By Dave Schutz
Fort Collins artist Daniel Ibanez explains his recent work with an excitement bordering on nervousness as he riffs on topics ranging from The Fifth Element; Cormac McCarthy; science fiction as a tool to address touchy cultural issues; and how we use the past and the future to understand the present.
All of this relates to a crop of sci-fi themed digital pieces Ibanez has been producing. One example is a series of pieces depicting a dogfight between a red World War I-style biplane and some TIE Fighters from Star Wars. In one image, the biplane is being pursued; in the next, it has the upper hand. Both feature the big, red biplane front and center.
“So on one level, it’s just total populist imagery with bright red, Star Wars. It’s easy,” Ibanez explains. “But on the other hand, there’s this more complex element where it was derived from, which was sort of looking at this inevitability of institutional military activity.”
This melding of the past and the future, the real and fantasized, is central to much of this recent work. Ibanez tackles modern themes ranging from war to the mundane and situates them in a hypothesized future that is modeled after 1950s-style science fiction.
“It helps us nest ourselves in the way that we see ourselves today, sort of like stellar parallax, where you measure the distance of something by looking at it from two particular vantage points,” Ibanez explains. “What I’m trying to do is look at contemporary society through the lens of some idealized, hypothesized past or idealized future. I’m just kind of using that as a critique to look at where we are today.”
The turn toward sci-fi and digital work is a relatively recent development for Ibanez. The 33-year-old artist was groomed as a traditional oil painter under the wing of renowned Taos artist Ray Vinella, who was friends with Ibanez’s grandmother and who taught him the craft during summer visits to Ibanez’s childhood home in Colorado Springs. By 16, Ibanez had his first show and his first sale, and by 19, his work was in the same gallery as Vinella’s.
“It was astounding,” Ibanez says. “I felt like an imposter.”
He was on any artist’s dream trajectory until he went and did the rational thing; he got an art education degree from CSU and fell in love with teaching at Rocky Mountain High School, where he’s been for about seven years.
“But I think it was a good break because, as a kid, I understood art through the lens of my teacher,” Ibanez says. “And having that break from it allowed me to reimagine the whole craft of painting in my own eyes. I think when something gets impressed upon you at such a young age, at least for me, I had to sort of walk away from it a little bit and get a new outlook. And that’s what the last couple years were really for.”
Ibanez’s new direction coincides with a shift in priorities, of sorts. Though he is still a full-time teacher, he’s scaled back his participation in coaching and school clubs and the like to focus more on being a full-time artist as well.
“The battle in my heart for the last three years or four years is, how do you reconcile two loves, basically,” Ibanez says. “But in the long term, when I start thinking about the next phase of life, I think mostly about being an artist.”
The shift in Ibanez’s style is remarkable. To check out the “Traditional Work” section of his website (danielibanez.net), one is indeed met with some very traditional still life and landscape pieces. The vibrant, broad strokes of those paintings carry over to a degree into his digital work, but here, the edges are softer and the subjects less impressionistic. The style is consistent, but the newer work is decidedly more modern.
Such a shift in style and approach might naturally lead one to worry about the opinion of traditionalists like, for instance, one’s mentor. Ibanez recounts a recent visit he had with his own mentor, Vinella, in which Ibanez had to confess that he’d started painting digitally.
“I bit my tongue and I was just, ‘I’ve got to tell him,’” Ibanez says. “I kind of told him all about it and he stopped for a second, and he just goes, ‘That’s great! If I was your age, that’s what I’d be doing right now.’ He was so excited and it was sort of like the blessing from the father. So at that point, I was like, full steam ahead.”
Check out Ibanez’s work at danielibanez.net, or, if you’re a Google Plus user, you can follow his near-daily posts of new works.