David James Strain – Contemporary Houston Artist

NOTE: To view more details of the works displayed above please visit https://studiostrain.com/index.html

David Strain’s canvases are executed through a well-honed sense of pictorial composition and subtle color palettes.  The viewer’s eye is kept moving around the canvas through a complex spatial narrative evoking the pictorial mastery of Thomas Hart Benton or a hard-edge version of Jackson Pollock. This is not easy to do. There is no doubt that color and composition are the primary ingredients that determine the aesthetic weight of an abstract work. Mr. Strain’s compositions maintain this weight while also providing visual poetry through ambiguous shapes and subtle spatial relationships. It is a pleasure to see a painter with an awareness of these formal pictorial elements and the skill to implement them. 

The artist agreed to an interview with Visual-Language. The complete interview is below.


  1. How would you describe your methodology and approach to picture-making? My approach has always been the same in that I want to create pictures that are visually interesting by creating forms that incorporate movement throughout the piece. I work towards designing something that I find impressive or attractive to me.
  1. Does a social or political narrative play a part in your pictorial vocabulary? I have thought much about the existence of man and nature and the relationship that’s formed. There are many issues stemming from this relationship and I think the forms I create within my pictures have visual similarities. Deconstruction and Reconstruction is something I think about a lot.
  1. Do you maintain a specific process when starting a new painting? Yes, I always start each design by building a wooden support panel. To me it’s extremely rewarding once a painting is completed knowing that I built the support. I am interested in producing works that are durable and archival, so both sides of the wooden painting support are conditioned for longevity. I then use a pencil to draw until I feel the work has the visual interest I am looking for before transferring the drawing into a digital image and experimenting with color. This allows me to quickly use multiple variations and color combinations until I have created the appropriate visual balance. I then mix paint accordingly and typically do not add many additions after that.
  1. What role do formal aspects (color, composition, etc) play in creating a picture? Color, composition, visual movement, and picture detail all play a collaborative role when I am designing a picture. I have found that I best appreciate pictures that are balanced throughout, to mitigate having any strong focal points.
  1. What role does intuition play in creating a picture? Within the picture-making process I have created for myself, the drawing aspect of my work is definitely the most intuitive and expressive. Especially in the very beginning, where I am just trying to get line on the wooden panel. The first initial line is what starts my intuitive process where I find that stepping back and trying to make sense of a composition can be premature. I will typically fill in the picture space as much as possible relatively quickly and then start stepping back to make sense of the composition and challenge myself to add or subtract forms.
  1. How do you handle creative blocks or pictorial/compositional challenges? I challenge myself to keep working until I have that yes feeling where I know this is an important design to invest the time needed and to add to my library of works. I have found it extremely helpful to gather a few external opinions to help talk through the compositional positives and negatives.
  1. How do you know when a painting is complete? What factors do you consider? If I don’t feel excited and have that 100% yes feeling then the painting needs to be worked on more. If I find my eye gravitating to one particular area then I add or subtract until the composition has more visual fluidity.
  1. Do you rely on a narrative subject or aesthetic structure in making a picture or both? In my black and white pen and ink drawings on paper, I did not create any narrative and would typically complete a piece within one or two sittings. These congested line drawings did build a foundation of precision and detail that I have integrated into my paintings on wood. The paintings within my latest series titled Eternal show the early primordial development of organic natural-looking forms. Each new painting will begin to increasingly integrate with industrial, architectural-styled forms where the imagery eventually becomes entirely hard-lined and rotates backward towards a redeveloping of organic natural-looking forms. The theme is creating balance within the coexistence of man and nature. 
  1. What visual or editorial elements do you implement in a composition in order to engage with viewers? Typically the drawing within my painting process will communicate some familiarity to something I’ve seen or experienced in my life. Beginning a new work will produce visions and/or words of something personally relatable. I will use this communication to search through images generated from the internet that are relatable to how the drawing is speaking to me. I will search until I find an image or multiple images with color combinations that work with the drawing I have created.
  1. How do you determine the titles for your paintings? Is there a specific significance behind them? I give the paintings two titles, one in English and the other is created by abstracting the work itself. I feel that creating a macro/micro version visually communicates with the work better, especially being as I feel the designs I create are not of this world. English language titles are included to help distinguish each piece from the next and to help establish a deeper relationship and connection with the viewer.
  1. How do you view the role of visual art in today’s society? What impact do you believe it can have on society? I feel that a large majority of visual art today is created spontaneously and that is great for expression. Today more than ever, expression has become extremely popular and desirable. Visual art can communicate directly from the artist and to the viewer in ways that can be shared.
  1. Are there any painters, conceptualists, or specific art movements that have greatly influenced your own work? I have recently begun researching art movements which I could see my works being associated with. I can see my works being similar to the hard-edge paintings within the Precisionism and Post Painterly Abstraction movements. A couple of artists I appreciate are Frank Stella and Al Held
  1. How do you handle criticism or differing interpretations of your paintings? It’s not easy to receive criticism or commentary on a work that I feel is or in the process of being complete. Sometimes another opinion can help you feel even better about the direction you are going or can be deflating. I do feel that differing interpretations of my work are important and can help push me into a path that I would never have entered if it wasn’t from some other mind with differing life experiences. I also find that when I ask for someone’s opinion, I end up regretting it initially because I was being challenged in some way that I wasn’t anticipating. Being challenged on your thoughts and processes will strengthen your thoughts and processes.

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