dan kelpinger, artist


Q: When did you know art was going to be such an important part of your life?

A: I always liked and did art, but in high school my teacher started to give me the tools to have art say what I wanted it to. My art speaks what I would be saying with words.  It also says the feelings that are inside of me.  Those feelings would make people close to me scared and worried about me. Maybe I want people to see these feelings, so they know everything is not happy in my world. Translating myself onto canvas became my language, something I needed to exist.

Q: How did you get involved in the making of King Gimp?

A: When I was about 9, two documentarians decided to include me in their documentary about kids in the mainstream from different economic backgrounds. Even though I didn't meet their criteria of being mainstreamed, I made the cut.  I guess their first encounter with me made them realize that I wasn't an ordinary kid. So after the first documentary "Beginning with Bong," Susan and Bill kept filming me.  Then they took the idea to HBO and things avalanched from there.

Q: How much time do you spend on your painting?

A: I spend about a week doing the actual painting. My way of painting has changed since the documentary was done. I still use the head stick, but I now paint on un-stretched canvas that is at least 4X5 feet. My friends cut the canvas and mix all of my paints at once. I paint from photographs and spend a lot of time looking at my extensive collection of photographs to see if I have something that hits me. If I don't, I take some more photos. If I still don't get the hit - find the inspiration - I use Photoshop to cut and paste photographs together to create my subject and get the tones/shadows and shapes that I desire. It's kind of like setting up my own model or still life.

Q: What inspires you in picking a subject to paint?

A: I just look for powerful feelings and emotions that give me a certain connection. My subjects have to have a connection with me that doesn't come from the outside world. I look for the abnormal in normal life.

Q: When did Cingular first approach you about doing the commercial and what was your initial reaction?

A: First I screamed, because I couldn't believe it was happening to me. My luck was just going and going. My 15 minutes were long over. I couldn't guess how many people or how much equipment there was to make me look good. The first time I rolled through the set I burst out laughing because I was thinking, "What the heck did I do to cause all this organized chaos?!"

Q: Was working on the commercial hard at all, or had you gotten used to being in front of a camera from your experience with the King Gimp documentary?

A: The one thing that was hard was that Jim, the director, had to keep telling me was to look at the camera. Bill Whiteford for 12 plus years told me, "Don't look at the camera" and here Jim is saying the opposite. They were three very long, fun days.

Q: Physically how do you paint -- put paints out on your palette, hold a brush, position the canvas so you can reach it?

A: I paint sitting on the floor in a W seated position and my brushes are taped to my head stick dowel. I have a selection of 15 brushes taped to dowels so my friends only have to change dowels in my head stick. For palettes I use Tupperware hors d'oeuvres trays that have seven sections.

Before I paint we create all of the colors that I want to use. I have foam that is about six inches thick and it covers 2/3 of my living room floor to save my knees. The canvas lays flat on the floor with jars of paint-thinner in each corner so I don't have to move them as I go around the painting; I just drag the palette around with me.  I rip up my old clothes and use them as rags. I work in my apartment so I can paint whenever I feel like it.  I do not sleep that well so I sometimes pull a pillow from my bed and nap on the floor by the painting.