It’s the holiday season and we’re happy to highlight Rose Datoc Dall, a contemporary figurative artist that uses an unconventional approach to the human figure and bold colors in her paintings. Read more about Rose, her art, and her experience as what she calls an “accidental religious painter” and seasoned business owner.
Rose painting Nativity Quadriptych center panel, oil on canvas, 2017.
Nativity Quadriptych, oil on canvas, 2017.
1. How did your artistic style develop? How has it evolved or changed?
If I had to classify my work, I would call it contemporary figurative art. My aesthetic sensibilities date back to my days in art school at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts (what they call now VCUArts) in Richmond, VA in the 1980s. Modern and post-modern principles held prominent influences in this school, and much of the art coming out of VCU was very conceptual and experimental in nature, bent toward non-traditional mixed media. Some of that 20th century sensibility has stayed with me.
I also have a deep love for the masters: Michelangelo, Degas, De Toulouse Lautrec, Caravaggio, Sargent, Klimt, N.C. Wyeth, Mucha, and Thiebaud, who have deeply influenced my work. The influence of those heroes, along with an experimental sensibility which I gained at VCU, explain my unconventional approach to the human figure, my use of bold colors, and my love of pure design and graphics. Therefore my work has always had a contemporary flare.
From the earliest days as a young artist in the 1980s, I have been enthralled with the abilities of Mozart, whose genius was so spontaneous, that he could compose a masterpiece on the spot, one of such purity and simplicity. For the same reason, I admire Degas, who with few deft strokes could masterfully express the figure with such immediacy, nothing overstated, with an economy of line. I have held that ideal in my work since my earliest days: purity, immediacy, simplicity, and masterful strokes. Having said that, it is often a struggle to achieve this goal, and so my artistic journey is fraught with successful and not-so-successful attempts.
Moreover, as I have gotten older, that goal has become more crystalized in intent. My images are becoming more distilled, more simple, more focused, and more pure about the elements of design. Therefore, more abstraction has made its way into my recent work. I have never been interested in overly busy compositions, nor unnecessary strokes, and even less so as my art matures. Nevertheless, the human figure will always feature in my work notwithstanding a reduction in detail. Detail is only included where it counts. My lines and edges have become more bold. My compositions are about more pure and basic shapes, and are edgier in design. (It is actually more challenging to edit out than to edit in. It requires more skill. It is the default of a less skilled artist to include every detail.)
A rekindling of that earlier sense of experimentation from art school calls out to me and so I can see other media finding its way into my work. To me, that is all very exciting. I have gone in waves of experimentation throughout my career, which keeps things fresh and relevant.
Careful and Troubled, oil on canvas, 2017
2. Where do you get inspiration? How do you generate new ideas?
I call myself an “accidental" religious artist because I did not start this journey intending to become a religious painter. In fact for many years I ignored current religious art as a viable form of contemporary art. But ever since joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1987 at the age of 19, it forever changed my destiny as it were, and my career. I found myself creating sacred imagery with a contemporary sensibility.
To be an artist of any depth, one's deepest principles become reflected in one's work in one way or another. Evidences can be subtler or more obvious. Being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is who I am, and how I live. It is a lifestyle that is all consuming. And therefore, my faith, my religion, is the wellspring from which much of my imagery flows. It is like a faucet. There is a continuum of ideas that flow, and in fact, often overflow. I never have to force it. In fact, I am sure I will never get to paint every image that comes into my mind. But in short, the ideas come as a byproduct of who I am, and what I believe, how I live and what I study. All my work, whether directly devotional or simple portraits, have some spiritual origin.
3. How do you feel that your education helped you transition into art as a career?
While art school gave me training in different media and exposed me to a wide range of art fields, broad ideas, and varying sensibilities, it did not particularly prepare me with a set of business skills for running a business. Experience in the field is where I learned how to run my business.
"For the Trumpet Shall Sound,” oil and copper leaf on canvas, 2017.
4. What communication skills have you found to be most valuable and important in running your own business?
It never goes amiss to have good writing skills, as well as good speaking skills.
It also helps for artists to understand his/her audience, and to understand all kinds of media, including social media, to promote or educate viewers about his or her work. It is also important to stay on top of technology.
Mary and Elisabeth, oil on canvas, 2013
5. In what ways has mentoring helped you as an artist?
Mentoring young interns has been a most rewarding part of my career, because not only am I helping young artists gain experience, but it feeds my soul as well. It is a win/ win. All too often, an artist’s career can be an exercise in self-aggrandizement and self-absorption. But rather, mentoring gives me the opportunity to give back, and keeps things real; it has a grounding affect, knowing that any practical experience interns can gain in my studio will help them find their footing in their own careers. The ultimate reward would be if I had a hand in helping them identify and hone in on their own artistic voice. I’ve seen it happen more than once, and it is quite humbling and incredibly gratifying to have had some small part in it. It gives more meaning to what I do as an artist, which as I said, can all too often be very self-centered. Helping other artists feeds me in turn as an artist; one can’t help feeling the energy among young artists, and thus we help each other. It is synergistic.
“Woman of Faith,” oil and copper leaf on panel, 2018
6. What business skills do you feel are most valuable for young artists to learn?
Young artists ought to take a business class, and learn how to set up their own business; learn how to obtain the necessary licenses and how to pay taxes, not only on their income, but also on their sales. A bit of bookkeeping 101 wouldn’t go amiss.
Young artists also need to stay in touch with the technology that will help them in their business: how to market themselves; how to build a website; how to use the tools in social media.
Young artists need to be insatiable about information, anything that will help them improve not only their art, but also their business.
Shadowing other artists is a great way to learn the mechanics of running a business, and to get a real taste of what it is like to be a professional artist on a day-to-day basis.
Young artists need to be adaptable. Artists must understand that risks and failures are part of this industry. It is easy to be crushed by rejection, and all too often, young artists can fall into the trap believing that one failure equates complete and utter failure, when that is highly inaccurate. Take Thomas Edison for example whose thousands of failures eventually led to the invention of the light bulb. Likewise, an artist should constantly be testing his or her market, taking risks, experimenting on what works. If one idea fails, move onto plan B. Then C, and so forth. Failures and successes are the ebbs and flows of this business. A successful artist is an adaptable one with a good measure of tenacity.
Young artists also need to work even if they don’t feel like working. Successful artists cannot just sit and wait for the magic moment to happen. Inspiration often happens on one’s feet, while “doing." It’s important to have the discipline to work on less desirable tasks of running their business. Running a business is full of a lot of minutiae. Although an artist might have assistants or employees in the studio, it is important, to a certain degree, to learn how to run most, if not all, parts of the business, to learn enough about accounting, web design, marketing, videoing, etc., to know how to better delegate those responsibilities. At which point, managing or working with a team of people is also a necessary skill to learn.
7. What does your studio workspace mean to you? What do you feel strengthens your business?
My studio space is the place where all the action happens. In a lot of ways, my studio is a safe space where I can think, make marks, make mistakes, experiment, build, create and be uninhibited. It’s not a perfect space, and never big enough, but that is how most artist’s feel about their space. I’ve never met an artist who said, "My studio is way too big.” (The good news is that we are building a new studio when we move next year.)
My studio is also a place where interns come to work, to be mentored, and where fellow artists come to hang out, and to paint together. We have great conversations in this space. We inspire each other, talk about higher things of art, and... not-so-high things. We laugh an awful lot in this space. After all, if you can’t make it fun, why bother?
What strengthens my business? A network of incredibly supportive friends, colleagues, and fellow artists strengthens my business. Synergy happens when connected to this network, which often leads to exhibition opportunities, collaborative projects, more exposure, and a broader clientele.
Having a relevant internet presence via a website, and social media greatly strengthens my business. The internet is essential to my art gallery. In addition, documentation of my work through video, and making them accessible on the web expands my internet presence.
"Loaves and Fishes," oil on canvas, 2015, winner the Purchase Award at the International Art Competition in 2015. This was Rose’s 2nd Purchase Award.
8. What has been your most satisfying moment as an artist and business owner?
There are several satisfying moments in my career, but I will only name but 3:
The first satisfying moment was at the outset of my career. If ever there was a painting that would launch a career, it would be my painting “Flight” (Flight into Egypt), which would prove to be my most iconic and most popular painting to date, painted in 2008. It won a Purchase Award at the International Art Competition for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and was the first painting of mine to be purchased by the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City. Prints of “Flight" are by far my best seller. “Flight" was also my break-through painting, speaking on a personal level. It was the painting in which I was able to marry my contemporary sensibilities with my sacred interpretations successfully. Something clicked and it was an aha moment. I have been using that approach to my sacred work ever since. Moreover, this painting broke me out onto a national and international scene as well. (I have subsequently won that award again at the last International Art Competition in 2015 for another painting.)
Another satisfying moment was when author and scholar, Herman Du Toit, included my work in his 2016 book, Masters of Light, in which he analyzed the devotional work of master artists: Bertel Thorvaldsen, Carl Bloch, Heinrich Hofmann, and Franz Schwartz. My painting “Prophet, Priest and King” (Boy Jesus with the Wise men) was also highlighted and discussed. Somehow I found myself in an art book in the company of four iconic 19th century artists, and am thus the only living artist discussed in the book. To be mentioned in a book of art history, I mean... how cool is that?
A third satisfying moment happened recently when Dr. Vern Swanson, author, scholar, and former museum director of the Springville Museum in Springville, UT, named me in a Zion Art Society Podcast: “the greatest woman artist in The Church [of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints].” See Dr Vern Swanson on LDS Art, Oct 31, 2017. I mean, wow. I have been following Dr. Swanson for nearly 2 decades, and to have been esteemed and mentioned by an expert on the Art and Belief Movement as well as the current LDS Art movement, was quite a moment indeed.
There are probably other moments that I could mention, but each of the aforementioned moments equate somewhat of an “I-have-arrived” type of moment.
Thank you, Rose, for sharing your time and your work with Women's ALI and our supporters!