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VAT - Dan McCann 

by Sheri Boggs

Dan McCann's studio is a well-lit room in the basement of his house. On the work table is an assortment of intriguing small items -- tiny porcelain hands, antique hardware, beads, a few papery sections of wasp nest, and miniature hummingbirds still in their packaging. Nearby sits an index box filled with blank cards that, upon closer examination, turn out to be printed in Braille.

"Isn't this remarkable," he says, offering up the box and its gently perforated contents. "I found this at St. Vincent de Paul, and I have no idea what the cards are - maybe they're phone numbers - but I had to have it."

Dan McCann is like that. For several decades, this Inland Northwest artist has quietly pursued lost treasures, fleeting moments of inspiration and above all, discarded boxes. His show at Studio 901 is comprised of everything from old wooden boxes about the size of fruit crates to "re-purposed" Altoids tins. Each box is like a window - inside are dreamlike scenes populated by things like plastic infants, tumbleweed, magnetic letters and torn scraps of foreign newspaper. McCann's work was most recently included in the Tacoma Art Museum's Northwest Biennial.

"I'm feeling a lot more passionate about art," McCann explains. "Not just my art but art in general." He describes going to the recent show at the Seattle Art Museum of Van Gogh paintings from the Kroller-Muller collection and coming away with renewed appreciation for all the artists who have come before.

"There's this enormous amount of pressure on artists to have some sort of philosophy," he says. "Well, I don't have a personal art philosophy, at least not a philosophy I've developed out of nothing. It's all been done before. We're all inspired by each other, by the images we encounter every day and by the work of other artists."

McCann counts among his influences such greats as Joseph Cornell (who was one of the first to move "box art" into the realm of fine art) and the frightfully before-her-time Lee Bontecou. In McCann's study is an assemblage of bookshelves groaning under the weight of big art books on everything from Henry Darger to Japanese packaging design. The mixed media pieces in McCann's show are informed by his voracious interests -- one piece pays homage to Matisse in composition and color, while others address the war in Iraq while also encouraging viewers to question their own habits of over-consumption. One piece in particular is disturbing and hard to forget. It's a box holding a Polaroid of serial killer Ted Bundy and some loose teeth. McCann's title for it? "He Bites."

A few macabre pieces aside, the majority of McCann's works are intuitive, rich in imagery and texture. Many are downright playful, juxtaposing words and materials in incongruous but effective ways. Few things are wasted on McCann: He saves tiny round mint tins and cardboard shoe inserts. Even passing conversations become worthwhile fodder for the musings that eventually become art.

"I believe that there's art potential in everything," he says.

Publication date: 09/30/04

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