Welcome to Vents Magazine, Sir Daniel Winn! Before we get the show on the road, how have you been doing during these tumultuous times?
I’m doing well, thank you. It has given me a lot of time to create both my paintings and sculptures, and to be more creative since everything is shut down and closed. It has given me a lot of time to meditate and to think about what my collection would be, based on the culture, society and the state of our environment.
You own and operate a respected gallery in Beverly Hills. How has the coronavirus affected the gallery?
The coronavirus, COVID, has affected the gallery tremendously in Beverly Hills because the government had forced us to shut down and close for three months. So the gallery has been closed and all of our gallery specialists and consultants have to work from home. We are all very frustrated, because art is something that you have to have in front of you to look at and experience. It’s something that you cannot really do online. So it has affected us in the sense that you do not have that one-on-one personal connection to connect the art with the viewers.
More to the point, how has the current world climate affected your own art? Have you created works that are a specific child of not only the pandemic, but also perhaps the racial unrest and divide which is sweeping the nation?
In regards to the current climate affecting my own art, it has somewhat. But at the same time I have a following of collectors that always admire my art, and a lot of times they don’t really need to see it in person. I just release the work and email it to them and they acquire it. As to whether I have done anything during the pandemic, absolutely. Social unrest, the pandemic, all of it is part of the environment and culture that affects my existence and my being. So that is incorporated into my art during this time. The shutdown has given me time to think, profoundly and introspectively, as to why there is social unrest, why things are the way they are, and how that affects hundreds of thousands of people. And not just the people who have passed away, but the lives of their families, children, and siblings. I’ve created a body of work specifically about this, in addition to the racial unrest, to give a history of what we have experienced so that viewers in the future — 50, 100, 200, 500, years from now — will look at and hopefully understand what I’m trying to communicate.
How has this health crisis forced you to think outside the box in certain endeavors such as gallery showings and the like?
It forced everybody to shut down for months. But even when they allowed galleries and retailers to reopen, most people were still very hesitant to go to public places. What we have done is created private appointments and private events. In the past, with major VIP events, hundreds of people would attend. But now that has changed. Hundreds of people would not be able to attend, or want to attend for that matter, even if they could, because they’re concerned about being infected. So what we’ve done is to provide VIP events. We’ve invited a few collectors for either a lunch exhibition showing or dinner presentation showing. They are privately shown the gallery, with me, and then we go and have dinner afterwards. So in a way it is the same experience but it’s much more private. The same exhibition with the understanding of the art, and with the artist being there, with champagne, caviar, and the red carpet treatment, and then dinner afterwards. Instead of having hundreds of people, we have between 2 to 8 people at a time over the course of a month for a particular artist in an exhibition.
What is your artistic thought process when sitting down and staring at a blank canvas?
I never look at canvas; I mostly meditate. My meditation is usually trying to remember my dreams. My dreams are epiphanies of what my subconscious and another realm wants me to create, based on my experience of society and culture and what is happening to our world now on a daily basis. There are many dreams that come to light that give me an epiphany of what I should create. So when I want to create on canvas, or a sculpture from marble, what I do is I meditate first. I try to clear my mind and remember the dream. And immediately after my meditation, I go directly to the canvas, or directly to marble for a sculpture, and begin creating exactly what I remember from that dream or memory of what I have experienced.
You were honored with the prestigious title of “Sir” when you were knighted in 2018. First of all, belated congratulations on this honor. Can you talk with us a little bit about how you came to be knighted? What went into that?
I would never even imagine I would ever have been knighted. But it just so happened that I met a prince at some auctions that I’d donate my art to, providing millions of dollars through my art to charities. This prince, a son of the prince of Germany, approached his father to nominate me. The father had only knighted 5 people, and I was on the list to be nominated. I got a phone call one day from the prince’s assistant saying that I was nominated, but I thought nothing of it. Then nine months later, after they vetted me, I actually got a call from the prince about dinner, and during that dinner he said that I’d been nominated by his father, who now wants to knight me. They asked me to fly to Germany or, if I cannot, they would fly to the United States to knight me. I was flabbergasted. I accepted the gift, and the parents flew over to meet me as a final vetting, and then picked a date. I chose December and then they picked the date of December 23rd, which is actually the birthday of the prince’s son. At first I thought nobody would show up because it was during the holidays, and so only invited a few people with medium press. But of course there were hundreds of people a full house with a lot of press and media. I couldn’t even walk in the gallery. The royal prince knighted me at the gallery. It was such an honor and so unexpected.
You’ve developed your own artistic philosophy: Existential Surrealism. Can you walk us through what this entails, exactly?
Existential Surrealism is something that I developed over the course of my lifetime. I immigrated from Vietnam to the United States during a war-torn era. I grew up here without knowing the language, the people, and was basically thrust into a culture that my parents and I knew nothing about. They worked very hard and put me through medical school to become a reconstructive surgeon. But my heart and soul was in the arts. I told my parents that instead of healing people physically, which I can only do on a limited basis as a surgeon, I wanted to create something that was more permanent. Something that could emotionally help others, hundreds, of not of thousands, now and in the future, through my art. So I created Existential Surrealism, which represents the big questions that people always ask. What is the purpose in life? What is our existence? What is the reason we are here? My goal in my philosophy is to try to explain through my art-visual language why we are here, what makes us exist, and what is that purpose in life.
What is it specifically about art that moves and excites you?
Art is something that is a visual language that can only communicate through the experience, through the soul, through energy, and through a way of language that everyone that looks at can feel and emotionally understand it profoundly. What excites me about art are the old masters, whether it is Caravaggio, Raphael, da Vinci, or Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux. Those are the artists that profoundly put in their artwork their current culture or environmental influence to give us a better understanding of what they lived through. Even though there are hidden messages and it’s symbolic, I like it because it gives much more of a subjective interpretation of what the era was like. So I try to incorporate that into my art. That’s what excites me, because I want people to see what they want to see based on the current condition and how it affects them and not just me. Hopefully in the future, whether it’s 50 or 500 years from now, the current condition and era of that time will affect and influence them so that when they see my work at that moment, they can have a better understanding of we what we went through now, and how they can deal with and embrace their existence during that time in the future.
What is Masterpiece Publishing, Inc.?
Masterpiece Publishing was established in 1997. I established it with investors who wanted to open an art agency. It’s an agency that represents artists worldwide who want to become well recognized and well known in order to become blue-chip artists. That way we would not lose them hundreds of years from now. The best example I can give is that without the Medici family, artists like Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Raphael, da Vinci would not be known. The Medici family, specifically Lorenzo Medici, was in a way a publishing agent that represented those artists. He made them known through patrons of the art that are well recognized or well established, or through the churches and major institutions, or museums. Masterpiece Publishing goes in the same line of the Medici family by establishing these recognized artists who are unknown and brining them notoriety and recognitions by placing them in the museums, advertising, international shows and galleries worldwide, etc.
You are the Board Chairman of the Academy of Fine Art Foundation, CEO and curator of Masterpiece Publishing, Inc., and Founder of Winn Slavin Fine Art, your aforementioned art gallery. First of all, where on earth do you find all of the time to be so involved (asks this notable piker!)?
Great question. I am what we call a jack of all trades, but of course I like to master everything. I consider myself, or want to be considered, a modern renaissance artist. Leonardo da Vinci was a painter, sculptor, philosopher, musician, mathematician, scientist, doctor, poet, philosopher; he was everything. That’s what I want to attain to be. My background was reconstructive surgery and I learned to be able to sleep for only 2 to 4 hours, which is all I need. Having 20 to 22 hours a day is still not enough for me, but I make it happen. I put priorities where it counts most. In terms of the foundation, Academy of Fine Art, I want to give back to the world, because I felt that, through my medical profession, I was not able to help. But here, through my art, I’m able to establish a non-profit that, through art, can help other non-profit charities to in turn help the less fortunate. With Masterpiece Publishing, I want to help the artists. And as an artist myself, I stay up all night; that’s how I can create. Because during that time of solitude is when I create the most. I make time, and I make priorities, and every minute from my life is precious. I figure that there’s always time in the future when I can rest, because when you’re gone, that’s plenty of time. I try to make every minute the most important minute of my life.
You have a very unique perspective, immigrating from one country to another. Immigration is one of the backbones of the United States. With that being said, what are your thoughts on the whole “Build a Wall” argument and the detention and turning away of so many people attempting to make America their home? Should there be more of a balance in how this situation has and is being handled?
It’s a great question, which is both a political and also an ethical and moral question. There’s really no right or wrong answer. However, my thoughts, based on my history and experience, makes me a little bit more biased. I do not believe in walls. I do not believe in borders. I do not believe in detention centers. I do not believe in anything that restricts anyone from entering anywhere that offers freedom. Now with that said, I’m not a politician. My art is not political, but my belief is: What if there were another Einstein or another Leonardo da Vinci that would have immigrated to the United States, but then was lost because they were held in detention or they were deported, and they couldn’t have a better life or better opportunity to become what they needed to be? Like Einstein, Caravaggio, Edison: What if we’d lost them because we put a wall up and did not allow them to progress us to the next level of our society? What if there had been a border and detention for me so that I was not able to come to the United States to create the foundations and to help charities and to help the less fortunate, and if I had not had the opportunity to get into the United States to express my talent? That all would have been lost. And I’m just one of maybe hundreds of thousands, even millions, who are much more significant than me. Is society and the world ready to lose those people just because we want to put a wall up? My answer is no.
You are noted and have been recognized repeatedly for your philanthropic work. Why is it so important to you to be out there striving and giving back to the world?
I believe that you have only one life and, when you leave this world, it is going to be what you do for the world and culture and the less fortunate that is what is going to be recognized and what is going to define who you are. Material things, property, are things you cannot take with you. But what you can take is the knowledge that people remember you for what you’ve done in the world. In my life, what I feel is most significant is that how I influence people, how I touch lives, how I helped the less fortunate, how every person I have come across has been touched by me and are better because of that. That’s what is most important to me. So giving back to the world is the most significant thing that one can do to better their lives, because that’s how you will be remembered: by your deeds, your actions, and not what you have or actually who you are, because who you are is actually what you do, and not what you have.
Do you have a favorite piece of art that continuously inspires your own work?
Yes. My favorite piece of art is “Ugolino and his Sons” by a sculptor by the name Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux. It’s a marble sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. I am so moved by that every time I look at it, I cry. It represents the Count of Pisa in Northern Italy where he was in prison. The story is that, because they were starving to death, the sons offered their flesh for the father to eat so he could stay alive. But when you see the sculpture, you see the emotion, the muscles, the intensity, the fingers pressed, the pain and agony. To me that is what an art is. You truly feel it. There are no words that you can use to explain it. When I look at that, it inspires me tremendously, because I want my art to not just communicate in that way, but to transcend to another level so that people feel so much that they have an emotional euphoria. This piece moved me so much that I want to make everything I create to communicate in the way this piece by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux communicates to the viewers.
Wrapping up, can you tell me about your upcoming TV show and channel that you’re involved with?
I was approached by producer and director to do a pilot series in the art industry world. They call it “Art Confidential: The Inside Story with Sir Daniel Winn.” We’re shooting two episode pilots right now that are going to be on Roku, Amazon Fire and Apple TV. The director and producer, a very well known, are really excited because they’ve been approached by Netflix to purchase and acquire, hopefully, the first season. I’m excited because it conveys the understanding and the mystery of the art world; what makes the art worth hundreds of millions; who determines things in the art world; what an artist goes through on a daily basis; and how art is created. It’s a walk through the entire industry through my eyes. Everything that is confidential and mysterious that I’ve learned in the last three decades I’m now sharing with the world through this series.