A Change in Perspective with Black Spirituals’ Dathan Kane

When you think “black and white,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Most people would say something along the lines of rules or limitations…outdated structures of time and space—but VA artist Dathan Kane is not “most people.” Rather than subscribing to the realm of conventional human expectations, Kane’s world of “organic black and white shapes” operates like a Rorschach Test, full of limitless possibilities for viewers to see, interpret, and experience.

With his signature style being established throughout the East Coast (e.g., Virginia and North Carolina), West Coast (e.g., California and Washington), and internationally (e.g., China), Kane’s goal of interrupting the daily drone of life with “color” and a new perspective is becoming closer than ever.

Read my conversation with the Hampton artist below about his approach to art, his creative process, and thought process behind the Black Spirituals “Opium Den.”

How did you get started in art?

Art has always been a part of my life. I was originally inspired by anime, cartoons, comics and manga growing up. I started drawing to help channel my imagination as a way to keep myself entertained as an only child.

What medium do you find yourself working with most? Is there a medium that you would like to incorporate more into your future works?

I find myself working with acrylics and wall paint all the time now. In this stage of my career, I’m focused on murals/street art, but I would be open to explor[ing] sculpture again.

How does your creative process begin?

My process typically begins with a general design concept in my head that would best fit the space or surface that I’m working on. When painting on canvas, I tend to use a burnt umber color as a base layer before painting any black. When it comes to murals, I go right to the “black paint” to cover the exterior surface, beginning my phase one. Phase two begins with outlining a potential design that can be organic and responsive to the shapes I put down. Phase three ends with filling in the overlapping and crossing lines with “white paint” to form complete shapes for a finished composition.

Your niche seems to be solely focused on black and white patterns. Is there a reasoning behind your style?

I wanted to create something bold that people would stop to question. Color is something that people expect to see when viewing art but can be thrown off when it is absent. Drawing also serves as the foundation for worlds that people can come into, so I have always had intentions on doing the same. I wanted to create a world that would spawn emotional responses that could be seen as positive or negative using bold, organic black and white shapes.

You are the artist that created the mural I referenced in the “Of What Could Be, Of What Can Be” feature. What was your approach to that piece? Also, thank you for that added “color” and character on that bleak stretch of road!

I feel honored by your response to that project. The mural I created for the (CAN) titled “Lyft Up” (2020) was a direct response to COVID-19. When Asa [Jackson] first purchased the (CAN) he originally wanted me to paint the front of the building, but I knew that I wanted the biggest wall.

My goal for the project was to bring attention to the (CAN) to say that we are here and things will get better. This took place during a time when people needed to have their spirits lifted, and I had the will to accomplish this without the use of a “lyft” or cherry picker.

Can you talk a little more about the significance of the “Opium Den” in Black Spirituals?

The “Opium Den” was a space created specifically for Max P’s overdose scene in the Black Spirituals story. I needed to create a fun, distorted place that gave a “Willy Wonka” energy to it. We knew that this space had to represent a place of freedom and temptation for anything that would be offered during a party situation. I titled this installation, “Goodtime” (2021).

Dathan Kane, “Goodtime,” 2021. The Contemporary Arts Network, Newport News, Virginia

Do you have a favorite set from the installation?

Besides “Goodtime” (2021), my top set would have to be the “RED Room.”

What is the biggest thing you hope for viewers to take out of Black Spirituals?

I hope viewers can leave this show feeling impacted, shocked and encouraged to help change the way people of color have been treated throughout time.

Image courtesy of @contemporaryartsnetwork

Featured image courtesy of Alchemy NFK

Black Spirituals will be running throughout the entirety of February–be sure to get your tickets and experience the thrilling trip through Slawstrips Kalb, here!

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