Gay Beast's Dan Luedtke talks visual art and music
Set to meet at a café in Uptown, Dan Luedtke greets me and quickly turns around to ask the person behind the counter if he can hang one of his posters in the window, a simple marching-band illustration in bold color and shaky lines. The poster will be taken down as soon as is ethically feasible, probably the same night as the show it's there to promote. Luedtke's screenprinting work is as much art as any canvas, and while he's prolific—maybe ubiquitous—around town, people tend to grab them at the first opportunity. Or try to; separating a wheatpasted poster from its wall is impossible.
Luedtke, known as Danimal professionally, is a skinny guy with a simple tattoo on his forearm of some cryptozoological monstrosity. He stares unwaveringly and alternately drinks an overly viscous and gritty fruit protein shake and an iced coffee, speaking matter-of-factly and not loudly. For five years he's been the singer, pianist, and saxophonist in the skronkily cacophonous and trigonometrically proportioned Gay Beast, pretty much the same amount of time he's been producing visual art; Gay Beast was the reason he started screenprinting and producing visual art in the first place, learning the form and subsequently meting out flyers and posters to promote his band's shows.
"It wasn't out of necessity," he clarifies. "I could've done what other bands do and Xerox shit or gone to Kinko's and got my friends' artwork reproduced or something. I just was always a fan of silkscreen art. I was first aware of Aesthetic Apparatus, and then Burlesque, and then from afar started admiring Seripop, from Montreal. But I didn't make visual art at all before this; I just was an admirer of it."
Going on, he explains his visual nadir: "So I asked my friends if they would design something and I would try to silkscreen it. There was a couple times where I asked 'Hey, can you do a flyer for me?' I'd pay them to do it, and get the flyer back—and they'd be great flyers—but I was like 'You know, this is really awesome but I feel like it's not my style.' I didn't know what that was, but I realized there wasn't this mystical process. Creating visual art wasn't this unattainable thing."
That simple and difficult realization yielded a style informed by a sort of architectural approach to artistic work, in frank measure and bold deviation and across mediums. Illustratively, he explains the skeletal structure of one of their songs, a rhythmic cross-eye and roadmap that belies the band's shudder and jut and a general theoretical direction.
"We play a song now that's in 4/4, groupings of eight, but the big beats are on the one and the three. And we break it down in kind of an odd way and then we kind of all play that at the same time, so it's a weird way of using a traditional meter but we're all doing it at the same time so it sounds more regular. It's sort of a rigid structure. We're going to play one note on two hands, and that's going to be the major component of the song, is just this one idea. And then the only deviation is that one person gets to break off, but they can only break off in this really simple way. Like I play one chord, and Isaac just goes 'rrrrrrr' when it's his turn. And we come back."
This same delineated approach is evident in the screenprints, darkly referential illustrations in pastels and bold earth tones, adorably infantile and spookily lush at the same time. He designs, hand-prints, and hangs them for every Gay Beast show, a laborious process he's repeated dozens of times. It belies a dedication to physical art, work, whatever, that seems increasingly uncommon. In our current climate of Facebook events and email blasts and the creep of the digital, Danimal seems an adapted guy. Where so many embrace technology wholeheartedly or frantically regress against it, he seems to have found a manageable balance of tactile and tech, at least on paper.
"I've met a lot of amazing visual artists that are not really on board with integrating their art with the computer. Maybe they just use it as a documenting purpose, but none of it has anything to do with using the computer to manufacture or proliferate their art, and to me that feels a little bit shortsighted. I feel like at base, art is about communication so you have to acknowledge the potential."
And so: Here's to the future, where we don't feel the need to forget our pasts.
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