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THE ART FIVE, Issue 1, with Artist, Dan Coombs

Updated: Oct 24, 2020


DC: I can't really explain them.  I put the pictures together very intuitively and the narratives are formed through the process of making them. It's a bit like psychoanalysis or dream interpretation.

I like the story of the 'Wolf-Man " in Freud - the patient, Serge Panjekeff, who dreamt he saw a tree with five wolves sitting in its branches, staring back at him. There are two paintings of this dream by Panjekeff hanging in the Freud museum - I saw them recently. Freud kept revising his opinion of what the dream 'meant'. Despite its ambiguity, the image has a powerful resonance that seems uncanny in its unconscious familiarity. That's similar to the kind of effect I want.


DC: I’ve always loved the combination of the absolutely ordinary and generic, with the extremely weird. David Lynch's films of course had a powerful effect on me early on. I continue to be influenced by him because his films are essentially put together like collages, with mind bending juxtapositions.

Painting the naked human figure unlocks all sorts of unconscious forces, and distorting the figure even more so. Some psychoanalysts even consider the unconscious to be the "speaking body ". Certainly it is true that human beings communicate principally through the body, through body language. The body is inherently expressive; expressiveness always creates unease. Sometimes unwanted emotions, like shame and embarrassment come out in my pictures, but at other times it can be ecstasy and joy.


DC: Well, I guess fear of isolation is something we all suffer from, as we all need connection. I try to show in my pictures the way all the figures are connected in a matrix, a bit like the way all the gestures are connected in an abstract painting. Because I was brought up religiously, I grew up looking at religious art, and I think you can see the influence of that in my work, because I think my pictures have a feeling of being outside of time.I suppose I'm looking for archetypal situations, like in depictions of mythology in Renaissance art where the figures are also often nude to emphasise this timeless quality.

I guess feelings of guilt are part of being brought up religiously, but you can react too hard against that, go too far the other way. In art a deal has to be struck, because often the devil has the best tunes. 


DC: The painting "Unfolding Man" depicts a figure that is splitting or unravelling into many different selves. Although the painting looks like a crowd, it in fact only contains two figures: a woman on the left of the painting observing another figure that has split into many different figures. It's based on a photocopy I made where I dragged a photograph of a naked man through a scanner at such speed that the image broke up into different fragments, like oil breaking up on the surface of water. To me, the image expresses something of what isolation means, perhaps a loss of a centre or an ego, but not necessarily in a completely negative way - I also want it to be meditative.


DC: Usually I make collages and use those to paint from. But partly because of the constraints of lockdown , Ive started making some very fast ink drawings of figures surrounded by abstracted landscape elements. I'm building up to making a new series of oil paintings. The last body of paintings I completed were entirely in black and white. I'm thinking of returning to colour in a radically simplified way. 


Thank you to Dan Coombs for participating in The Art Five, Issue 1.

Download the interview:

The Art Five | Issue 1 | 10 April 2020 |
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British figurative painter, Dan Coombs (b.1971) is an internationally exhibited painter who lives and works in London. Coombs holds his MA, Painting, Royal College of Art, London and BA, Ruskin School of Art, Oxford University. The artist is the recipient of various awards and honours including the Mark Rothko Foundation Travel Award, 2004 and the Rome Scholar in Painting Award, British School in Rome, and the St. Peter's Church Commission, Brighton, 2000. For more information visit

Dan Coombs exhibition 'Unfolding Man' with Aleph Contemporary took place online from 1 - 15 April 2020. Coombs work is available to view at All images courtesy the Artist, unless otherwise credited.


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