Artist Dan Lam ('10) started playing with different textures and materials as a drawing and painting major. That led her to working with polyurethane foam — and creating a series of sculptures that has attracted more than 100,000 followers on Instagram, including Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips and Miley Cyrus, who bought one of her sculptures for her home.
The sculptures look like colorful blobs pierced with spikes, with those that hang on shelves called Drips, those on walls called Blobs and freestanding sculptures called Squishes.
"My work is driven by my interest and experimentation in non-traditional materials," she says. "The work is about the space between beauty and repulsion."
It's a change for Lam, who had always thought of herself as a painter. When she took an upper-level class with UNT drawing and painting professor Vincent Falsetta, he gave her the freedom to explore materials other than acrylic paints.
After graduation, she pursued her master's degree at Arizona State University and started making sculptural wall paintings. She was especially intrigued by polyurethane foam.
"The material looks interesting or different," says Lam, who was born in Manila to a Vietnamese refugee family who relocated to Dallas when she was young. "There are no how-to books or guides, so somebody can make it into their own."
And she had another thought.
"Why not let the material do its own thing? Let chance take over," she says. "It was just a natural evolution of how I work with the material."
After graduating from ASU, she spent a year in Midland to work on the sculptures. She began posting her work on Instagram. Soon, her account was raking up followers, including Coyne and Cyrus. She also was featured in Juxtapoz Art and Culture magazine, a personal coup for her since she had read it since childhood.
Lam wants to continue making art for the rest of her life — "no retirement, just work until I die" — and dreams of being featured in the Whitney Biennial or receiving a MacArthur Genius Grant.
She is pleased that so many people have taken to her art, including those who have not been exposed to many art forms.
"When someone who doesn't normally connect with a lot of art is suddenly interested, it means I've touched on something visually that transcends different groups of people," she says. "It's pretty powerful."