Detroit-based artist Danny Sobor has been chasing the sun for the past year. His upcoming solo exhibition entitled 10 Warm Months, opening on Saturday, August 25th was created following his five-year hiatus from painting, each carefully created under the glow of Detroit sunlight.

Although he’s been living in Detroit for three years (relocating after graduation from Brown University in 2015), this is Sobor’s first time exhibiting a new body of work in the city, which consists of thirteen diligently designed oil and acrylic paintings. His debut series of paintings exemplifies visual pluralism using his personal narrative that weaves between universal imagery and art world references while his process aligns the digital and the analog.

“I have been primarily an illustrator prior [to making these paintings],” he explains. “I had a solo exhibit of drawings in 2017 at Galerie F in Chicago, but this is my first time showing paintings and my first solo show in Detroit.” Sobor’s obsession with light dictated his actions while creating this body of work, requiring careful planning and a schedule centered around the sun. “I have to make strategic decisions,” says Sobor. “I have to repaint things all the time because it will be 5:30pm and the light’s golden, then I look at it in the morning and I’m like- ‘this is so f*cked up.’”

Sobor in his studio. Photography credit, Bre’Ann White.

Regardless of its tedious nature, Sobor insists that there’s no other way he’d rather work. “I really want to paint by natural light and nothing else… it’s the purest form of seeing your colors.” This makes sense for a painter whose work is heavily dependent on stark blocks of color, with each shade deliberately chosen to enhance a certain object or evoke a specific emotion.

While the main theme Sobor captures in his work in his own words, is “paintings about paintings,” the more tangible underlying concept is about summer and its inescapable end. Sobor masterfully captures the sticky nostalgia and tingling warmth of the season while instilling bits and pieces of his own narrative throughout. Along with landmarks from his personal landscape, he has a knack for taking some of the most impersonal stock photography and making it ubiquitously personal; a basketball net, a pair of wilted hands, two men wrestling. These images all make a cameo in 10 Warm Months, each telling a million stories or just one- all at the same time.

Whatever viewers feel while analyzing his new paintings, it’s safe to say that the end of summer will no doubt be at the forefront of everyone’s minds. The sweat, endless nights, and the season’s inevitable demise. Sobor says he was drawn to this theme, in part, as a means of stay positive and focused during Detroit’s brutal winter months. “In putting the series together, I was trying to not go dark and really keep myself in a good headspace,” says Sobor. “It’s about spending the last ten months working on these paintings and thinking about summer the whole time, even though half of the time it was snowing.”

Photography credit, Bre’Ann White.

Sobor’s infatuation with ‘warm months’ is a sentiment shared by many Detroiters who spend the majority of the winter months holed up and self-medicating with their vice of choice. But the core of his creative process is ironic for an artist who depends so heavily on this precious natural resource in order to make his art. His creative process is a true marriage of the primal and digital spheres that channel both the universality of two things humans can’t live without: the sun and the Internet. The artist’s first official foray into oil painting is a promising entrè into a world that is constantly evolving. He pushes the boundaries of realism and digitization while bringing with him iconic samples of the past.

Can you explain the theme of this exhibit?  

I finished my first painting (in this series) in October 2017, and still remembered the end of that summer. The vibe stuck with the rest of the pieces. That’s why I decided to call the exhibit, “10 Warm Months.”  It’s about the time that I spent through four seasons making all of these paintings, trying to channel warm memories of light and summertime.

Photography credit, Bre’Ann White.

The concept of summer is a practical umbrella in order to keep me cohesive and focused, my primary goal in the show is to make paintings about the freedom of painting. The work is both surreal and pluralistic. It brings together imagery from a lot of different sources: magazine scans, parts of paintings from art history, stock product photography, cartoons, etc. Combining these disparate images attempts to show and celebrate the numerous ways painterly and pictorial language can exist.

It also feels like a reflection of how we consume visual culture. Scrolling through Instagram we’re constantly inundated with imagery from across time and space without context or hierarchy.  

What is your favorite painting in the show? 

My favorite piece is the horse painting called “Chasing Light,” because it accomplishes the most as a sampler. The horse in the painting is from an old cigarette ad, the cowboy riding it is pixelated in Photoshop, the fence and the window are home product stock photos, the garden is from a Mickey Mouse cartoon; the floor, window and sky contain pieces of David Salle, Clyfford Still and Picasso paintings, and the rest is line work and color blocks. The piece is about how I get bummed towards the end of summer when I start to notice the days ending earlier, and to me it feels like a futile horse race to chase the light.

Detail and WIP view of “Chasing Light.” Photography credit, Bre’Ann White.

What was your process for making these pieces?  

I mock up most of my compositions in Photoshop, then paint them, photograph them, put them back into Photoshop, tinker with them, and repeat the process until the work feels complete. It’s a back and forth with my computer that places the paintings in a space between analog and digital, which I like. 

I spend a decent amount of time trying to find imagery that I want to use. I was really excited to find an illustrated instructional tennis booklet at John K King book store for example, and I used it for the primary imagery of Arthur Ashe in “footwork.” I’m adding a few 3D elements to the exhibition as well, but will complement the paintings and create an environment to experience the works, rather than stand alone as artwork or installation.

Sobor in his studio. Photography credit, Bre’Ann White.

Did you feel like there are any restrictions artistically due to lack of resources or being an artist in Detroit?  

I don’t think I feel restricted; I’m really grateful to be here. My budget is low, but so is my cost of living here, so I have the freedom to devote hundreds of hours a month to painting. When I came to Detroit I was making drawings, the last time I painted was when I was 19 years old and I made awful paintings that all my friends told me sucked because they did- I was shook and didn’t really paint for five years. I took another shot at painting last October, and something started to give. Since then I’ve been teaching myself how to work with oil, which has been my dream as an artist. The show contains thirteen of my first sixteen real attempts at oil painting. I wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn and continue learning a craft so time-intensive if I didn’t have the time that I have here.

Photography credit, Bre’Ann White.

Who are some artists that inspired these works?

David Salle and Van Hanos are guiding lights [for me]. Both of them showcase the concept of painterly freedom. Salle combines numerous pictorial forms in the same place, and Hanos makes drastic and irreverent style shifts from painting to painting. Other artists working in a similar style that I love include Matt Hansel, Logan C. Riley and locally, Willie Wayne Smith and Rachel Pontius. I think about the aesthetics of Hockney, Ian T. Miller, Sierra Barela and Darius Airo most days. I also love Jamian Juliano-Villani, Henry Gunderson, Borna Sammak, and a lot of the NYC meme-y painters.

Are there any events or other people that inspired these works?

Sometimes the inspiration is specific people or places, and other times it’s broader feelings. “My and Sara’s Backyard” is about the Marathon gas station behind girlfriend Sara and my house that wild dogs run through. It has a great sign that says “PIZZA SLUSH,” even though it doesn’t actually serve pizza or slushies. “Living Room Wrestlers” is about my friends and I breaking our parents’ window roughhousing in elementary school. On the ethereal side, “Night Run” is about the smell of greenery and calm quiet of night jogging. “Swish” is about washing my hands after they get dirty playing outdoor basketball once the sun starts setting and how great that feeling is.

10 Warm Months opens to the public on Saturday, August 25th. RSVP here.