by Sukanya GargSep 05, 2020
A search for absurdity forms the central theme of Minneapolis-based artist Pancreas Supervisor’s work. Named Daniel Hartman, even the artist’s nom de guerre seems to be informed by the vivid and visceral juxtapositions that his craft constantly manifests; juxtapositions that play predominantly to a sense of incongruous spontaneity, and often eschew rational meaning entirely within their Dadaist constructions. Furthermore, the allusion to war that is made here is most likely an apt one, as Pancreas Supervisor’s art brims with a calamitous aggression that dictates the dynamics between image and space within his collages. While it arises, in part, out of the choices made by the artist when considering imagery, it is also a product of the arrangement of his picture cut-outs, revealing itself in the numerous jagged edges and fleshy mashups that populate the landscapes of his work.
In an interview with STIR, Pancreas Supervisor mentioned that his creative journey into collage art began in his late teens and early twenties. In his own words, he and his roommate would “sit down at the kitchen table cutting up National Geographic magazines, just trying to make the weirdest, funniest assemblages possible to make each other laugh”. While these beginnings certainly speak to the sense of absurdity mentioned above, it must be mentioned that, in all likelihood, most viewers will not find Pancreas Supervisor’s artistic oeuvre to be quite as humorous, as perhaps, jarringly bewildering. However, as the artist mentions, he is a fan of extreme music, and draws heavily from the visual aesthetics of punk subcultures, which often integrate collage work into album art. Keeping this in mind, closer examinations of Pancreas Supervisor’s works may also reveal a certain punkish irreverence when faced with the prospect of using imagery pertinent to authority figures or symbols of commercialism.
When asked about his process, Pancreas Supervisor mentions that he prefers to keep things informal and open-ended. “I never start out with anything particular in mind when I begin a collage. The random images I find along the way dictate where the piece is going. I most definitely shoot for an overall visual flow with as much pop and depth as possible,” he says. This aspect of flow is something Pancreas Supervisor seems to possess a highly practised degree of control over, as his pieces alternatively establish and militate against hierarchies of eye movement, thereby luring viewers into their worlds, before proceeding to submerge them within the depths of their minutiae.
Along with the meticulous visual flow of Pancreas Supervisor’s work, the congruent visual language and image quality he uses also form important aspects of the artist’s configurations; both which are built through the heavy usage of specific photo journals. Most recognisably, the artist’s work features a large amount of imagery culled from LIFE magazines, which manifest an iconic quality within his artwork. When asked about the significance of this publication, he said, “I think most collage artists use LIFE magazine images here and there. It’s pretty hard to avoid, it’s a great photo source and LIFE mags and LIFE photo collection books are super cheap and easy to obtain”. However, Pancreas Supervisor seems to be tiring of using major-label magazine cut-outs, and adds, “I actually try to avoid using LIFE and Nat Geo nowadays because I feel I have exhausted those publications in my work”.
What brings these aspects of the artist’s work together is the sheer size of some of his artworks. One of his pieces, titled Nothing’s Possible, is five feet long, and others are longer still, with a few even going up to 12 feet. The play of image and its flow within the space of his collages is best experienced within these artworks, with the aforementioned appearing as though to burst forth horizontally from a central focal point. Nothing’s Possible draws viewers in through its central region, gradually bringing their eyes to bear upon the reflection of buildings within a water body, and the overhanging presence of an absurd water fountain fixture in the form of a giant, floating hand holding up a man who is peering through a portal. After this, the viewer is released to drift within the playfully incoherent world of this collage, but will soon find that any search for meaning is quickly stymied by wild configurations of objects, environments and human actors that conspire to obfuscate the association-building process, which is key to understanding a scene. A curious detail within this specific piece that further complicates reading the artwork is that many of the human figures within it are themselves looking in different directions, thereby prompting the viewer to break their viewing trajectory, and instead try and follow their eye-movements. This will inevitably lead the viewer to find themselves looking at yet another figure looking off in another direction, and in this way, will continue to perpetuate the viewer’s drift through the world Pancreas Supervisor has created here.
Discussing his work in a professional context, the artist said that he has created album art in the past which has seen him utilise digital software in order to source and combine imagery that he could not find within his libraries of photo journals. He also mentioned that he has participated in group shows in Minneapolis, as well as one solo exhibition. Additionally, Pancreas has also travelled out of state in order to exhibit his work at the Collage Museum of San Francisco, which, as the artist mentions, was curated by Winston Smith, an artist who has himself worked extensively within the punk rock scene. Smith is perhaps most well-known for the iconic album artwork he created for San Francisco band Dead Kennedy’s 1987 compilation, Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death, and undoubtedly sits at the very heart of the tryst between punkish irreverence and collage art.
Interestingly, he calls his Storenvy page Nothing’s Possible!