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Daniel Mayer is a visual artist who works with both traditional analog and digital processes to produce works of art in bookform. The books are gorgeous, informative works of language and art in many forms: experimental artist’s books, variable editioned prints, fine press publications, and award-winning, large-scale public art commissions. They must be seen to be appreciated.

Dan is the Director for Arizona State University’s Pyracantha Press and teaches polymer plate printmaking and artists’ books. Since 1986 he has published inter-disciplinary, limited-edition handmade books and prints in collaboration with artists, writers, and musicians, among others. Mayer has mentored ASU’s student artists book club ABBA: A-Buncha-Book-Artists for the past 17 years.

He’s also on PLAYA’s Advisory Board, has juried PLAYA submissions, and is a joy to be around.

Dan, what led you to PLAYA?

I was initially invited by Deborah Ford, past PLAYA Executive Director, to participate in a two-week summer Climate Change residency with artists and scientists. My drive from Phoenix to PLAYA up the old Highway 395 felt like a pilgrimage – car packed with provisions and art supplies.

Total lunar eclipse volvelle, pastel drawing on paper, 15” diameter. Photo courtesy Daniel Mayer

Total lunar eclipse volvelle, pastel drawing on paper, 15” diameter.
Photo courtesy Daniel Mayer

Did you come to work on a specific project? If so, did you make progress on it? We’d love to hear details on that.

For this residency I left my options open ended, not knowing what to expect. My approach for residencies can be specifically project based, exploratory, or a hybrid of both that leads to new directions. What organically happened at PLAYA was that everyone worked independently on personal research and then held chance conversations over dinner or in passing. In particular, a discussion with Charles Hood, nature writer/photographer, led to the creation of a one-of-a-kind artist’s book. During the PLAYA evening, Charles was recording bat sound-waves with a special smart-phone bat app. His research piqued my curiosity – how to respond visually to something we can’t sense. The result was a unique accordion book with dense charcoal markings and silver-leaf striations that represented sound and the PLAYA nightscape. This artist’s book was recently featured on the title-page of the invitational exhibition: Ensemble: Inspiration and the Artists Book, Laramie County Library, WY. [Editor’s note: See a photo of the book in Charles Hood’s blog post, here.]

Daniel Mayer and master glass painter Bärbel Gottschling with glass mock up. Derix Glass Studios, Taunusstein, Germany. Glass panels inspired by Playa pastel drawings. Photo courtesy of Shelly White

Daniel Mayer and master glass painter Bärbel Gottschling with glass mock up. Derix Glass Studios, Taunusstein, Germany. Glass panels inspired by PLAYA pastel drawings. Photo courtesy of Shelly White.

How do you think the land- and waterscapes here affected your work?

It took several days to decompress from daily life, the chatter of smartphones and internet even though they can be research tools. My approach to counter this activity was to detach and go analog, creating something by hand. In PLAYA’s surreal landscape and environment, sense of time and scale became different – time to think and reflect, and time to respond to new ideas.

Detail of topographic glass panels with screenprint, hand-painting, and acid etching. Photo courtesy Shelly White

Detail of topographic glass panels with screenprint, hand-painting, and acid etching.
Photo courtesy Shelly White

Describe your typical day at PLAYA.

Daily rhythm and markers occurred with PLAYA’s long summer days easing into nighttime. Rituals became important with a concentrated studio routine segueing into the evening with residents to watch the PLAYA line – a sharp horizontal band of sunlight that raced across the playa surface at sunset. Another marker was creating lunar volvelles, or moveable discs, to document the full eclipse, as I was two weeks shy of totality. Volvelles are 13th-century moveable discs sewn into books that charted stars, planets, religious holidays, and fortunetelling.

Detail of topographic acid-etched antique glass (Lambert’s Glass). Photo courtesy Daniel Mayer

Detail of topographic acid-etched antique glass (Lambert’s Glass).
Photo courtesy Daniel Mayer

What were some highlights for you?

My PLAYA highlights were the unexpected twists-and-turns that developed in my work and being open to that process, uninterrupted studio time, timelessness of the landscape, evening pop-ups with residents sharing work in all disciplines, and being part of the new PLAYA family.

Anything else you want to add?

My general experience with residencies is that sometimes work becomes more evident at a later date. Some pastel drawings I created at PLAYA years ago were recently realized in new art glass at Derix Glass Studios, Taunesstein, Germany. Facebook | Derix.com


Edge effects in ecological science are the “influences of border communities upon each other” (Brittanica.com). PLAYA alumni, friends, guests, and neighbors are invited to submit blog posts that explore the diverse influences experienced here or because of time spent with us—whether the effects are among disciplines, environments, relationships, or communities. Email PLAYA’s Executive Director to join this conversation.