In the realm of contemporary art, a scene oft-criticized for its over-saturation and over-complicated direction—David Alexander Flinn might just be its latest hidden gem. With a whopping 10 solo shows humbly tucked under his belt over the course of his 10 years as a professional artist, Flinn’s mixed-media creations have long expressed a hunger for realism and a desire for simplicity. While formally trained as a sculptor at the School of Visual Arts in NYC, Flinn has since explored other artistic mediums and formats such as photography, video, and now serves as creative director for his very own studio. On the heels of his latest show, “Secret Garden”, Flinn walks us down the introspective, untamed pathways that ultimately led him to see this vision grow and flourish outside the walls of his mind. In all its lush and uncultivated glory, Flinn’s “Secret Garden” tells a story of the recognition of nature and its silent strength, an unyielding and unstoppable force he’s come to harness.
“Secret Garden” stands in part as a response to the hyper-connected world we live in, a shift that is inherently tied to utopian ideals of modernity, but also perhaps suggests an irreverence for the instinctual ways of living that we’ve come to understand.
“Secret Garden is a modern narrative on the exploration of oneself in our modern and social and political environment,” said Flinn. “That adjustment in the past 15 or 20 years since the beginning of the Internet and industrialization in the early 1900s, I want to understand how that affected humanity and our relationship with our ego and ourselves. So, this show became a quasi-anthropological study on humanity and the natural instincts that we have relied upon in past generations, in the past 2000 years. The idea that we've evolved through these instincts so much and yet these instincts are being more and more put to the side—an abandonment of nature.”
Despite the complex and confusing socio-political context that we face today, Flinn aims to undo or subvert the imposition of “formulaic” living through his work. Aligned with a rather Kierkegaard-ian way of thinking, Flinn’s work shows the importance of living life to its fullest—recognizing the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.
“Whether you live by religion or live in a capitalist society, we live off documents that were written over 2,000 years ago—when bears would be coming into your backyard and mauling your children and pulling them apart in front of you,” said Flinn. “Yeah, I get it. You have to have rules for that, but it’s a restrictive formula. I don't get political because I think at the end of the day, to me, the whole thing is a hoax. All of politics is a hoax. I think about returning to nature, living wildly, living free, following those instincts, being physical, going outdoors. Metaphysically and cerebrally, just get outside! Be weird. Get as fucking weird as you want, because, why not? What's the worst that can happen? We die? Oh well! We were already given this beautiful, free ride, and the way it's going to work out is the way it works out.”
The child of an Italian immigrant from Turin, throughout his childhood Flinn spent half the year in Northern Italy and the other half in NYC. Despite the urban settings that surrounded him during his formative years, Flinn has found himself enamored by the natural world and its notions of balance.
“I think the strongest connection to nature for me is [that] it's [a] celebration of imperfection,” said Flinn. “That as a concept and theory should be adapted to so many more things. Often times when I reference nature, to me, it's trees, birds, flowers. But it's also carnal violence, it's death. It's murder. It's the acceptance of that, and those aspects of our survival instincts.”
As an artist who describes himself as is work and his work as himself, his magnetism towards the natural extends into how he lives his everyday life. Flinn is a practitioner of Eastern medicine and has found an outlet for emotional release through his martial arts training.
“There's this kind of skepticism or this degree of cynicism towards ideas of being violent, or releasing violence,” said Flinn. “I do a lot of martial arts, particularly Muy Thai and Brazilian jiujitsu. A lot of people look at me as if I'm tapping into something that's vulgar or negative in some way, or am entertaining some level of machismo. But that's not it at all. I find that it really removes the idea of ego. I practice only holistic, Eastern medicine, but that doesn't mean I don't like shooting automatic weapons in the woods. It's all about contextualization, rather than being just one thing or the other.”
Additionally, the notions of contrasting elements and contextualization are a large part of Flinn’s creative process as well, leading him to his signature style of mixed medium work.
“The materials I decide to mix together are often very contradictory and could be dangerous to the other somehow,” said Flinn. “I mix a lot of latexes with a lot of sharp, unpolished metals, so you can imagine how that would tear. There's a lot of ideas of tension because I believe art needs to be active. It needs to be energizing in a physical sense. Whether it's an idea of tension, precaution, something that could possibly collapse or has been weathered, hammered, things have gone through things. Our life is in constant change, so the pieces should feel like they're in constant change or constant movement.”
Having been picked up by a gallery fresh out of graduating from art school, Flinn’s body of work spans 10 solo shows with the first being in 2008. Looking back on his decade in the world of contemporary art and his archives of work, Flinn has come to solidify a cohesive, creative vision through his acceptance of true self as he continues to pare away the ego.
“I stopped taking myself so seriously, I let go of a lot of ideas that I had about myself and who I am as a person, from the ideas of personality to ego, to machismo, to sensitivity,” said Flinn. “I’ve seen my humor progress over that time, and kind of start trying to engage with the viewer, engage with the pieces in a lighter and in a more honest, realistic fashion. I think it's become something that's far more visceral. As an artist, you rely on instinct and rely on those tools in your set. You need to keep your instincts clean and clear, and how you live your life will directly affect your capacity to read yourself. It's like a photographer if you're lens is blurry, you're going to get a blurry picture. I think tuning into the process and really understanding that it's not overthinking concepts and forcing them on a piece, a lot of it has to do with being present in the moment, exploring the perversion of the human experience and creating a visual language that can translate those ideas and those emotions that you're feeling and concepts you're addressing.”
While Flinn has spent much of the past decade properly honing his craft, this past year marks a new creative endeavor for the artist — modeling. Having signed with IMG, Flinn is beginning to explore the world in front of the camera, stepping out from behind the lens.
“I think that at the end of the day, if you have really great communication with the people you're working with and are honest about what you will and won't do, and they have a good eye and instinct for how to make those things happen, you kind of end up finding situations in which you do really cool and interesting collaborations with companies,” said Flinn. “It's based on something more. I am my work, my work is me. It's hand in hand. I love selling dreams. And I love the challenge of trying to be something that I'm usually not.”
Through the process of embodying characters on set, Flinn has seen how this side of his work informs his artistic endeavors and his creative practice.
“If this is the person I was, what would my mannerisms be? I've directed in the past, and I really enjoy directing and am just finishing working on my first feature script,” said Flinn. “I started taking acting classes about a year and a half ago because I want to fully understand the process of directing. How am I going to ask something, talk to someone and ask them to do something and manifest feelings for me off a whim when I don't have any gauge of how the process is to get there? How can facilitate that? I think just being educated.”