40 Prominent People | David Dornan

David Dornan
Painter • Helper, UT

David Dornan

Distinction: Dornan is a respected still-life painter, professor, and founder of popular workshops in Helper, UT, which have been the starting point for many of today’s talented painters.
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the art world during your career? The biggest change is the advent of the computer. It’s monumental for artists on many levels. It gives us power, but it strips us of an authentic experience. Instead of being out there seeing things, artists are just seeing what an image looks like on a computer. Art is about an individual discovering what they do with their hands and minds when looking at something.
How did the workshops start? In the early 1990s, Paul Davis and I used to teach summer courses where we went out into the Utah landscape. Students would say they learned as much in nine days as they did in a whole quarter. It was an immersion. One day my wife and I drove through Helper and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a more permanent home for the workshops.” We stopped and bought a building and began remodeling it. That was 1996. Workshops and artist-in-residence programs go on year-round, and we have probably had about 600 to 700 artists come through here.
What do you hope to accomplish in the next 10 years? More plein-air painting and travel. I don’t want to paint scenic places but power plants and Walmart parking lots.
Any regrets? The big one is that I never seem to be ready for a show, and there’s always an embarrassing “stepchild” that shows up because of that.
How do you define success? I think success is knowing that someone is buying your painting because they want to look at it every day and knowing it is making their life more human.
Describe yourself in one word. A sponge. My best students are the greatest sponges.
How do you think you have contributed to an appreciation of contemporary realism? I think we have carried on the tradition of realist painting that’s well-established in Utah. We have been a satellite of that tradition.
How would you like to be remembered? “He never did a giclée.”

Featured in “40 Prominent People” in May 2011.