Keith DeNatale – Oakland, California

"Friends" Acrylic paint and sumi ink 36x24" 2013

Acrylic paint and sumi ink

Briefly describe the work you do.

The work I do is centered around reflections on the male body and its place in culture. I’m interested in jokes and puns popular within groups of hetero males and bringing them into a queer fantasy. The work manifests in comic style drawings as well as performance based video works. My main interest in it all is objectifying the straight male body.

Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.

I come from a long line of athletic men, so growing up I was surrounded by a specific version of a masculine male. My father and my older brother were both MVP’s at my high school 30 years apart from one another so I had a path to becoming a man laid before me. Knowing I was gay from a young age, I struggled to place myself in relation to this image and was constantly questioning where my body/interests fell into the scheme of things. Through the years of questioning, however, I feel like I easily picked up on underlying queer tendencies in the ideal image of the american male. I knew I was different so even though I kept a part of myself hidden for years, I was able to see ironies and inconsistencies within “straight” groups.

"TWINS L+R" Acrylic paint and sumi ink 19x24" each 2014

Acrylic paint and sumi ink
19×24″ each

The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”

My practice is more or less close to the general concept of an artist studio. I live in a loft space with my partner and do all of my work underneath our lofted bed. Compared to the studio space available to me during my undergrad at UC Davis it is a big change but I’ve learned to adapt. I work on multiple projects at once so my desk is usually full of piles of paper, paint and whatever else I pick up at and on the way to work.

Bag 2

“Bag 2” Shopping bag and acrylic paint
13.5×15.5×6″ 2013

What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?

I never envisioned how much of myself would be in my work. When I started making work as a kid I created fantasies that had nothing to do with my life. They were grounded in cartoons, movies and tv shows. It didn’t have much of anything to do with my own life. Recently I’ve really inserted myself into the work I’ve been making. If I’m not physically playing a role, like I do in most of my videos, I am taking cues from my own body and putting them into the images I’m creating. I like to use parts of myself, like my excessive amounts of body hair or my favorite junk food, and put them into my drawings.

When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can? 

I do most of my work at night after coming home from my job and having dinner. I work on multiple pieces at once, a little bit here and there, so most nights I usually spend at least some-time working on some-thing. The most fun time to work for me is on a day off when I can pretty much just spend the whole day working on a few things. It’s nice to put daylight hours into a piece; the atmosphere during the day is different than it is at night.

"BAG 2" detail

“BAG 2” detail

How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?

The last year of my undergrad was where I really got a more clear idea of where I wanted my work to go. Since then it has been an interesting journey refining the choices I’ve made since then in terms of the content and the mediums I use. I never thought I’d devote as much time as I do now to painting, but I find myself painting almost every day. Interestingly enough it has come full circle for me. My introduction to art making was through cartoons and illustration so to see me now at age 24 drawing again is kind of great.

Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?

I’ve been volunteering at the Bob Mizer Foundation for a few years and I’d say being around such an enormous body of work is incredibly influential for me. The amount of work he produced in his lifetime is insane. I think this is the reason that in the past year I’ve been so adamant about working on pieces as much as possible. He was a workhorse. Spending time with the work over the past few years you really see an artist using humor and culture in a clever way. He had an eye for taking something despicable or gross and making it funny or sexy. If I can make a percentage of the amount of work that he has in his life I’ll be content.

If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?

I always thought being a co-host on a talk show would be a great job. Being paid to basically have an opinion on anything seems like the craziest thing to me and I am fascinated by the amount of people who get to be on TV and do it.


Keith DeNatale is an artist currently living and working in the California Bay Area. He received a BA from the University of California Davis in Studio Art and English.

All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission. 

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