Painter Mira Dancy’s work radiates intense color, building in sinuous lines imposing figures and elements of landscape that sing with abstract gesture, both citing and inverting archetypes of art history. Fancying a palette of hot pastels, her illuminating pinks and blues and her flourishes of melon and mint tease odalisques with outstretched limbs and thick sunbeams, the horizon of ocean and patchwork of countryside, the fall of dark tresses and the cresting of low waves. At the same time, they weave their spells with meaningful abstraction, revealing in part an invisible realm through the familiar forms of this one.
Dancy has always been interested in the feminine powers of creation and healing; but she’s not at all into how bound up with literal gestation-based motherhood those eternal paradigms have become in today’s political extremism. Understandably alarmed at the patriarchal assault on women’s bodily autonomy and the prospect of forced motherhood, in her current exhibition at Night Gallery, Dancy draws instead on the strength of metaphorical and spiritual mothers in mythology, sorcery, mentorship, and the earth itself.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
MIRA DANCY: As a child I was very attached to my imaginary realms — and as I got older, like 10 or 11, I started to keep graph paper notebooks of architectural drawings, floorplans mostly for houses that had no exteriors. I didn’t want them to have a style or look like anything I knew or recognized as a “house.” I liked the hypothetical nature of drawing, and how I could live inside its notation. Looking back I can see them as interior landscapes — impossible houses fashioned after bodies.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
My work is about the entanglement of our inner and outer lives, particularly my own experience as a woman and a mother. My desire for paintings to convey some of what is invisible in our daily lives — sensations of joy, empathy, anxiety, and discovery — guides my use of intensely bright colors and a disjointed picture plane. I love the idea that paintings can live outside of time, and that they are potential messengers to the past or future.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
If I hadn’t found painting, I think I would have become an architect — though I have no idea how I would have reconciled my preference for the imaginary over the real.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
I went to Bard to study writing, but quickly found myself in the art department where there was no shortage of feminist thinkers. The faculty was full of working artists from all disciplines, and I feel very fortunate to have learned to paint while I was equally engaged with friends and teachers working in film, photography, poetry, and philosophy. Six years later I doubled down and got my MFA at Columbia, where I connected with several artists who I still feel lucky to know and show with today. Night Gallery itself was a proposition that Davida Nemeroff developed out of the close-knit nature of that community.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
I fell in love with the idea of living and working in L.A. in 2010, when I started coming regularly to collaborate on projects with Night Gallery, but it took me 10 years to manifest the logistics of uprooting my young family from Brooklyn. We moved here during the pandemic in 2020, and I am so happy to be able to share my love for the trees, plants, and forests here with my kids.
When was your first show?
Twenty years ago! I think… in 2002, an artist friend from college opened a gallery in his Bushwick live-work space and offered me one of the first shows. I can’t even remember all the details of a disagreement we had, but at some point during the show I arrived home late at night to find my big canvases leaning against the wall of my apartment building. The paintings were fine, but I think it was a few years before we spoke again.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show or project?
Madonna Undone is on view at Night Gallery through November 5.
What artist living or dead would you most like to show or work with?
I have always felt very drawn to the history of women artists who used painting as a kind of mystical or psychic medium, and would love to meet up with Hilma af Klint, Emma Kunz, or Remedios Varo for a show on another astral plane.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?
I’m usually seeking a source of flow when I’m working, which often leads me to listen to artists like Leikeli47 and Tierra Whack on repeat, but recently I have also been listening to Robert Thurman’s weekly readings of The Buddha Garland Sutra on YouTube. He describes the text as “holographic” where each verse reflects the whole in some way. This concept has been a guiding focal point for me for several months.
Website and social media handles, please!
The pandemic caused me to retreat from social media — mostly because I was spending so much time with my kids and I have been trying to model healthy phone habits as I prepare myself for raising a teenager. But @miramizzmira is on Instagram and occasionally shares some views from the studio. I mostly rely on my galleries – @nightgallery and @chapterny to keep images of my work in circulation.
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