55th Degree | Dan Christofferson

4/18/2013 | Amy Tibbals
Stacey Jo Rabiger

Dan Christofferson | Portrait of an American Fifty-Fifth Degree Garment Architect

April 19th, 6-9pm | Kayo Gallery | 117 East Broadway

We're big fans of Dan [looky here]. He's an artist and creator whom we're very proud to call a local. Naturally then, we're super charged to hear he has an upcoming show, the subject matter of which seems to be equal parts curious, creepy, and outright awesome. We asked Dan a few questions because we love this guy's mind and talent, but it's worth reading more about the show below the photos. It is not to be missed...


I'm not gonna be all cliche and ask something like, "if you were a homo and we could get married where would we live?" Instead, I'd like to jump straight to your upcoming show. But first, if you were a homo and we could get married, where would we live? First of all, I'm flattered, and I think I'd have to default to your expertise on the living arrangements. But I've seen your place and I'd be happy to move in there tomorrow- if you'll have me. Maybe summers in Montreal?

What drives you to create? I think I've just been fortunate enough to have had that unrelenting itch since I was a little fella. I'm consistently compelled to get the images out of my head and onto paper, and I just sort have to keep up so things stay relatively quiet upstairs.

Artists are influenced by other art, but where some artists tend to borrow often, you seem to dream up your own shit more often than not. Where does it all come from? I had a teacher who encouraged me to mentally catalog everything I encounter on a daily basis, and I've tried my best to always follow that. I tuck every little thing that catches my eye away in some corner of my brain, and allow plenty of time for it to move around and connect in ways that visualize themselves, luckily, in the form of refined gentlemen with flower skulls.

I've heard from more than one person that the invite alone [for the show] is good enough to take home and frame. So, what else will we see? More characters? Who are they? The most important figure is the esteemed master of the fifty-fifth degree. He's the highest member of a fictitious brotherhood of master clothiers that know more than we do, and give us hints about the secrets of the universe using simplified ideas we can understand. Like the process and exactness used to make a fine, poly-cotton, non-chafing, double collar shirt.

Why is this show special for you? I've been able to devote a lot more time to painting for this show, which I haven't really been able to do in a few years. It was great to get back to late nights in the studio, with just a brush. I really enjoy digital illustration but for this show I broke away from the computer, and inflamed my carpal tunnel in more analog ways. Painting was my first love (before I met the team at CHC, of course) and I think that shows in this series. Once I developed the story of the main character in this collection, the vocabulary of icons, and all the characters in the supporting roles started to really quickly weave themselves  into the narrative. It came really naturally and I felt like this collection had just been waiting up in my head for me to have a brush and some wet acrylics to work with.

What are you saying through your art right now that you want everyone to feel? Duh...it's a comprehension of eternal creation through metaphors of creation, destruction, patience, work, life, and death. Sheesh, guys. But I am actually interested in what people take away from a show like this. Give them a mess of cryptic symbols to work with, and people start to knit their own stories into the images I've given them. The world is a weird place. Bees tell complex stories in ways we can fairly easily translate, math and geometry are inextricable with the biology of wild plants. I guess I want people to think about all this amazing stuff that happens around us, and either be pumped it all works so well, or question why it happened and be amazed that it actually did.

What homes would the folks you've created be best suited in? I think most of these characters would live really comfortably in the warm, lavish dens and living rooms of the nobility of the Victorian era. A few of them would probably sit in the grand ballroom at Abraham Lincoln's haunted piano and play some really creepy music. They'd saunter around the top floor of the Lion House and sculpt bearded men's faces out of flower arrangements and…oh, shit. This sounds cool. I'm probably gonna paint some of this.

There should be a secret password or hand shake or eye twitch to get into one of your shows. Anything we should know ahead of time? I made this whole world up. But if any of it feels familiar, or spooky, or a little bit like something you shouldn't talk about, I've done my job. I love the idea of secret rites and initiations that move believers further into a society of hidden secrets. Maybe just by coming to this show, everyone is automatically inducted and given all this extra knowledge you won't know about until you're confronted with a test. Or maybe it's all just a harmless collection of paintings and symbols from a kid who watches too much history channel.

On behalf of the COLLECTIVE, thanks heaps for all of your creations; is there anything we can do for you? Aside from the white picket fence and the retriever? Thanks so much for the support, and for championing Salt Lake City so hard. It's nice to feel so connected with a community that values all of the focus it takes to put something memorable together. As far as the fence and the retriever, I'll go with an upstairs loft, a gallery/studio downstairs, and a miniature border collie that looks like the ghost of my childhood dog, Skye. Oh shit, there's another painting.


Okay, now. About the show...

"Little is known about the Society of American Garment Architects (AGA), and even less about its first and only high master, the lone member to ever have reached the esteemed (but highly secretive) Fifty-Fifth Degree. His understanding of the cosmos and fine, old-world woolenry was matched only by the deftness of his hand. From the odd journals and remaining ephemera of his life, a dim image of this master tailor has emerged: hunched over bolts of cloth pinned heavy with patterns of his own devising, he toiled from early morning late into the night, soon becoming entranced by the steady rhythm of his own movements. As the lamps would grow dim, so too would any awareness of his stitches, and his atelier would dissolve as he ascended that Jacob's ladder of consciousness. Indeed, after the rites of the Fifty-Fifth Degree were performed, he was heard to remark to those in the circle, "in those dusky twilight hours, all that remained was the thread: a hallowed, golden strand woven into all that I did and all that I was — my hands and needles like a mudra: lacing the whole of creation into that flaxen seam!"¹

While much was circulated at the time regarding his revelatory interpretation of the allegory of "The Spider and the Hive," any published accounts have long been snatched up and now reside in the hands of private collectors, as secretive as the Society itself. The best known artifacts are undoubtedly the works of Dan Christofferson, as collected in "Portrait of an American Fifty Fifth Degree Garment Architect in Full Dress". While Christofferson's familiarity with the Order of the 55th Degree is unclear, the hallmarks of the society's own sacraments are clearly apparent to those initiated: the mystery of creation via the Golden Thread, the ebb and flow of life as represented by sundry embroidered flora and fauna, and the tailor's tools of exactness and righteousness: thimble, needle, hook & hand. Most notable, if less clearly understood, is the "ever shearing edge" of the Gilded Blade and the moldering beauty of the Calaveras de las Flores, now veritable icons of the 55th degree's comprehension of eternal creation through destruction and death.² Sadly, at this late hour, these curious paintings and assemblages are the sole remaining relics of this grand society. And these too will likely soon be gone, leaving only rough sketches and marginalia for those that come after to piece together a hazy understanding of this hallowed chapter in our city's history.

— J. D. Hemmelgarn author, Spindle & Spool: The Society of Garment Architects in the City of Salt 

¹ While these manifestations would be marveled at by his peers in the orders below him, his long-suffering wife was said to exclaim "and when he awakes from these visions and finds he's sewn his sleeve to his pants, who do you think has to come cut him out?"

² Curiously absent is any depiction of the so-called "Black Bobbin," thought by many to be a representation of the "dark" needed to fully comprehend and embrace the "light", also the key to the society's mastery of non-chafing poly-cotton blends."


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