Earlier this month I got a chance to attend the 31st Annual Old Pecan Street Festival in Austin with my family. It’s a huge street fair with lots of live music and arts and crafts vendors which sprawls down East 6th Street and this year sprawled somewhat over to 7th Street as well. There’s always something new and interesting to see — along with some of the same old junk — and this year as the kids rushed me through everything way too fast, my eye was caught by the work of a local artist named Darren Minke.
The work Minke had on display basically fell into two styles, fantasy paintings done digitally from photographic source material and peculiar stylized images done on laminate siding with wood stain. The former seems to be his main oeuvre, but the latter is what really caught my eye. I suspect I was drawn to the wood stain works because I’ve been working with a lot of laminate siding in remodeling projects I’ve been doing and in finishing out our pool house, where I’ve decided to use laminate siding instead of drywall for a variety of reasons. With that heightened awareness of the medium, I found the work he did with stain to take the grain in the outer veneer of the wood and turn it into the basis for an interesting image. He even uses sheets with different types of wood veneer for variety. Some of the wood-stain pieces are rather abstract, some are more realistic, some are bizarre and grotesque and others are quite attractive. What makes them so interesting is that the nature of the work clearly stems from the grain of the wood, and if there’s an image lurking in the grain then Minke brings it out, but in others he just makes the grain itself into a work of abstract art. I found most of the erotic figures in the stain paintings to be unappealing, but the technique is fascinating regardless of the subject matter.
Minke’s digital art consists of highly modified photographic images with a lot of symbolism and a strong erotic content. Most of the images are of beautiful women, fantasized and combined with symbolic images to represent a mythological or spiritual theme. Some of them are very well done, some are more traditional. Some were quite reminiscent of the work of fellow Austin artist Howard David Johnson with whom I’ve worked on a number of projects over the years, though Minke’s work is more symbolic and less sophisticated than Johnson’s. There’s room for more technical development and sophistication in Minke’s work, but it’s got a strength of vision and a passion which is very appealing. Some of the fantasy pieces are very impressive and his integration of the photographic and illustrative elements is quite good, with an overall result which is both realistic and clearly original and creative.
Minke also does work in other media and custom work on assignment. He does very bold semi-abstract oil paintings, some of which I saw at the festival and more of which are on display on his website. He also does commercial photography and even some rather eerie animation work. He’s a hard working artist with a lot of irons in the fire, but I think he’s one to keep an eye on. His work may not show up at MOMA anytime soon, but that may be more their fault than his. He seems to be doing pretty well selling his originals at fairly respectable prices (I couldn’t justify the price for his wood stain dragon which I really wanted) and I think he has a lot of commercial potential as an illustrator as well. He’s very much an Austin kind of artist, combining high tech and tradition and fantasy with reality.