by Gordon Nary
Gordon: You were born in Hammond Indiana. What are some of the earliest art images that you remember?
David: I went to St Joseph School in downtown Hammond, very over crowded school with intense French nuns, very intense. We would go to morning Mass five days a week, Th, there was a very big mural done in a WPA style It made a big impression of me,
I was there for first and second grade, and doing poorly so my folks moved me to a wonderful public school, and I did so much better. But I thinking being taken away form the church school, planted an interest in the saints as story and as an art subject.
Gordon: I understand that one of your earliest ambitions was to find a cure for leprosy. How did that come about?
David: The nuns were always talking about "we need a cure for leprosy, you children must be come good doctors and find a cure for leprosy", We heard it every day. So the was the goal, but I loved drawing and that became the new goal, to be an artist.
Gordon: Your school had a parade every All Saints Day, What do your remember most about the parades?
David: I remember the wonderful home made costumes, and lining up in front of the class, These kids dressed as their favorite saints, standing in front to the blackboard, and the giant world maps, it was all very visual, like a Fellini movie. I loved it.
Gordon: How the lives of the saints influence your interest in becoming an artist and how does your understanding of their lives differ somewhat from the common perceptions?
David: I loved the story telling and the blood and guts of it. As an artist & designer, I worked on fun celebration like projects, posters for the City of Chicago, Marshall Field's, Bloomingdales, and like the comedian who wants to do drama. I took on a very personal project to look at the saints, tell there story, but to go deeper, and almost make psychological portraits. I worked from 1990 - 1997 on a set of prints, only in black and white
The prints found a following and sent me on a road to designing stained glass and mosaics for churches, hospitals and universities.
Gordon: How did your artistic career begin?
David: I went to the Cleveland Institute of Art, and dreamed of living and working as an artist and design in Chicago and New York. One of my first big breaks was getting gigs and assignments at Chicago Mag, The Chicago Tribune and doing a poster in 1983 for the Lyric Opera's production of The Mikado. I love opera, the drama, the music, the sets and costumes, it's all very bigger than life. I used to draw my early saints while listening to Live from the Met on the radio on Saturdays, I still listen most Saturdays.
Gordon: What initially interested you in working in mosaic?
David: In 1985, I had saved enough money to travel on my own, and go to Europe for 3 months. When I got to St Mark's in Venice, the great Italo-Byzantine Basilica, made a big impact on me, the floors and the walls covered in mosaics, I love it. Then years later still, I go to visit St Mark's Basilica and marvel at it. So I design mosaics but with modern sensibility, and very stylized designs, but very friendly and happy.
Bronson-Hospital m Kalamazoo, Michigan
Gordon: When and why did you begin working in stained glass?
David: My black and white saint images have thick black lines that made people think of stained glass, It was proposed that I should try it. Being open to
other materials, I jumped at the chance. Loyola University was the first to commission me. Later I designed the stained glass walls of the Lurie Chicago
Children's Hospital Chapel. The project was actually a world scope competition, that I won, and I insisted on using a local stained glass firm Colorsmith Stained Studio in Riverside. I had been working with them on glass projects from the beginning. The Lurie Hospital Chapel, took me to designing for the 2012 Christmas White House. I designed four large round stained glass windows and ceramic planters and ornaments for the White House.
Stained glass window at St Benedict The African Catholic Church. Chicago Illinois.
Gordon: What interested you in illustrating of children's books?
David: I always wanted to do picture book, My book, THE SKIN YOU LIVE IN, written by Michael Tyler, celebrates diversity. It's now in it's 10 or 12th printing and thankfully still popular. Serena Williams just blogged about it, and it's one of Michele Obama's favorite picture books. Working on the book enforced a theme that I celebrate in all of my art, I try to be inclusive and represent diversity as a vocation.
My mosaic mural designs for the Red/Brown Line train station at Belmont, are all about diversity, it's called WE ALL RIDE THE TRAIN TOGETHER. And this takes me to my current exhibit at LUMA, showing a diverse mix of joyful happy positive Saints. The new set are shown with my older prints, like a class portrait. The new collection THE PARADE OF SAINTS, are hip, and playful looking. I wanted to make the images relevant to today,
I think we are living in very dark times, a time of anger and frustration, and we all need to see something that express is the positive and the joyful. So I picked saints like THE PATRON SAINTS OF COOKING, BEER, CATS, and made St Christopher a strong happy lifeguard. What I like most is bringing my thoughts to "the big table of life", being innovative and being a Happy Hagiographer. For the church to evolve and grow, it needs good changes. I love Pope Francis, he is a good man and I think a good leader. I think he would like my art.
Gordon: What impact has the coronavirus pandemic has upon you photography
David: I’m staying inside and following the rules. I’m on my 5th week working from home. These are crazy stressful times. I say short prayers several times a day and constantly washing my hands.
As an artist I’ve been active on Facebook, I produce a new original coloring book page.
These are joyful, playful & smart. People of any age are printing them out and making colorful pictures, for some it’s therapy, and for others, it’s just for fun. I made a few for Holy Week & a few for Passover. These pages were a big hit and everyone seems to be appreciative.
I’ve also been making more Saint images, we need our Saints now more than ever.
Gordon: Thank you for an insightful interview and your amazing career.