Interviewers: John Amen and Christie Amen
JA: Tell us a little about your background.
DH: I was born in Iran and lived in Israel during the 1960s. When I was
fifteen, I moved to the United States to go to school.
CA: Were there other artists in your family?
DH: All the members of my family were natural musicians. They simply played without ever taking lessons. My uncle used to make sculptures. When I was young, I drew a little bit. I did some sculpture and put a brush to canvas once when I was in high school, but I didn´t really start painting seriously until I was about twenty-seven.
JA: You actually attended fashion school at some point, didn´t you?
DH: Yes, I went to FIT in New York for a while. I took fashion illustration because I preferred it to design. Several of the teachers told me, “You´re a painter. You should go and be a painter.” They gave me access to various resources and let me do independent studies.
JA: How did they know you were a painter? I mean, what made them say that?
DH: It was the nature of my work. It didn´t look like straight illustration. It had an expressionistic quality, instead of being strictly technical, as most illustration is.
JA: How old were you then?
DH: I was twenty-six then. I started doing some etching and soon after attended the Art Students League in New York.
CA: Did you enjoy that experience, benefit from it?
DH: Yes, I did. I actually got kicked out of one class. The instructor told me I couldn´t paint, that I didn´t belong in his class. But there were other teachers who gave me incredible support. There were two instructors, David Leffel and Sherry McGraw, who really believed in me. I recall that Sherry told me, “You have to forget everything you´ve ever learned if you want to learn from me.” And I did. I let go.
CA: I love that story, David.
DH: Thank you. I gave myself six months to see if I could paint. At the end of that period, I had a beautiful painting (shown below):
CA: Its obvious, David, that your style has changed and evolved, gone through various phases.
DH: Yes, well, initially I studied to paint like Rembrandt, but I mixed my style with the modern approach. When I went to museums, I wouldn´t necessarily look at the paintings themselves. I would look at the freedom and liberty the painters took.
JA: The movement of a piece?
DH: Yes, I figured out how various artists operated, what drove them. Now
Rembrandt, he was calculated. Every brush stroke was calculated. With the modernists, it wasn´t that way. It isn´t that way for me, either. With me, it´s about freedom, total freedom.
JA: So when you enter into a piece, it´s pretty much a spontaneous sort of eruption?
DH: Yes, a spontaneous evolution. I may know that the piece is going to include three faces, that sort of thing, but the nuances and expressions come spontaneously. At one point, when I still had a patron, I recall being told,
“You have to think before you paint. You have to read and think and prepare.” Soon after that, I was looking through a book of Picasso´s art. It was very gratifying to read a quote from him: “I don´t think.” That´s how I feel, too, I don´t calculate a painting.
JA: That´s an integral part of the modernist movement, a progression away from preset parameters, allowing yourself to voice spontaneously.
DH: Yes, using your instincts to paint.
CA: I want to ask you about a piece called “Dark Man” (shown below):
This character exudes a sense of repression. Was it done during a time when you were very quiet or somehow weren´t allowed to speak what you wanted?
DH: Yes, I was still with my patron then, and I felt I couldn´t really paint what I wanted. I felt that my painting was being controlled, limited.
JA: When was “Dark Man” done?
DH: I did it four or five years ago. I did it in forty-five minutes.
CA: Do you consider this one of your more introspective or personal pieces?
DH: Yes, it´s one of my favorite pieces, too. I was showing my patron my power. I was rebelling.
CA: He brings up a part of myself that frightens me. I´m not sure if I could live with that piece.
DH: I could probably live with “Dark Man” simply because of what it represents for me. Now, I couldn´t live with that one (points to painting
shown below): I just did it for a movie, a thriller called “Tempted,” starring Bert Reynolds and Saffron Barrows.
CA: I love it. I love your work, David.
DH: Thank you. It was a difficult piece to do. I´m used to painting very soft, beautiful things. I had to go to a place in my painting that was unfamiliar. I actually had to place myself in a role, immerse myself in a different identity. People that know me were frightened of me.
JA: What were you doing?
DH: I had to get in touch with a certain vulgarity. I was devouring people, putting myself in a very savage place. It took me a while to come out. And now, I´m completely exhausted from the experience.
CA: Let me ask you about these (points to works shown below):
I like these pieces very much. I see great innocence in these faces.
DH: Yes, I don´t like those that much. They are too innocent for me. They don´t have experience, maybe that´s it. Now these (points to pieces shown below),
they have lived. They have experience, rough edges.
JA: Yes, but it´s powerful how you have demonstrated both. It makes me think of Blake´s Songs of Innocence and Experience. In fact, there is a melancholy, haunting quality in many of your paintings, a certain sense of innocence lost.
DH: Yes, I think so.
JA: At the same time, there is something almost pre-experiential or archetypal about your figures. This would tie in, it seems, to your notion of painting with your instincts.
DH: Yes, I want to say that I don´t paint with my emotions, I paint with instincts. There´s a difference. Emotions are fleeting, but instincts are timeless.
CA: Thank you, David. I always love seeing you.
JA: Yes, thank you.
DH: You´re very welcome.