Dan Lacey isn’t the typical image of the starving artist. Until recently, the small businessman, freelancer and illustrator of the cult hit Faithmouse comics labored in obscurity. But since his “Victory Unicorn” painting of Barack Obama has hit the web, he has been courting controversy- not to mention eyeballs. I sat down with Lacey, and talked about politics, faith, and the role of art in the 21st Century.
Racket John: When did you decide to do the “Victory Unicorn” painting?
Dan Lacey: I did it on the same day as my “Obama Praise” painting. I took several copies to the Excel Center in Washington, D.C. to give away, and then I posted it online. The response was instantaneous, to say the least.
RJ: Have you ever done “political” subjects before?
DL: Yeah. The Faithmouse cartoon started out as a conservative cartoon. A lot of my work has been featured on Naked Mice, and News Max. I’ve done a number of political subjects and I continue to.
RJ: How have people reacted to the Obama painting?
DL: Well, the reaction- the reaction is reactive. R-E-A-C-T-I-V-E. I’m getting a lot of play on sites across the board. Rightwing sites see it as deification of the President-Elect, which is ironic, since a lot of my work has been pro-military and pro-Bush. Leftwing sites think it’s cool. Most are amused, which was my intent in the first place, to amuse people. I think artists self-elect to that role. Even in well known works, there are political motivations.
RJ: You are also the illustrator of the Faithmouse cartoons. How has your faith impacted your work?
DL: Smart question [laughs]. I sort of expected you’d ask me if I ate my own boogers or something. [Emperor’s Note: Now I’m curious…] My faith hasn’t impacted my work at all. The expression of my faith hasn’t changed what I believe. It just makes me feel better. Just because I am a Catholic, I don’t have to paint strictly “Christian” art. There are a lot of “Christian” artists whose work isn’t an accurate depiction of the faith at all. Evangelizing doesn’t please Christ. I’m not on a mission. I’m a selfish person. A lot of my paintings are basically selfish reflections of my faith.
RJ: Is there still a place for art that inspires?
DL: Yeah, there is a place for it, but I’m not trying to do it.
RJ: During the Renaissance, the role of art was to portray the lifestyles of the rich and famous. In the 20th Century, artists portrayed the lives of average people. What is the role of art in the 20th Century?
RJ: Are you there?
DL: Yeah, I’m thinking…I guess I don’t know. I think your premise is broadly true. I don’t see us going back to “salon” society. But a lot of the changes in art are technological. I don’t know what I’m going to do tomorrow.
RJ: Do you believe that we are headed for an artistic Renaissance?
DL: Not at all [laughs]. Things are getting worse. We are seeing a deterioration of craft. It doesn’t necessarily make it a better product. The movies and the books- the quality is pathetic. Some artists have support and are celebrated, but most artists struggle. Unless you have deep pocket sponsorship, your art is going to suffer. Even the Expressionists had sponsorship.
RJ: What makes art relevant today?
DL: You can have the greatest art and without an audience, it isn’t relevant.
RJ: Why did you become an artist?
DL: I didn’t. I just can’t do anything else well. Since I was a child, I’ve always been artistic. I’m just not good at anything else.
RJ: Who has had the most influence on your work?
DL: When it comes to the cartooning, more of the classic cartoonists, such as Walt Kelly, or George Harriman, who drew the Krazy Kats cartoons. As far as the paintings are concerned, I’ve done a variety of portraits and characters. It’s more about the subject matter than a particular artist and style. I’m a big fan of Cezanne, Degas. Rembrandt. Toulouse-Letrec. Pretty much all of the Impressionists.
RJ: Did you imagine you would be receiving as much attention as you are now?
DL: I’ve always gotten attention. I used to have a booth in the lobby at the Rio in Las Vegas. I got a lot of heavy flow there. I’ve also had a makeshift gallery outside a racetrack. So I’m used to getting at least some amount of attention.
RJ: What advice would you give to someone starting out?
DL: I think drawing is important. Even good painters are drawing with paint. Physicality is also important. It’s very important to develop lines, color fields. And always remember your audience!
RJ: How does your wife feel about your recent success?
DL: My wife says “That’s nice.” I’m getting some attention, but…you know. I’m not a celebrity. I’m just looking for enough attention to stay afloat. You know, it’s funny. I can’t get my paintings in a legit gallery. I can’t get my comics printed. But all of a sudden I’m getting all this attention from Wonkette and Gawker and…woah. I even got a mention in the Financial Times of Germany. The Financial Times of Germany! I can’t even read German, and I know I got a profile there.
RJ: If you had it all over again, would you do anything differently?
DL: I don’t even think about that, because I won’t even get that opportunity.
RJ: What do you want your legacy to be as an artist?
DL: I don’t care [laughs]. I won’t hear it anyway, because it won’t matter. If I have a “legacy,” God will twist it in some way, or I’ll be remembered for something I never intended. I don’t think I’ll have one. My legacy will be dust.
RJ: Final question: Is there anything you want to tell us that you haven’t already?
DL: If anyone wants to see my work, go to portalofevil.com or somethingawful.com. They got archives of all my Faithmouse cartoons going back several years, plus shots of my drawings.