Focus On: Dan Sabau!

Dan Sabau (b. 1977, Romania) is a painter working primarily in portraiture in a unique style fusing classical nodes of beauty with an original, colorful, and sentimental stroke of contemporary influence. Graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art, he lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.


KALTBLUT: Hi Do you remember your first painting ever?

Dan: The First piece that I thought was significant is an abstract painting I did with acrylic paints on when I was 16.  I remember really getting into it.  I worked on it in the middle of the night.  In the morning I looked at it again and saw a face I didn’t notice the night before.  It irked me a bit.  It made me think the painting has a life of its own, which still makes me excited about the medium.

KALTBLUT: What is actually your artistic background?

Dan: During high school, I had two teachers that motivated me to go to art school.  One of them named Thomas Rose who taught a college level figure drawing class.  He convinced me to start taking it when I was 17 or so.  After graduating high school I attended the Cleveland Institute of Art for five years.  Because we had a three year foundation  program instead of two, the students had exceptional drawing skills. That extra year really advanced you.  It taught you to be able to clearly draw your ideas out on paper.  It was one of the best programs at the time.

KALTBLUT: What is it about painting that you like so much?

Dan:  Painting to me is the medium that can take you on a journey depending on what your intentions are.  I usually have an idea of what I want to convey, but I never know the outcome.  In this process the challenges are rewarding.  There are constant struggles you have to deal with because of the nature of the paint and format.  I love the purity of color and how drastically a piece can change in a short time.  It’s like a trip.

KALTBLUT: You use different medium: sometimes water color, sometimes oil. What makes you choose one or another?

Dan:  When I am working with portraiture I tend to use oil paints.  My Commissioned pieces are usually done with oils.  It’s a slower academic process.  When I want to explore the figure and experiment, I use watercolors.  It’s an unpredictable medium that has a life of its own.  Because if its nature it allows that element of unpredictability.  It’s more about letting go than control.


KALTBLUT: How is your working process usually?

  It’s about tension I think.  There is this push and pull thing going on.  I want there to be a feeling of harmony in my work amongst the chaos.  I render the eyes and parts of the face meticulously. Then I pour water on sections of the piece.  It all has to happen in a small window because the paint dries so fast.  It could get intense.  Then I just have to walk away for a while.  When I come back after the paint dries there are amazing areas of gradation and forms that I haven’t seen before. It’s like the work has a life of its own. I am always excited to leave and come back to the painting to see how the water treated the piece.


KALTBLUT: We are really in love with your latest water color pieces. What inspired you for this serie?

Dan:  I wanted to work on the series for a while.  At the end of the year, my friends and I lost a great friend suddenly. His name was Ray Abeyta, brilliant painter.  I looked up to him in so many ways.  It was hard to get back into the studio for a while because I felt like everything had stopped.  When I decided to start the series, there was a strong presents of Ray.  I wasn’t sure what was gone happen in the series but I knew it was going to be exciting.  I think the new series has a spiritual element because I started it with these unsettling feelings from our loss.  It taught me to control what I can and let go.  This is how I treated the paintings.


KALTBLUT: Your work seems to be mainly focus on human body part, faces.. Am I right?

Dan:  I love working with the figure.  Even though my subjects might be specific individuals or friends I want them to have a universal feel, like I am talking about us as humans.  It is the subject that we are most familiar with.  And a lot of times obsessed.


KALTBLUT: Who is inspiring you these days?

Dan: I have always been inspired by contemporary painters like Jenny Saville.  There are some great artists doing really cool things to the figure.  Honestly, I look at a lot of 17th through 19th century painters, like Diego Velazquez, John Ottis Adams and John Singer Sargent.  They had this finesse in there technique and pallet.


KALTBLUT: What’s your favourite part about living in Brooklyn?

Dan:  Over the years I developed some great relationships because of the community.  Even though rent has gone up and gentrification happened years ago, there are some great spots where I can always run into some familiar faces.  I also like living in a city that is competitive and keeps me on my toes.

Interview by Nicolas Simoneau