A deviation from her characteristic light, bright, and cartoonish work, Dan Lam’s piece, A Sudden Alchemy, now showing at Wynwood Walls in Miami, Florida, is, quite literally, a new archway into beauty. The exhibiting piece is dark, somewhat monstrous, and, yes, comically quizzical. What are those bubbles oozing from the dome?
Lam would answer with similar curiosity. “Unexpected shapes and textures can happen in the early stages [of creating], and that’s when I play the most.” As if she first asked the identical question to herself, there is this beautiful consideration for how her work will be experienced – touched, bridged, or wandered through (or not.) The sculpture has four points of entry, and on the surface of its frame a multitude of protruding bubbles. Walk through its arches, stand beneath the centre mound, or even circle its perimetre with the pursuit of meaning – acknowledging beauty – one could say.
This direction of perspective is one the artist found through challenging her own ideas of beauty and the grotesque. Her body of work is an exploration of these judgments. Spending time with such interests leads to perspective, which Lam expresses through exploring shape and colour. Returning to this sculpture at Wynwood Walls, one will find at night, it twinkles; in the sun, the automotive paint that coats its body illuminates and glimmers; and while standing in the rain and gloomy Miami winter, it is dense. This varied experience is synonymous with Lam’s meditations on beauty. A Sudden Alchemy allows one to acknowledge beauty in different lights, forms, and shades.
You can sense transparency all over her social media platforms, where the artist has gained a large following and swift attention. Scroll through her TikTok and discover how she makes art. Countless videos share her carefully pouring buckets of magenta and neon yellow over creations to the audio of algorithm-loved TikTok sounds. Other documentation includes teased material for upcoming exhibitions, fan art reviews, and open forums that ponder upcycling Styrofoam and functional new creations – for example, cell phone cases. On Instagram, tap through appreciation posts that offer behind-the-scenes footage of her work come to life. An account filled with videos and pictures with friends at exhibition openings, experiencing her work alongside words sharing gratitude and acknowledgment of the support from her community. Across different platforms, there is a strong thread of intimacy expressed in the journey of her work. That’s beauty.
I asked another question: what has been the most exciting part of presenting in Miami? Wynwood Walls, a landmark of urban art, is also casually known to Miamians as a local scene. Standing in the company of surrounding graffiti works, A Sudden Alchemy is not just the artist’s personal expression but a piece for public socialisation. Lam shares, “My favourite part has been seeing people interact with the sculpture. It seems very natural for them to walk into the piece and touch and explore it. To me, that says that I used the proper shape, that it’s inviting, and people accept the invitation.” Form has a driving force in this experience.
But so does colour, a natural and normalised expression of life in Miami. Lam describes the complexion of A Sudden Alchemy as a chameleon pigment. The colours are a scaled combination of green, silver, gold, and purple, creating an iridescent, chrome effect. It is a luxury, something experienced with amazement. The response is largely fun and personal. Dan Lam’s work glitters at all points of view. The change and variance, alchemy, is art.