t money to be made in museums, he and his wife had to make a decision. “We made the unconventional choice of staying,” Dan said, “putting place and marriage ahead of career.” This led him into commercial work, where he began working as a production artist for theater, opera, cinema and TV. Eventually, Dan became the lead sculpture and character designer for what was known as the 8th Floor holiday display at Marshall Fields. He undertook this job for six months of the year, and for the rest of the year he painted and taught, and sold through commercial galleries.

Part of what draws Dan to oil painting as a medium is its rich history. “Painting is endlessly fascinating to me,” Dan said. “It’s one of our oldest mediums. Few realize how much about the technique of oil painting has been forgotten.” For example, what we commonly call gesso today has only been used since the 1950’s, “and surface has everything to do with the finished look of a painting.” Because he started out as a professional backdrop artist, Dan has a particular interest in the skill of brush handling. “Anytime I’m in a museum and I see a beautiful painting, the first question that comes to mind is ‘how did he/she do that?’ and then it’s off to the races!”

It is not only the history of painting but also the inherent community that inspires Dan in his work as a teacher. “Art should never be seen as a solitary act,” he said. “It may be created in isolation, but it must be shared and celebrated afterwards with others. And it’s this sharing that motivates us to do more.” Dan sees it as his job as a teacher to pass that enthusiasm on to his students, “and in return they pass on their enthusiasm back to me.”

That sense of community is harder to find during these pandemic times. But for Dan, quarantine has given him the gift of time. “It’s taught me the peace that comes with the word ‘enough,’ as in, we have a roof over our heads and food on the table and that’s enough.” The rest of his time is spent making art and music, hiking, reading and finding creative ways of staying connected to friends. For Dan, this time of isolation has eliminated distractions.

These days, Dan has been working on plein air pieces, a medium that he’s worked in since the 90s. He was even featured in WBCA’s recent plein air exhibition, “Into Nature.” You can find Dan’s work on his website and you can browse WBCA’s virtual summer classes to sign up for his beginning and intermediate/advanced painting classes.

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